A survey by staffing firm Robert Half found that 66 percent of employers want their teams to return to the office after two-plus years of remote work. This data echoes Prialto’s 2021 Executive Productivity Report, which found that 74 percent of executives want to return to the office. But these surveys do not report back-to-the-office preferences by job type. Not every position will or should return to the office.
What is a Remote Executive Assistant
A remote executive assistant, also called a virtual assistant, is someone who performs administrative tasks for executives from a remote location. Most of these assistants are offshore, in countries with lower wages and opportunities for meaningful work. You can find remote executive assistants through gig marketplaces, contractor agencies, job boards, or managed service providers.
5 Reasons for Remote Executive Assistant Growth
One role that is unlikely to return to the office is the executive assistant. The virtual executive assistant market grew 41 percent in 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down in the future. There are five reasons why the virtual remote executive assistant market is growing, and most are related to the unique value that the role delivers.
1. Executive Assistants are Hard to Find
Labor Department statistics show 2.3 million fewer executive assistants in the US than in 2000—losing about 100,000 workers per year. The loss is not entirely due to a lack of demand (see below). Job site Lensa found that executive assistants are among the three most challenging positions to fill. Hiring remote administrative assistants opens the door to a global talent pool for trained, professional executive support.
While fewer people are entering the executive assistant field in the United States, tens of thousands of educated, English-speaking individuals in other countries are eager to fill the role. The opportunity to work one-one with North American and European executives is far more attractive than working in call centers and other BPO businesses where the work is anonymous, negative, and dull.
2. Companies Do Not Have the Resources to Manage Executive Assistants
One of the reasons for the decline of the executive admin role is that technology has replaced much of the work of traditional administrative assistants. These technologies include voice mail, email, calendar apps, etc. A by-product of the decline of executive assistants is that companies have lost the experience needed to hire, qualify, manage, and grow remote assistants as a career.
Managed virtual assistant service providers have stepped to fill the gap—providing training, supervision, and growth opportunities for assistants who see working with US executives as a more exciting career opportunity in regions where such opportunities are scarce. Executives get great assistants and do not need to provide performance management and quality control.
3. The Executive Assistant is Rarely a Full-Time Job
The virtual assistant market growth is primarily due to a backlash against the disappearance of traditional executive assistants. The productivity technology that made traditional admins obsolete created the unrealistic expectation that executives should be self-sufficient. Executives without assistance now spend about 16 hours a week on administrative tasks—quite a burden but not a full-time job for an assistant.
The tasks that eat up 16 hours a week are easy to delegate and do not require an assistant to be in the office:
- Email and calendar management
- Travel and expenses
- Contact data entry and management
- Email organization
4. Remote Executive Assistants Reduces Costs
Part-time offshore executive assistants cost much less than a fully loaded full-time on-site assistant. A managed virtual executive assistant service costs about $25 per hour. That rate includes the service provider’s work to hire, train, manage and provide full benefits for the assistants behind the scenes and train backup assistants to step in when the primary assistant is absent.
The average salary of an executive assistant in the US is $62,000. But that is only the beginning. Benefits add about 30 percent to the cost of an employee, and it costs about $10,000 per year in office space, utilities, and equipment per employee. That puts the total cost of the average assistant at more than $45 per hour.
5. Remote Executive Assistance Works
The growth of the remote executive assistant market is evidence that it works. That evidence was magnified in 2020 when the business world went remote. Those already working with remote teams were ahead of the game, and the rest quickly adapted. Barriers to remote work dissolved.
Cloud-based collaboration tools like video conferencing, email, instant messaging, calendar platforms, CRMs, and others make remote administrative support straightforward and efficient. Remote assistants can schedule meetings, plan business trips, file expenses, update, cleanup CRM data, and more.
Studies during the shutdowns found that remote work improved most workers’ productivity—70 percent of workers said they are more productive working from home. In Prialto’s Executive Productivity survey, 74 percent of executives said they are more productive working at home.
Gains in productivity when working remotely is not a recent observation. Before the pandemic, a 2015 study of 16,000 call center workers by Stanford University found that productivity increased 13 percent when they worked from home.
Managed Remote Executive Assistant Services for Teams
The managed remote executive assistant model is especially valuable for executive teams that need corresponding teams of assistants. The hiring, managing, and coaching of the assistants that a managed service provides make it easy to scale the team without adding any HR or supervisory overhead. Backup support ensures continuity in the event of absences and turnover.
Service providers are experts at remote work and business process optimization. They can help you identify more tasks to offload and partner with you to develop and document workflows. That institutional knowledge never leaves your company.
A managed remote executive assistant service is a long-term investment on both sides of the relationship with a company. In contrast, an in-house assistant is an investment in a relationship with an individual. Use these questions to figure out which approach is best for you.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.