The Virtual Assistant – Past, Present and Future

The Virtual Assistant, for all intents and purposes, was created the day CompuServe introduced the Internet to the world. As soon as the world became accessible at our fingertips, several opportunities for commerce became available for those without the means to hold on to a regular 9 to 5 office job.

This was especially true for mothers who had to stay home with the children but still had to contribute to the household. Virtual assistance work also opened new income streams for people who were frequently laid off from work, inconvenienced by the daily commute and those whose basic salary was not enough to pay the bills.

But the possibility for work was limited by the technology available at the time. The introduction of the Internet created a new segment in Information Technology focused on harnessing its power and full potential but was still in the pre-development stages. Most of the jobs assigned involved secretarial duties and personal assistance work such as appointment setting, scheduling, correspondence and other minor organizational duties and responsibilities.

The future of outsourcing work

It wasn’t until 1992 when an enterprising woman by the name of Stacy Brice introduced a new business model for virtual assistance work. In her vision, a virtual employee was not a hired contractor but a partner to the client’s business. According to Brice, they have abilities beyond the scope of secretarial duties and can directly contribute to the success of the business if he or she would be entrusted with higher responsibilities and functions closer in significance with the main enterprise.

Thanks to Stacy Brice, more opportunities and job skills became available for virtual assistants and the industry grew to become an accepted and respected profession.

When technology became mobile it served a period in time when businesses started to look for avenues to lower costs of business yet continue to support income-based strategies. The global outsourcing industry which had been growing in acceptance in the early 90’s created a bridge between businesses and the virtual world through mobile technology. Companies began outsourcing services to remote workers in the Philippines and India where labor costs were significantly lower but the technology and required skill levels were available.

By 2007, there were an estimated 8,000 virtual assistants around the world with 2,000 alone residing in the United States. The growth of the online profession coincided with the economic meltdown of 2007 when several businesses were forced to lay off workers, close down offices to reduce costs and loan interest rates spiraled out of control. Online assistance work became a viable solution for businesses and people struggling to maintain financial stability.

Today, the industry continues to thrive with the proliferation of social media networks and commercial platforms specifically designed to promote online work. Websites dedicated in providing these services to a wide range of industries have risen in popularity the last few years. Hand-in-hand with the demand for online assistance work, technology has evolved to introduce programs and software that improve efficiency for outsourced services. These include cloud based file sharing networks, encrypted Customer Relationship Management or CRM systems, virtual conference rooms, virtual training centers and virtual work rooms.

When the world entered the new millennium, it entered a tumultuous period marked by key events that broke down barriers and connected economies closer than ever before. The business environment has changed and the need for economic inter-dependence has become more apparent as the world increasingly opens up to globalization. Technology may be the engine but people will always be the drivers of growth.

The Virtual Assistant will continue to play an important role in the development strategy of business because it provides a double-edged solution to improve profitability by effectively lowering cost and increasing revenue through efficiency.