The Virtual Assistant Landscape

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 25 May, 2021

Since Prialto started hiring, training, and placing remote assistants with U.S. businesses 12 years ago, much has changed. What started as a niche business has grown to some 170 virtual assistant companies worldwide. Thousands of individual or freelance solo virtual assistants are also in the mix.   

2020—before the COVID-19 crisis--seemed like a good time to step back and assess the marketplace for virtual assistants and virtual assistant companies. To do so, Prialto contracted with Staffing Industry Analysts, a highly regarded global advisor to staffing and workforce-related businesses, to research the virtual assistant industry and where it fits in the broader staffing industry ecosystem. The pandemic slowed the research and allowed SIA to consider its short-term and long-term effects on the remote virtual assistant marketplace.  

The report, "The Virtual Assistant Landscape: An Emerging Part of the Workforce Solutions Ecosystem," has been completed and is now available. Topics covered include:   

  • The Virtual Assistant Marketplace—where the virtual assistant industry fits in the larger Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.  
  • Business Portfolios and Differentiation—the different services and business models provided by virtual assistant companies.   
  • Virtual Assistants v Temporary Workers v Freelancers—a comparison of service delivery models.   
  • Outsourcing v Offshore—the pros and cons of offshore virtual assistant companies, nearshore and U.S.-based business.   
  • Market Trends and Impact of COVID-19—how the pandemic and shutdowns impacted the virtual assistant industry.   
  • Enterprise-Level Services—the migration of virtual assistants from SMB to enterprise services.   
  • Legal Issues—the legal concerns surrounding overseas employee and part time workers.    
  • Outlook—what's ahead for the virtual assistant industry in the context of continued digital transformation.   

The study confirms that the virtual assistant industry has come of age and is a growing employment category in the broader staffing industry. There are more than 100,000 virtual assistant jobs posted on Zip Recruiter. According to Flexjobs, the virtual assistant is the second-fastest-growing remote career category. That enterprise businesses embrace the position is a testimony to the efficiency and productivity gains virtual assistants bring to teams of executives.    

Virtual assistant companies like Prialto experienced growth even during the pandemic. The SIA analysts cite the following drivers for these services:    

  • Productivity—executives spend 68 percent of their time on day-to-day work and just 31 percent on strategic initiatives. Virtual assistants can reduce that 68 percent of time spent on admin tasks.   
  • Flexibility--with managed services like Prialto's, adding a virtual assistant improves flexibility by increasing productivity without adding to executives' management burden.   
  • Taping into third-party expertise—virtual assistants offer a fast path to skills needed, providing a competitive advantage.   
  • Cost reduction—many virtual assistant companies offer fractional services, so companies can access skills as they need them at a lower cost than hiring full-time employees.    
  • One-on-one relationship--the virtual assistant model facilitates building a strong relationship with the client and can generate more value as the assistant learns the client's business.  

The Road Ahead   

In the Outlook section of the report, SIA raises the issue of the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on virtual assistant companies. Will apps and bots like Alexa replace human assistants? Or will virtual assistants start to take on higher-order tasks as the software does more menial work where judgment and pattern recognition aren't needed?   

But with new technology comes the need for workers with the skills to operate new platforms. The pandemic and its associated shutdowns have increased demand for and acceptance of remote work, which has kept virtual assistant companies growing. The key to continued growth will be virtual assistants' ability, whether as individuals or companies, to continue to build the higher-order skills needed to manage new technologies as they emerge.    

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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.