Considering the number of day-to-day tasks every professional must accomplish, alongside their larger projects, the workload can be incredibly overwhelming. With wasted hours spent answering emails, organizing folders, coordinating schedules and completing small administrative tasks, project responsibilities can often be pushed off until the next day or even the next week! They might even be placed on the back burner indefinitely, with the impending deadline still looming. For many executives, or those with type-A personalities, the thought of delegating even the smallest of tasks to free up time is incomprehensible. However, practicing the art, yes, the art, of delegating, will not only free up time, but create a more efficient workflow pattern that ensures the quality and expediency of each project, no matter how small.
First, identify which projects another individual could complete, with or without direction. These tasks could include creating or updating an online personal calendar, scheduling meetings, proofreading documents, etc. While the delegator may want to look over the completed result, they do not have to expedite these tasks directly. Other projects might require a more hands-on approach. Take, for example a quarterly report that needs writing. While it would be difficult to delegate the entire task to someone else, a virtual assistant could easily conduct research or gather data. This project would not require any interpretation, nor would it negatively affect the final product, which would still be written by the delegator.
Successful delegation simply requires a selection of tasks to complete, then a thorough briefing to the individual picking up the extra work. While first-time delegators may feel as though giving a briefing is a waste of time, and that they could accomplish the work in that amount of time, consider the overview of procedures and expectations to be an investment. Once the staff member or virtual assistant knows the exact specifications and steps associated with their assignment, they can successfully complete the task and will require less direction on similar projects in the future. That being said, do not micromanage the assistant. Instead, be available to answer questions and give direction, but do not be overbearing.
Not only does delegation offer myriad benefits for the individual overwhelmed by work, but it also provides opportunities to other staff members to prove themselves at relatively low-risk tasks. By being thoughtful about which opportunities are delegated to other individuals, a project manager can ensure his or her staff’s development. This can be done by assigning projects that require specific skills to an employee who is either very strong in those areas, or would do well to cultivate those skills. As such, the project will be completed very well, either independently by the staff member or with some direction. Choosing opportunities to provide direction will ensure that the employee will require less direct management on future, similar projects, and will complete them more efficiently and satisfactorily.
Furthermore, delegating tasks to staff members can be a thoughtful way to develop their respective careers. With the increased responsibilities associated with these projects, not only will managers learn to trust their employees’ capabilities, but will also train them to work outside of their comfort levels. Delegating tasks will build the entire workplace’s skill level by pushing other team members’ creativity and leadership. It will also provide an opportunity for management to learn more about the goals and capabilities of their staff, and will allow everyone to develop more caring, trusting relationships with their colleagues.
For those who do not work at or manage an office environment, delegating tasks to a virtual assistant can also be a valuable tool to increase productivity. We’ve all heard the saying, “two heads are better than one.” This applies to the office as much as any other space, and perhaps even more so. By delegating tasks to a virtual assistant, an individual can get twice as much work done in the same amount of time. For challenging projects or assignments where the delegator has hit a dead end, a virtual assistant can approach the problem from a new perspective, and will likely offer new and valuable insights to the task.
Ultimately, delegating tasks is a skill that many are loath to acquire, but once the first few projects are successfully completed, they will wonder why they hadn’t done so sooner.
Work Closely to Avoid Missteps
Though the logic behind hiring a personal assistant is to save time and diminish an individual’s workload, work closely with a virtual assistant in order to ensure the quality and consistency of the first few projects. Clear communication and direction will guarantee that the project does not need to be redone, which would be a waste of time and money for both parties involved. After the first briefing about a project, the virtual assistant should have a clear understanding of their performance expectations. They should be aware of deadlines, potential hiccups, and procedures to follow for each step of the process. This way, though the manager should be available to answer questions and give direction, they do not need to micromanage the entire endeavor, which would essentially mean completing the project themselves while paying someone else to do it.
Establish Criteria to Measure Performance
Many project managers make the mistake of assigning their virtual assistant to a task and then failing to offer any feedback before delegating a second assignment. Managers may also neglect to ensure that the quality of material they receive from their virtual assistant is actually saving them time. Since the virtual assistant is not a physical presence in the office, it can be difficult to conduct performance reviews or tactfully offer constructive criticism, but both must be done. By establishing criteria to measure a virtual assistant’s performance, both parties are clear on the expectations of each project. Furthermore, the virtual assistant knows what to do in order to continue meeting their manager’s needs, and will work even hard to achieve their performance goals.
Involve the VA Beyond Specific Projects
When first selecting a virtual assistant, introduce them to the goals and values of the business, rather than just the specific projects they will be working on. When a virtual assistant has knowledge of the context and overall intention of the projects they are expected to complete, they will do a much more thorough and insightful job completing those tasks. Similarly, virtual assistants with a broader knowledge of the company or individual they are working for are more likely to offer insights into challenges their manager is facing. These challenges do not necessarily have to be projects assigned to the virtual assistant, but the assistant should be aware of the pressing needs of their employer. That way, if they finish a project early or have an idea for another endeavor, they can suggest it and be confident that they are contributing to the success of the workplace in a larger capacity than just the tasks they are delegated.
