As any business owner or senior executive will tell you, a good executive assistant is worth their weight in gold. They’re often the impetus that will keep a project - or even an entire organisation - on track. They’ll magically find enough hours in the day to ensure their boss is where he or she is needed most at critical times, and have the initiative to prioritise the demands being placed on their boss’ time, from any number of internal and external stakeholders. And finding just the right person to fill this role can be very challenging.
Gone are the days of chain-smoking secretaries tapping away on typewriters. Executive assistants are highly skilled professionals who are exceptional at their job and boast a skillset that can be applied to a variety of organisations, projects and industries. What’s more, with the recent dramatic shift to remote working business models, it’s not just executives who find themselves working from home, but also their assistants. This shift has seen an acceleration in the trend towards virtual executive assistants and opens up the pool of talent that’s available to draw upon, making it easier to find the right candidate for your organisation.
COVID-19 has also dramatically changed the roles of many assistants who, in the past, may have spent much of their working week taking care of travel arrangements or conference and event planning. Yes, there is still a need for scheduling of video conferencing but not the travel and accommodation organisation that comes with in-person meetings and events. EAs are now needing to reinvent their role somewhat or at least extend their skills more towards the likes of project management, team coordination and operational communication rather than purely administration and scheduling based tasks.
Economic pressures on businesses have also led to other changes in the employment of executive assistants including job sharing, reduced hours and offshore outsourcing.
So what exactly is a virtual executive assistant, how can they help your organisation and how should you go about hiring one.
What is an executive assistant?
The role of an executive assistant can change from organisation to organisation but they are generally employed to support senior managers and executives in an administrative capacity. They’re often seen as the face of the organisation and management team, and entrusted with important, complex and sensitive work. A good one will know exactly what an executive needs and when - often before they know it themselves.
The difference between an executive assistant and personal assistant or administrative support is that they act as the gatekeeper to an executive’s time, and are solely responsible for upper management administrative tasks.
Executive assistant job description and responsibilities
An executive assistant often has an extensive list of tasks within their job description. These duties include but are not limited to the following:
- Acting as the first point of contact between the executive and stakeholders (internal and external)
- Organising meetings including calendar and room bookings, agendas, catering, handouts, presentations and minutes
- Making travel arrangements and producing travel itineraries
- Producing reports and presentations
- Managing all correspondence to and from the executive including emails and phone calls
- Budgeting and expense management
- Overseeing other clerical staff
- Researching and collating data for a number of purposes
- Managing and maintaining office and filing systems
- Organising events and conferences
- Personal errands just as gift purchasing.
When writing the job description for your Executive Assistant, think closely about the types of skills they will require - especially those that might be unique to your organisation or industry.
- Experience - Do you want someone who will hit the ground running with years of experience under their belt? Or would you prefer someone with the right aptitude who you can train and mould to suit?
- Technical skills - Advanced Microsoft Office skills will be a necessity for all EAs but you might also seek someone who has specialist skills in other software that your organisation uses
- Communication skills - This covers all online and direct communication as well as the ability to communicate with everyone from CEOs and business leaders through to caterers and cleaning staff. They also need exceptional interpersonal skills to deal with difficult and demanding personalities or situations.
- Time management and organisational skills - EAs need to be exceptional organisers, problem solvers and project managers while working well under pressure
- Attitude - Friendly and professional come to mind, but also think about the types of personality traits that will fit well with your company culture.
Onsite executive assistant vs. outsourced executive assistant
As you might suspect, an onsite executive assistant is one that works within your principal place of business. They’ll be within earshot of you for the most part, and this option might be best if you prefer to look someone straight in the eye as you communicate with them. And let’s face it, they’ll be ready to grab you a coffee whenever you need it most - if… you think that’s the best use of their valuable time.
A virtual or outsourced executive assistant is one that works remotely and this can mean from anywhere in the world. Communicating with them will be via phone, video or email but they can essentially do anything that someone onsite can do including taking dictation and minutes or discussing your plans for the week ahead. They can also manage your calendar and inbox as well as answer and direct calls or take messages. In fact, an executive assistant and the duties they perform are ideal for outsourcing.
The big decision with regards to an outsourced executive assistant is whether you hire them directly or through an external agency or provider. You also need to consider whether you prefer a dedicated resource or if you’re ok with them working for multiple companies. The more in-depth knowledge you require (of the job and your company) and how personalised the service needs to be will determine the type of employee or contractor you are looking for.
