Entrepreneurs know they cannot run a business on their own. There are many tasks that have to be attended to.
However, in order to be productive, they have to put more time, energy and focus on the core functions that will contribute to the growth of the business.
One of the best options for entrepreneurs is to outsource the other tasks to virtual assistants or V.As. When you are working with remote employees as V.As are, it is very important to maintain regular contact with them.
How To Keep In Contact With Your VA’s
The key to having effective communication with your VA lies with what you do even before you hire one.It all comes down to forward thinking. The communication protocols that will be in place would depend on the type of VA you need and the working arrangement:
• Identify the Tasks to be Outsourced –Generally, entrepreneurs outsource administrative tasks to virtual assistants. Examples of administrative tasks are email filtering, phone handling, and appointment setting.
However, you can outsource more specialized tasks as well. These specialized tasks are more technical in nature. Examples would be graphic design, social media marketing, and accounting.
Knowing the type of tasks to be outsourced will give you an idea of the best times and days of the week to schedule meetings with your V.A’s.
• Create a Reporting System –The work of your VA must be documented. The VA should be required to submit reports that summarize work done for a specific period. This is a way of tracking the status of work and whether the VA is on schedule.
• Finalize Your Budget for Outsourcing Work –If you have a tight budget, you can hire a Virtual Assistant from a remote location such as the Philippines or India. The cost is lower but the quality of work is very high.
However, know that you will be dealing with time zone and cultural differentials.
These 3 factors will help you select the right Virtual Assistant for your business. Before your VA starts his/her first day on the job, you should discuss your framework of communication.
Here are 5 tips that you can consider when designing a system to help you keep in contact with your VA’s:
Get to Know Your VA
Even if you are working in the virtual world, it pays to get the relationship started on the right foot. Take some time to know your VA on a personal level. Learning who your VA is will go a long way in establishing a long-term relationship.
All it takes is an audio-video call over Skype or another platform. You should be able to cover a lot of ground in 30 minutes.
This is especially true if your VA is from a remote location where time zone differentials, cultural and language barriers exist. It is advisable to do some research prior to talking with your VA.
Clarify traits, practices, customs, and traditions which you believe could potentially lead to misunderstanding. Share your own traits, practices, and traditions as well as expectations on the working arrangement. Ask your VA to share his/her expectations.
When conducting the audio-video call, encourage the VA to ask questions freely. This is a great way of establishing free and open communication. The last thing you want is a VA who keeps things to himself/herself.
Schedule Regular Meetings
An effective way to keep in contact with your VA is to simply schedule regular meetings. It will create a strong sense of collaboration and belonging. The VA will feel like he/she is actively involved in your business instead of just being a passive contributor.
Here are a few tips on how to have a productive meeting with your VA:
• Schedule the meeting on the first day of the workweek at least one hour before the start of the V.A’s shift.
• Prepare the agenda of the meeting and give your VA a copy at least 2-3 days before the meeting.
• Keep the meeting short. If the meeting is set for 1 hour, try to finish it in 30 minutes.
• Allow your VA to actively participate in the meetings. Let him/her present a report or offer his/her opinions on certain issues.
• Ask the VA to record the minutes of the meeting and to email you a copy.
Another good idea is to bookend the workweek with meetings with your VA. The objective of the start-of-the-workweek meeting is to identify the objectives for the next 5 days. The objective of the end-of-the-workweek meeting is to discuss unresolved issues and potential problems for the succeeding workweek.
Create a System of Communication
Take advantage of digital technology. There are many amazing Internet-based programs that you can use to keep in contact with your VA. As a general rule, there should be at least 3 avenues of communication. For example:
• Mobile Phone
Choose 1 to 2 programs that you can use for each of these avenues. For example:
• Online – Skype and Slack for calls, messaging, audio-video meetings.
• Mobile Phone – Viber, Slack, Messenger, or Skype.
• Email – Give your VA a company-designated email. Discuss your rules and guidelines for the use of the email address.
Once you’ve identified the programs, create a system for your communication channels. These are essentially guidelines for your VA to follow during work and off-days.
Here are examples of provisions that you can include in your communication system:
• Keep the channels open during work hours.
• The channels should be available on the work PC and the V.A’s mobile device.
• Set hours of the day for transmission of the communication. For example, communications over the PC or mobile should be transmitted every 90 minutes. The idea is to avoid distractions during work.
• Inform your VA if you are in a meeting where you cannot be disturbed. Give an idea of how long the meeting will take and which channel the VA should use to relay important information.
• On off-days, restrict communication on 1 channel only, preferably email.
Include Processes that Encourage Close Collaboration
In order to make work more efficient, include processes that encourage close collaboration. Examples of these types of processes and programs include:
• Project Management – Asana, Salesforce, Bitrix 24-7
• File Sharing – DropBox, Accellion
These programs make it easy to share folders, assign projects, keep track of progress, and ensure deadlines are observed and attained. Create passwords for these programs. It is important that access to the administration of these accounts is limited only to you.
Institute a Feedback Mechanism
Sometimes a “yes” or a nod of the head does not mean your instructions were understood. A VA may let you know that everything is clear even though it is not. This is a very real challenge when working with a VA especially with someone where cultural and language barriers play a role.
Instead of asking “Yes” and “No” questions, institute a feedback mechanism. How this works is by asking the VA to relay the instructions back to you. Therefore, instead of asking, “Are my instructions clear?” say, “Can you please repeat my instructions?”
Articulating your instructions will force their mind to work harder and assimilate the details more thoroughly. They will be able to retain the information longer.
Do the same thing when discussing processes and procedures. A feedback mechanism will let you identify misunderstandings and correct them right away.
Conclusion – Why Is Effective Communication With Your Virtual Assistant Important?
Communication is a key component to the success of a business. Whether you are an entrepreneur or a top-level manager, you have to be in constant contact with your people.
Even when you are working with the best people in the industry, you should not assume everything is in order. Nothing is certain in business. There is no such thing as a perfect plan. It is not realistic to expect that you can account for every risk factor because some are beyond your control.
Constant communication lets you know that everyone is on the same page and potential risk factors to your objectives have been correctly handled.
In a shared-space environment such as an office, collaboration is easy and yet breakdowns in communication can occur. Miscommunication can result in misunderstandings which can lead to mistakes that can be very costly to the business.
Effective communication reduces the risk of costly mistakes happening. If breakdowns in communication can occur in a shared space work setting, it can also happen when working with V.As.
In fact, the probability of miscommunication happening could be higher for the following reasons:
• Time zone differentials if your Virtual Assistant is from another region in the world.
• Latency issues; if the region where your Virtual Assistant is from has problems with Internet connectivity or low bandwidth.
• Cultural differences; the Virtual Assistant could perceive your instructions differently and take a passive approach to giving feedback.
• Exclusivity; the Virtual Assistant could be managing other clients or projects. You may not have his/her full and undivided attention. There may be days whereby the VA could be preoccupied.
• Personal problems; V.A’s are only human. Like you, they also go through their share of personal problems. People who are dealing with emotional issues are easily distracted. Lack of focus could lead to mistakes.
• Health problems; V.A’s can get sick. If the body is physically compromised, the mind will inevitably follow. Certain medications make it hard to concentrate 100% on a task. The quality of work will be affected.
As you have read, in a virtual work setting, there are more challenges to effective communication compared to a brick-and-mortar office. Thus, the need to tighten up and develop strong communication channels and protocols are more important so you can keep in close contact with your VA.