With constant availability and accessibility of social media, email, and other messaging interfaces, it can be very difficult to keep track of who communicates to whom and on which platform. Instead, choose one application that the virtual assistant will use to ask questions or submit projects. Slack, for example, is a workplace messaging service that allows each employee to communicate directly with each other without filling up an email inbox with unnecessary correspondence. Use of this portal, or any other application, will streamline the communication process so that less time can be spent on checking various platforms, and more time can be spent on completing actual projects.
Develop a Process
Once the mode of communication has been established, design a process that walks the virtual assistant through every step of their project development. A site like Trello, for example, allows users to assign projects, give direction, then submit assignments and mark them as completed. The manager of the Trello board will then receive a notification that the project has been completed, and can then both archive the work and offer feedback on the final product. Developing a process for a virtual assistant to follow is an especially useful step, as it allows users to keep all their files in one place and keep track of a project’s progress from start to finish.
Individuals facing incredible amounts of stress will often write down a list of everything they need to accomplish in order to get it out of their minds and onto the paper. However, once this step is complete, the more difficult task of actually crossing items off of the to-do list begins to loom. Though to-do lists can look different to different people, large, complicated projects are frequently interspersed with smaller, menial tasks, and also time-sensitive items. The full list can seem daunting, but organizing it into the three aforementioned categories is already a step in the right direction.
Then, delegate some of those tasks to other employees or a virtual assistant.
The tinier tasks can immediately be given to a virtual assistant, as they require minimal direction and can be easily completed by someone without any specialized knowledge. Once those projects have been outsourced, arrange the time-sensitive tasks by due date. If an item takes less than ten minutes to accomplish, such as writing an email or mailing a deliverable, do it now. Crossing a project off the list, no matter how small, will begin reducing the mental stress and allow for concentration on the more extensive projects.
Next, distribute the remainder of the time-sensitive tasks between yourself, employees, and the virtual assistant. Assuming that the other small projects already assigned to the virtual assistant are easily completed and have no set deadlines, they should also be able to assume a majority of the time-sensitive tasks. However, make sure to incorporate time within the delegator’s schedule to answer questions and brief the virtual assistant on the projects they have been assigned.
Finally, it’s time to consider those larger projects. While there might be several still sitting on that to-do list, the list itself will appear much more manageable once the smaller tasks have been delegated. Once the feeling of being overwhelmed has been alleviated somewhat, focus on breaking those large tasks into smaller, actionable items. Each item should be something that can be completed in one sitting, and will easily transition into the next phase of the project. Once these items have been completed, project managers may find that even components of those larger projects can be outsourced as well.
This does not necessarily mean that all projects should be dumped onto a virtual assistant without any consideration for their time. Giving an assistant an entire to-do list without prioritizing projects, setting guidelines, and distributing the work amongst at least two people will cause feelings of burnout and being overwhelmed to simply shift from one person to another. Instead, distribute the work amongst several people so that it can become a more manageable endeavor.
Do not forget, however, to add one item to the to-do list. Briefing the virtual assistant in regards to the responsibilities associated with each task, and its accompanying deadlines and expectations, is a polite and expected step before giving them an assignment. This also ensures that the virtual assistant will know how to complete the task without constantly turning to their manager with questions or for direction. Of course, the delegator should be available for questions, but their direction should be clear enough that they require little clarification.
Now that these steps have been delineated, the overwhelming tasks and feelings of burnout should no longer appear so absolute. Instead, by breaking down the to-do list into manageable categories and delegating some of those assignments to a virtual assistant, stressors will be alleviated and projects will be completed at a much more reasonable pace. By tracking and celebrating progress, the tasks that once seemed insurmountable will quickly be on their way to completion. This will free up the brain to think creatively about new approaches to those projects, instead of being bogged down with remembering everything that needs to be done.
Many people who are overwhelmed with their work and in need of assistance often look for just that: an assistant. However, the same individuals may be conducting too general of a search, and will end up flooded with search results for executive assistants, administrative assistants, personal assistants, remote assistants and virtual assistants. A somewhat more difficult question can be, what’s the difference? Determining whether the skills of an executive, administrative, or virtual assistant meets an individual’s needs can frequently be a difficult task. However, the following descriptions of their respective roles within a company will allow for a more informed decision of which type of assistance, and assistant, is needed.
An executive assistant is usually a highly-visible employee who provides direct administrative and secretarial support to executive-level business professionals. These typically include CEO’s, CFO’s and other highly advanced roles. Executive assistants are often tasked with high-level tasks including coordinating executive meetings, making complex travel arrangements, drafting and editing various correspondence, and participating in activities that often span a global audience.
An administrative assistant works for a specific company at either the company’s main office or another specified location. Usually, the administrative assistant is a salaried employee. The main tasks for this position will be working with human resources, or working as a bookkeeper and receptionist.
Personal assistants are a third type of assistant that are rarely responsible for office tasks. Instead, they handle the daily tasks of a senior member of the company to whom they are exclusively assigned. Responsibilities would include coordinating travel arrangements, answering phone calls, managing appointments, and other day-to-day tasks that are not office-related.
