Strong executive assistants can make businesses much more efficient and productive. Consider these numbers:
- Executives spend 16 hours a week on administrative tasks
- It takes 25 minutes to schedule a business meeting
- It takes 12 hours to plan a door-to-door business trip
- It takes 30 minutes to file an expense report
- Executives spend three hours per day on email management
While these tasks are essential, they are not productive uses of an executive's time. In earlier generations, most executives had a personal or shared administrative assistant. But technology has replaced many of the functions of an assistant, so executives are fending for themselves.
Executive Assistants are Hard to Find
According to labor department figures, the ranks of executive assistants have shrunk by 40 percent since 2000 in the US, shedding 1.6 million jobs. And the job is set to continue to decline by seven percent a year, leading to what the Wall Street Journal coined "The Vanishing Executive Assistant."
LinkedIn reports it takes more than 30 days to hire an in-house admin, and, according to Lensa, the role is the third hardest to fill.
Turnover is High
Then there is the issue of turnover, which is expensive and disruptive. Sixty percent of executive assistants quit after less than two years. Since it takes 90 days to onboard and train an assistant, and it costs twice an employee's salary to find a replacement, executives are constantly starting over, and businesses pay a heavy price.
Add 90 days (about three months) to the 30-day hiring process, and you invest at least four months in your assistant for a less-than-two-year stint.
The reasons assistants leave are often due to limited career options and lack of management. The declining number of assistants means that few organizations have experience training, coaching, mentoring, and guiding them in their jobs. Nor are there role models for a senior executive assistant.
The Rise of Virtual Assistants
There has been a sharp uptick in the use of virtual assistants to bridge the gap between in-house executive assistants and all the administrative tasks executives face. Collaboration technology has made colocation far less necessary, and there are thousands of workers in remote geographies eager to work directly with US executives.
Most virtual assistants work as freelancers or independent contractors. They work part-time and you hire them directly or through an agency or website. The market grew by 41 percent in 2020 as remote work became the norm. But there are risks with this approach that are like hiring an in-house assistant:
- Lack of a defined role—there is no standard or accreditation to judge candidates by
- The turnover rate is about the same as in-house executive assistants (note The Disappearing Virtual Assistant Problem).
- Onboarding and training time and costs.
- Performance management and quality control are time-consuming and can slow across time zones.
- IT and personal security risks from people working on personal computers, public networks, with access to sensitive information.
Managed Virtual Assistant Services Assure Long-Term Success
To address the risks and challenges of hiring an internal or virtual executive assistant, businesses are turning to managed virtual assistant services, like Prialto, that offer a subscription-like staffing approach. Here is how it works:
- A service provider hires, trains, and supervises the assistants, with managers doing quality control and providing accountability.
- All assistants are trained using the same standard business processes, so there is a uniform set of competencies.
- Backup assistants are trained to take over if an assistant quits or is unavailable—you are always covered and never start over.
- Because all assistants are co-trained, it is easy to scale if you want to add more assistants.
- Secure company facilities, networks, and computers ensure information security.
- Background checks and confidentiality ensure personal security.
- Executives provide feedback to managers, not the assistants, completely removing the management layer.
Why Long–Term Virtual Assistants Are Important
In addition to turnover time and costs, it takes time for any assistant to learn your business and your processes. That is why it is so upsetting and disruptive when they leave. In the managed service model, all your task processes are documented, and the backup assistant is trained weekly to step in at any time.
Staffing Industry Analysts, a first-of-its-kind analysis of "The Virtual Assistant Landscape", had this to say about the managed virtual assistant model:
"The more sophisticated and highly developed VA firms will offer a managed service where Virtual Assistants are supervised locally with the quality of work checked and regular training and development offered. This contrasts to a self-serve model, which is more akin to a platform that simply facilitates the introduction of a client to a Virtual Assistant and does not provide ongoing support throughout the engagement. Executives working through a self-serve platform will have to take care of their own training requirements and generally manage their own quality standards."
It is All About Productivity
Strong executive support can dramatically increase your productivity, giving you back those 16 hours spent on day-to-day tasks. But all that productivity is lost when assistants leave too soon, taking their knowledge of your business processes with them. A long-term managed service solution pays dividends as the assistant learns to take more tasks off your plate. All that knowledge stays with the service provider should an assistant leave.
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.