A virtual assistant (typically abbreviated to VA, also called a virtual office assistant) is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office. Because virtual assistants are independent contractors rather than employees, clients are not responsible for any employee-related taxes, insurance, or benefits, except in the context that those indirect expenses are included in the VA’s fees.
Clients also avoid the logistical problem of providing extra office space, equipment, or supplies. Clients pay for 100% productive work and can work with virtual assistants, individually, or in multi-VA firms to meet their exact needs. Virtual assistants usually work for other small businesses, but can also support busy executives. It is estimated that there are as few as 5,000 to 10,000 or as many as 25,000 virtual assistants worldwide. The profession is growing in centralized economies with “fly-in fly-out” staffing practices.
Common modes of communication and data delivery include the Internet, e-mail and phone-call conferences, online workspaces, and fax machines. Increasingly virtual assistants are utilizing technology such as Skype and Zoom, Slack, as well as Google Voice. Professionals in this business work on a contractual basis and a long-lasting cooperation are standard. Typically 10 years of administrative experience in an office is expected at such positions as an executive assistant, office manager/supervisor, secretary, legal assistant, paralegal, legal secretary, real estate assistant, and information technology.
In recent years virtual assistants have also worked their way into many mainstream businesses and with the advent of VOIP services such as Skype and Zoom, it has been possible to have a virtual assistant who can answer your phone remotely without the end user’s knowledge. This allows many businesses to add a personal touch in the form of a receptionist without the additional cost of hiring someone.
Virtual assistants consist of individuals as well as companies who work remotely as an independent professional, providing a wide range of products and services both to businesses as well as consumers. Virtual assistants perform many different roles, including typical secretarial work, website editing, social media marketing, customer service, data entry, accounts (MYOB, Quickbooks), and many other remote tasks. The virtual industry has changed substantially as it attracts others new to the field.
Virtual assistants come from a variety of business backgrounds, but most have several years’ experience earned in the “real” (non-virtual) business world, or several years’ experience working online or remotely. A dedicated virtual assistant is someone working in the office under the management of a company. The facility and internet connection as well as training are provided by the company, however not in all cases. The home-based virtual assistant worked either in the office sharing environment or in their house.
The general VA is sometimes called an online administrative assistant, online personal assistant, or online sales assistant. A virtual webmaster assistant, virtual marketing assistant, and virtual content writing assistant are specific professionals that are usually experienced employees from the corporate environment that started to set up their own virtual offices.