In between an administrative and virtual assistant is the remote assistant. A remote assistant generally completes the same tasks as an executive assistant, but they often work from home or another location that is not the home office. However, like, administrative assistants, remote assistants are usually salaried employees with benefits and taxes taken out of their wages. They do not work freelance, like a virtual assistant would.
Next is the virtual assistant. A virtual assistant is not a salaried employee, and works as an independent contractor. He or she provides specific services to clients, and does not work within the same office space. The virtual assistant can provide administrative services, but is not limited to this type of work. Instead, he or she can also work on creative projects such as managing social media pages, designing promotional campaigns, marketing the company, and project or content development. Virtual assistants can also sub-contract work, meaning that they can work for other virtual assistants, as well.
Choosing the Right Assistant
When deciding whether to hire a virtual assistant or an in-person administrative assistant, consider not only the financial benefits of a virtual contractor, but also the following questions. What type of communication is preferred? If the business does the majority of their communication via email or another messaging service, then a virtual assistant will fit right in with the company. Next, how much in-person support is necessary for this position? The answer to this question will likely determine whether an executive assistant or a virtual assistant is hired. For example, a virtual assistant would have a much more difficult time working as a receptionist as they do not work directly in the office and may not have access to the information a caller needs. Needless to say, they would also be unable to interact with office visitors. Also determine the company’s level of involvement with the assistant. If an independent employee is preferred, then a virtual assistant may be the way to go. However, if the position requires significant training or direction, then an in-person position where the new hire can be directly overseen would definitely make more sense.
Other questions to keep in mind when choosing between a virtual assistant and another type of assistant is whether or not the assistant will be exclusive to one company. An executive assistant will either earn a salary or other wages, but will work solely for that employer. A virtual assistant, however, might be contracted to multiple companies. If the virtual assistant is only needed for a certain number of tasks per week, however, they might be the preferred option in this scenario, as they would not be a salaried employee, thereby saving the company from paying for a full-time equivalent salary.
In many ways, a virtual assistant is the ideal type of assistant, but for a more intimate approach, an administrative assistant may also be a good alternative for the company to consider. When making the decision on whether to hire a virtual assistant, keep these differences in mind for the most informed decision.
Without communication, a relationship with a virtual assistant would be nonexistent. Relationships with clients in other parts of the world would be similarly defunct, and employees in the same office might not even be on the same page. Communication is the key to success for any company with an online component — most businesses, these days. Therefore, streamline the communication process within the company to ensure the most efficient processes and guarantee that each employee clearly knows their manager's’ expectations.
In order for a virtual team to work effectively and efficiently, the team members must be clear, concise, and communicative. One way in which to accomplish all of these goals at the same time is to select just one platform across which the team will communicate. This can be via email or a messaging application like Slack or Asana. Regardless, make sure that the entire team knows to direct their questions and other forms of communication directly to that platform. In this way inboxes won’t pile up with meaningless questions of “where can I find this?” or “can you check with X about Y?”
Next, select a time where the entire team can meet together, either face-to-face or in a virtual face-to-face via Skype or Facetime. When people can associate faces to the names of the people they are communicating with, they tend to be more careful and considerate in the questions and responses. Another purpose of this meeting will be to make sure that the entire team is on the same page regarding the goals and missions of the organization. In this way, with each new project that is assigned, employees can work on those tasks in such a way and with such an outcome that the final result always reflects the mission of their employer.
Building that team atmosphere of communication and collaboration also helps to clarify both tasks and processes. If one team member has a certain set of skills, he or she can share those talents with another team member so that the work is done more skillfully and efficiently. Furthermore, employees will know who they can turn to with questions or concerns regarding specific issues. At the same time, be sure to clarify who is the lead on which projects, and their responsibilities associated with those tasks. This allows team leaders and managers to make more accurate judgments regarding employee engagement and productivity. If an employee has a certain set of tasks to accomplish or goals to work towards in an understood period of time, they are more likely to be accountable and complete their work in a timely manner.
Furthermore, do not forget to have one to one contact with each of the team members on staff. Building in those weekly or bi-weekly meetings, even if they occur over Skype or another video interface, allows administrators to interact with their employees in a way that builds trust and fosters more open communication. Use this time to conduct performance reviews and deliver feedback on recent projects, as such criticism can often read as unnecessarily harsh over email, even from the most well-intentioned sender. This is also a great time to ask if the employee has any suggestions to improve the online communication process, as they are the ones making the most use of the tool.
After initiating or even strengthening the communication strategies amongst virtual teams, there will be measurable improvement to the team’s success rates. Not only will trust have been built, but individual performance will improve as a result of managing results as opposed to activity. Additionally, with regular but concise communication, the work atmosphere that would automatically be present in a physical office space can still be cultivated remotely. By establishing rules of responsiveness and standards of communication, the success of any virtual enterprise is virtually guaranteed.
Interested in hiring a virtual assistant? Here are the top 20 tasks that todays’ busy business professionals outsource to their VA’s.