Artificial Intelligence

Personal Assistants (PAs) have long been the unsung heroes and heroines of business. As any leader knows, without skilled, behind-the-scenes administrative support, the job would become nigh on impossible.

Now, a new development is transforming this essential role – the personal assistant is becoming the virtual assistant. This doesn’t refer to the latest digital organiser app – although such tools are undoubtedly useful. Rather, the new virtual assistant is very much human in form and very much becoming a key player in today’s business environment.

So why ‘virtual’? Simply because these individuals are increasingly working remotely rather than from the same office as their employer. The new virtual assistant is usually self-employed and based nearer to home in order to operate productively but in a way that is convenient to their lifestyle.

Experience and competence

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a part-time, remote-working assistant is inexperienced or lacking in skill. In fact, many virtual assistants (VAs) out there have years of experience working as employees for large companies, and forward-thinking businesses could stand to gain from their experience and talents.

So why would they quit a steady job for the life of a freelancer? It could be that they started a family, and needed their work to fit around their home life. Or perhaps they need to pay the bills while they transform their own hobby into a business. It could just be that they grew tired of the commute, or that they prefer to spread their full-time work across a number of different clients or industries. In the end, it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you can find the competent help you need to improve the running of your business.

Cost-effective and low-commitment

Because VAs are usually freelance, they can be hired – and paid – when workloads dictate. So if you’ve just attended a one-off trade show and have hundreds of new business contacts to add to your database, they can do the data-entry while you focus on the next step forward for your business. And after the work is done, so is your financial commitment. If they did a great job, you can hire them for another project next time. If not, you can just find someone else for the next one.

Since they’re not a full-time employee, you won’t have to worry about PAYE, holiday entitlements, pensions or National Insurance contributions either, which is perfect for sole traders who need extra help but don’t want the extra paperwork of becoming an employer.

Virtual reality

There’s a huge range of things a VA can do to free up your time – online research, invoicing, diary management, campaign send-outs, customer-query handling – the list goes on. The truth is that the vast majority of the tasks you’d delegate to an employed assistant can easily be done remotely – except perhaps making the coffee!

Ultimately, any assistant needs to be well-informed, reliable, intelligent, discreet and unflappable. However, what they no longer need to be is present in the same office. Today’s savvy businesses are recognising this fact and widening their recruitment net to capture the very best talent.

By Richard Morris, UK CEO, Regus