Megatrends Driving the Use of Virtual Assistants

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 27 May, 2021

A recent report by Staffing Industry Analysts, The Virtual Assistant Lanscape, is the first to assess the virtual  assistant (VA) marketplace in the context of wider staffing industry practices in including business process outsourcing and contingent workforces. The report’s findings confirm that virtual assistants and the services that provide them are a maturing sector of the staffing industry that has: 

  • Accelerated during the pandemic as offices closed. 
  • Moved from a largely SMB client base to midmarket and enterprise businesses. 

What’s Driving Change 

The pandemic is not the only social, economic and technology trend driving the virtual assistant marketplace forward—but it is one of the. “The Virtual Assistant market was in robust health before the onset of the global pandemic,” SIA noted; As COVID-19 swept across the world in Q1 2020, VA firms took an initial hit to demand, especially among SME customers, but growth for many is now back to pre-COVID levels, if not higher. 

When offices closed, admin work didn’t go away. A new openness and need for remote savvy admins boosted demand once the first shock of the crisis subsided. But other trends, mega and micro alike, also accelerated, including: 

Digital transformation—as businesses shifted operations online, they need assistants schooled in digital communication and project management. 

Emphasis on resilience—the Great Recession drove businesses to invest in financial resilience measures, and businesses quickly shifted to distributed infrastructures and workforce resilience. The ability to work remotely became more valuable for all roles. As environmental, financial, and social crises become more frequent, on-demand hiring gives businesses more flexibility to react. 

A growing skills gap—related to workforce resilience, the shelf life of digital skills has shrunk to two-three years, and virtual assistance offers access to up to date skills more quickly than by external hires or reskilling initiatives.

The gig economy—love it or loathe it, on-demand work models are emerging in all sorts of fields with some workers enjoying more freedom and others feeling undervalued and underpaid. 

New communication technologies—Zoom was nearly ubiquitous before the pandemic, as were Slack and other video and instant messaging platforms, and they have enabled assistants to seamlessly work “side-by-side,” albeit on a screen instead of an office.

Moving to the Enterprise 

"A number of VA firms have not failed to recognize the potential of providing more enterprise-strength services to larger organizations,” SIA wrote; “The provision of Virtual Assistants to larger, often international, clients creates a number of additional challenges compared to the supply of workers to smaller local firms, especially if the client is publicly-listed.” Those challenges include: 

  • Complex legal, data protection, and security requirements. 
  • Proof of compliance with labor and human trafficking regulations. 
  • Need for documented ISO-level international standards accreditation. 
  • Labor classification regulations for contingent workers. 

Managed or Contract VA Services 

Virtual assistant service provides fall into two broad categories: 

  • Managed service providers that hire, train, manage and coach the virtual assistants as full-time employees of the service provider. 
  • Contract virtual assistant service provider that matches businesses with vetted VAs and the client performs any needed training, performance management, and payroll 

“Those VA firms creating enterprise-level services are likely to attract greater interest from corporate HR and procurement departments for deeper and more structured workforce solutions,” SIA wrote. There are a few features of managed services that might make them more attractive to larger businesses: 

  • A large supply of vetted, trained, supported VAs requirement no management lift by the client.  
  • Flexibility to add and remove VAs as personnel come and go and business needs shift. 
  • Payroll, security, legal, and labor compliance is provided by the service provider. 
  • Support with features like backup VAs during absences, on-the-job training when new technologies and tools are rolled out.  
  • A career path for VAs that boosts retention—a career path that few enterprises offer which is why managing VAs can become burdensome. 

To learn more about the growing VA market download the report by clicking on the link below. 

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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.