How to be More Efficient with Your Virtual Assistant

Collaboration, it turns out, is not a gift from the gods but a skill that requires effort and practice. ~ Douglas B. Reeves

LLB employed a virtual assistant (VA) last year. Every month, our VA completes a number of different (mainly) research-based tasks.

Before reading this article any further, I’d recommend that you first readCS’s article which covers the philosophy of hiring a VA. Employing a VA is an integral part of Life-Life Balance.

Having worked with our VA for almost a year, I’ve learnt how to delegate and work efficiently with an employee solely through virtual channels. Things weren’t always so peachy, though. At the start, there was an immense amount of work that wasn’t being delivered to the standard I’d expected and I was wasting both time and money. Why?Because I wasn’t taking the time to invest in a solid email communication from the start.

Here’s my advice on how to work more efficiently with your VA to avoid the back and forth commonly experienced by novice employers.

Write Clear Instructions

This is one of the most important skills that you are forced to hone. Your assistant works entirely virtually – there is no option for a face-to-face meeting. Here are some ways to improve how you write instructions:

  • Ask a friend to check over your instructions (preferably someone with experience of working with a VA)
  • Find tips online through your VA provider (sometimes this is in video format for easy digestion)
  • Make a habit of following-up with a phone call for complicated tasks to provide a suitable opportunity for your VA to ask questions

What I’ve found most helpful is asking my VA directly for examples of instructions that he finds easy to understand:

Hi Virtual Assistant,
I want to buy a telescopic laser/LED pointer so that I can use this for PowerPoint presentations.
Features must include a USB slide-changer, with extendable pointer, with preferably an LED light at the end of the pointer, and the end of the pointer to be rubber/plastic.
This may not exist, but please source it, including website, price inc P&P, etc.

Clarify Deliverables and Deadlines

Virtual assistants have more than one client. It’s hard to say how many clients they work with each week so try to set a reasonable turnaround time for tasks. I try to allow two days turnaround for any tasks that will take less than two hours to complete. For anything that will take more than two hours, I give my VA four to five days. With each task, I’m clear what deliverable I expect whether it’s a spread sheet with results (including column names), a transformed CV or bullet points in an email/Word document. Don’t leave it up to them because this increases the chances of rework.

Be Accountable

Having a VA is only as good as the action you take on the deliverables. If you never look at the deliverable then it’s obviously a waste of time and money for both parties. Getting into the habit of regularly following up with your VA before the deadline to make sure they’ve understood the task and the deadline can help remind you that you have an employee to manage. If you’re not happy with the work, go back to the instructions and talk it through with your VA.

Building on these skills with each task has helped me save time and money. The one that I am still working on is the last skill: Providing feedback. Although I’ve given feedback informally in response to a completed task and we’re also prompted to take a satisfaction survey each month,I would like to get to a place where I spend 15 minutes on the phone every month giving my VA feedback. That way we can learn from each other on a more personal level than just email and build a stronger working relationship.

How do you work more efficiently with your VA? What have you learned from a virtual working relationship? Share your experiences in the comments.