A Virtual PA – is it really possible?

The relationship between a manager and the PA is a very personal and close one. The assumption that this works best in an office is a no-brainer. A part of the PA´s job is showing in guests, serving them coffee, transferring calls – all things for which you have to be present in the office. Besides, it is generally accepted knowledge that it is easier to develop a relationship face-to-face.
When I transitioned from office PA to virtual PA these were issues that I knew I had to deal with before offering my services as a virtual PA. I had been working in an office environment where my manager was out of the office 60% of the time, so I had built up extensive knowledge on how to work virtually, keep in close contact and anticipate issues, upcoming meetings and what he needed and when.The practical side of things can be tackled with the many excellent internet tools available (although I have yet to find a coffee machine which I can command remotely). My clients now are small companies which no longer have offices, but work virtually as well – practical problems solved.That leaves however the very crucial components of a manager/PA relation: trust and communication. If you get those right, a virtual manager (or rather client)/PA relationship can be the best of both worlds: an interesting and varied job combined with the advantages of working from home.So, how do you get the trust and communication right?

Trust is earned over time, but it is earned through open and professional communication.

The initial contact is more or less the same as in an office environment. A response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) instead of a letter. An interview via videocon instead of in person. The onus is on the interviewed – as is always the case in a job interview – to give the right impression and ensure the belief that the trust levels are present. A website with a professional look without typos will help, as well as references from previous employers and clients.

Communication is a different matter altogether. The ease of speaking to each other in between meetings, when arriving at the office or leaving the office is not available. Email and text will most likely be the most used way of communicating. However, written messages, especially when in haste, are open to interpretation. It is therefore extremely important that the client is open to a different set up. Especially in the beginning, when there is little or no contact with the team, time needs to be taken to get the PA up to speed on the organisation´s culture, any staff issues there may be and the workload and responsibilities of the client. After the initial period, regular calls have to be set up, for the client and PA to keep in touch on day-to-day issues. This does not necessarily have to take extra time in the client´s agenda, for example ´lost´ time such as a taxi ride or waiting at the airport, can be efficiently used for PA calls.

I have found that if this is done well there is no reason not to get the same close and personal relationship needed for a manager/PA cooperation. My clients will be more than happy to confirm this.

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