You have the option of going down the usual path for recruitment via sites such as Seek however this will only ever give you access to a local pool of talent. Freelancer sites such as Upwork are great for accessing a broader pool of talent however it is a bidding scenario so you may be left with a smaller pool of qualified candidates. There are also virtual assistant agencies but they do tend to be packaged based and can become quite expensive. An executive assistant really needs to be more personalised to you and your company, and with access to such privileged information, you would be wise to ensure they’re committed and not likely to disappear overnight - a very real scenario when contracting directly or in a freelance situation.
As a result, many executives are turning to outsourcing providers to fulfil their executive assistant roles.
The benefits of employing an offshore executive assistant
By utilising an outsourcing provider you’ll benefit greatly from not just their expertise but also their infrastructure and the refined processes they have in place to manage your team members.
- Cost savings - By employing in a lower cost economy such as the Philippines, you can expect to save up to 70% on employment costs. This includes the infrastructure required such as computers and work space.
- HR assistance - From writing the job description through to finding and recruiting your Executive Assistant, you’ll have the support of a company that does this every day. What’s more, once they’re employed, you’ll have ongoing performance management support.
- Increased employee satisfaction - Chances are that prior to employing an Executive Assistant, members of your local team were probably being pulled away from their work to assist with tasks such as taking calls, organising meetings or conducting research. With a new EA on board, your team members will be left to do what they do best.
- Improved efficiencies - Having a dedicated EA will ensure that tasks such as daily reports as well as information flow through a business will be much more efficient and streamlined. Jobs won’t sit ideal until someone can get to them but will rather be moved along by your super organised assistant.
- Business growth - Employing an outsourced Executive Assistant means your spending less on a needed resource while increasing the available capacity of your local team and you’ll not only see evidence of this in your bottom line you’ll also be giving your business the opportunity to grow.
- Scalability - Once you’ve employed your Executive Assistant and have all the processes in place with your offshore provider, it’s relatively easy to scale up your offshore operations. Whether you need more admin assistance or help in other areas such as bookkeeping, marketing or customer service, you’ve already laid a solid foundation to build on. And if business does suffer a downturn at some stage, you can also scale back your operations.
- Flexibility - If your business is international or you just need to work long hours, offshore staff who are already working in a different timezone, can easily meet your needs and even offer 24/7 support if required.
- Security - Your EA will have access to extremely sensitive information and it can be difficult to have the correct security measures in place, particularly with independent contractors. The benefit of working with an outsourcing provider is that their security protocols are exceptional. It’s their lifeblood afterall. Security measures should include controlled access to the building, limitations on use of phones and storage devices, online monitoring and password controls.
Working with an outsourcing provider
Before leaping in to the business of employing a staff member, you’ll need to work out which provider will be the right fit for you. Not all are created equal when it comes to:
- Operations and productivity
- Staff retention, holidays and leave
- Security and infrastructure
- Human resources and recruitment
- Invoicing and account management
Be sure to ask the right questions and speak to other clients. Download this ebook for advice on how to go about finding the best provider to suit your organisation.
How to hire an outsourced executive assistant
Once you’ve decided on an outsourcing provider, you’ll work closely with them to develop a job ad that includes your job description along with the skills, experience and qualifications you require. Much like any human resources agency, your provider will handle the marketing and application process and provide you with a final selection of candidates for your consideration.
You’ll then have the option to select which prospects you’d like to interview and your provider can be as involved in this part of the process as you want them to be. Once you’ve made the final decision it’s time to induct and train the successful applicant. Your provider will handle the payroll, entitlements and legal compliance that’s needed as well as setting them up with the infrastructure they’ll require to complete their work. They’ll be positioned in a nice work environment alongside people who are doing similar roles - all overseen by a manager who will work closely with you to manage their performance.
You’ll then need to take charge of inducting them into your organisation, providing the necessary training and allocating their work. If you think of your outsourced executive assistant in the same way as every other member of your team, you’ll be set for success - include them in weekly meetings, keep them up to date with what’s happening in the business and help them build relationships with your local team to ensure they feel like a valued member of your team.
Want to learn more about the benefits of outsourcing? Read about some of the many businesses experiencing offshore outsourcing success: The Secrets of Outsourcing Offshore Exposed.