Your Virtual Assistant should be seen as an integral part of your team – not a “bolt on” employee who works from afar. Due to your VA working remotely, building a strong working relationship will not begin with face-to-face onboarding or being able to pop into each other’s offices to get an update or answer questions. Instead, it will entail structured interaction, using digital communication tools and automated systems. However, what does not vary is that it will be forged through mutual commitment to the success of the business and regular two-way communication.

Building a strong working relationship takes time. It is not passive or self-sustaining – it takes continual input and action. Practically speaking, from your VA’s perspective, their commitment to building a strong working relationship is founded on their dedication to doing their job well and turning in work of a high standard – along with a positive can-do attitude. From the business owner’s side, it has its foundation in a commitment to thorough onboarding and any training needed, followed by regular communication and support – and consciously creating a work environment that nurtures engagement and builds a sense of belonging. One of the main benefits of building a strong working relationship is that it engenders trust.

Creating a positive virtual working environment lies at the heart of maintaining a strong working relationship with your VA – or any member of your team. One of the most positive aspects of taking on Virtual Assistants is that it allows remote members of the team to keep to office hours while also having the flexibility to see to personal commitments. This enabling of work-life balance contributes to a happy working environment.

Here are five tips for building a strong working relationship with your Virtual Assistant:

  1. Prioritise onboarding
  • Start by ensuring your VA understands your core values and the company culture. Make sure to be specific in defining what is desirable behaviour and what is not – and what living out your company culture entails, so that your VA understands specifically how their actions and performance contributes to supporting your workplace culture.
  • Introduce them to the team and provide a potted pen of each of their job descriptions and how their positions may require collaboration.
  • Provide a list of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by which their performance will be appraised.
  • Give them appropriate access to your technology systems, login details and the like, and ensure that your VA is provided with any technical resources to get them up and running immediately.
  • Take your VA though current work in progress and familiarise them with how you use any project management and other software.
  • Hand over a task list that outlines and prioritises their tasks, with milestones, deadlines and predetermined review dates.
  1. Maintain open communication channels

Simple, straightforward and honest communication helps to build a strong foundation. The starting point is to provide your VA with information on your preferred method of communication and the times of day and week when you are and are not available. In the early days it’s helpful to connect with your VA more than you will once they are well established in their role. Once your Virtual Assistant is up to speed, schedule regular check-in meetings to review progress, address any concerns and provide feedback.  When it comes to team meetings, by fostering open communication you can ensure that both in-office and remote employees feel valued and supported.  Encouraging everyone to participate helps to create a sense of community and “being heard” that will contribute to your team’s engagement and future success.

  1. Use online communication tools and platforms for seamless interaction

It is beneficial to encourage communication and collaboration as much as possible in a remote team. Leveraging project management tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana or Google Docs can facilitate seamless interaction with your Virtual Assistant and between team members, bridging the gap between any in-house and remote team members. Used properly, these online tools will enhance real-time communication and collaboration. They make assigning tasks, updating job statuses, providing comments, and tracking progress easy – no matter the difference in time zones.

  1. Provide training and development opportunities

Again, your Virtual Assistant should not be seen as a “bolt on”. Investing in training and development opportunities to grow your Virtual Assistant’s skills and expertise will improve their performance. This in turn will impact on the success of your business. By gaining access to training materials and online courses they will stay up to date with the specialised skills that are relevant to their roles and remain current when it comes to the tools and software they need to perform their duties efficiently.

  1. Celebrate successes and milestones with your VA

Recognition and reward at work has been proven to motivate people and boost productivity. Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of your VA. Recognising their hard work and contributions will help to foster a positive work environment and will reinforce their essential role in your business’s success.

Overcoming cultural differences

Virtual Assistants can be located anywhere in the world. Like the UK, South Africa is a diverse, multi-cultural nation. The great news is that research by McKinsey1 has found that not only are diverse workers crucial for enhanced creativity, they are also good for a business’s bottom line. Companies with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to experience greater financial returns than their non-diverse counterparts. When building a strong relationship with a diverse team it is important for business owners to lead by example. For instance, foster an environment of open dialogue where openly sharing cultural insights is encouraged. Your enthusiasm for embracing diversity will inspire your team.