8 Tips for a Great Virtual Assistant Onboarding Process

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 31 Mar, 2022

Onboarding a new employee takes on a different flavor when the employee is remote. Onboarding remote virtual assistants is different still. Your virtual assistant will be your "right-hand person" working with you and for you to enhance your productivity.

Adding a remote virtual assistant to your team starts with onboarding, and those first weeks and months are critical to building a productive relationship. Prialto has hired, onboarded, and managed thousands of remote virtual assistants for executives. Here are 8 tips for how to get onboarding right.

Financial Impact of Onboarding

Onboarding does require some upfront resources and time from you and your team, which can result in a short-term slow-down of productivity. But the long-term benefits far outweigh the risks. Studies have shown that proper onboarding makes groups and individuals 70 percent more productive, well-onboarded employees give 20 percent more effort and are 18 times more committed to the company.

If that does not convince you, this will: Companies with committed employees earn 147 percent more than their peers.

Then there is the cost of poor onboarding. Studies show that:

  • 33 percent of new hires look for a new job within the first six months.
  • It costs 16–20 percent of an employee's salary to hire a replacement.
  • The total employee replacement cost ranges from 100–300 percent of the individual's salary.

"It's always baffling to me when companies do all the work to hire someone and then don't set them up to be successful," said Cate Hudson, manager at all-remote pioneer Automattic. "Hiring is so time-consuming. Managing people who are not delivering in their role is time-consuming, too, not to mention emotionally draining. Onboarding people and helping them to be effective is—by far—the easiest option."

Still hiring? Read our guide to hiring virtual assistants in 2024

Beyond Compliance 

Onboarding and compliance were traditionally synonymous. Bringing on a new employee meant paperwork—filling out forms for payroll, healthcare, 401k, etc. Now, effective onboarding starts there, but that is just the beginning.

Successful onboarding programs for all employees, remote or not, are a combination of information and inspiration. The virtual assistant onboarding process should engage and educate your assistant about your business mission and vision, work standards, culture, and performance expectations. Here is how to share the resources your new team member needs to succeed.

The Virtual Assistant Onboarding Process

1. IT Setup 

Your virtual assistant will have access to your technology tools and system. It is crucial to get those accounts set up in advance to start working together on day one. Standard tools virtual assistants need access to include:

  • Email on your company's domain.
  • Calendar platform and apps.
  • An email signature that identifies them as your assistant.
  • A phone number.
  • Instant message platform.
  • Video meeting platform.
  • CRM for contact management.
  • Expense account software.
  • Travel planning platform or account.
  • Task management platform.

If your assistant is making purchases for you, they will need access to your credit card information and/or e-commerce accounts. It is recommended to use a password encryption tool such as LastPass so you can protect your passwords, track logins, and revoke access if needed.

2. Document everything you do 

Because you will be working from separate locations, it is critical to document your preferred processes for all the tasks that you delegate to your assistant. Examples include:

  • Meeting times—the length and time of day you prefer for diverse types of meetings (sales calls, customer calls, networking meetings, etc.).
  • Buffer times—the amount of time you prefer to have free between meetings.
  • Invitation templates—how do you like your invitations formatted in email and on your calendar.
  • Travel preferences—the airlines, airports, seating, hotel chains, room types, and rental cars you prefer.
  • CRM standards—contact information you want to capture.

You should have a standardized, documented way to perform all your workflows.

3. Overcommunicate 

There is no such thing as overcommunication during the onboarding process. When you are not in the same office as your new assistant, you will pass by their desk and say "hi," read their facial expressions, or have that "watercooler talk." At the same time, the virtual assistant cannot read your mind. Set standards for how and when you communicate through various channels, including:

  • Scheduled check-ins.
  • Desired response times for phone calls, email, and instant messages.
  • How you will provide feedback.
  • How and when to send reminders for meetings.

And do not forget to give positive feedback. It is one of the strongest motivators for engagement and productivity at work, and it is easy to forget when someone is remote.

4. Create playbooks 

If you were a football team, rookie players would get a playbook, right? Teams with virtual employees need a central source of truth with standard operating procedures for all essential functions. These include:

  • Your mission, vision, and values.
  • Your business's history.
  • Organizational charts.
  • Internal contact lists.
  • Guides for commonly used tools.
  • Workspace setup.
  • Software tutorials.
  • Security standards.
  • Templates for standard documents (presentations, email invitations, sales follow-up emails, etc.).

Playbooks can be wiki pages or documents in an online file repository like Dropbox.

5. Performance management

You need to be clear about how you will manage the performance of your virtual assistant.

Setting clear expectations is particularly important for both sides of the relationship—you need to be clear about what success means. Your assistant needs to understand those expectations to do an excellent job. You need to let the new virtual assistant know what they can expect from you as a boss and from them as an employee. Topics to cover include:

  • Expectations of work hours and days.
  • How you communicate and provide feedback.
  • How you set deadlines.
  • How to request time off.
  • How to track task progress.
  • How to log time.
  • Payment schedule.

6. Team introductions 

Your virtual assistant should meet your teammates just like any other employee would. Team introductions are easy to overlook when any new employee is remote. Your assistant will be communicating on your behalf, and they need to have positive relationships with co-workers. There are a few ways to integrate your assistant with the rest of your team:

  • Have a group welcome video call.
  • Schedule one-on-one introduction calls.
  • Hold shadow sessions where your assistant sits in as others perform key processes.
  • Use recorded sessions like sales calls or customer service calls to familiarize your assistant with the team and your messages.
  • A virtual tour of your facilities.

Your virtual assistant will perform best when they know they are a valued teammate and share the same communication and collaboration tools and best practices with the rest of the team.

7. Start quickly but start small 

Like any new employee, your virtual assistant will want to be productive as soon as possible. Start with one task during the onboarding process and get a straightforward process established for that function. One of the most time-consuming distractions most executives face is managing their calendars for most executives. It takes 25 minutes to schedule a business meeting, for example.

Establish your preferences for:

  • Meeting times.
  • Buffer times between meetings.
  • Reminders for you.
  • Confirmations for attendees.
  • Locations—how to schedule rooms.
  • When to use video or phone only.
  • Format of calendar items.
  • Times you want to be blocked off.
  • Regular meetings.
  • Color coding of calendar items.

But do not hand your calendar off to your assistant all at once. Start by forwarding one meeting request to them at a time until you are both comfortable. Starting with your calendar will help your assistant learn about your key contacts and prepare them for future tasks like inbox management.

8. Give your assistant an internal friend

People are much happier at work when they have a friend. Gallup found that people with a friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged, and 62 percent of people with at least one friend at work would not accept a job offer. Structuring relationships can get those friendships started, especially for remote workers and teams. Friends can:

  • Hold virtual lunch and coffee breaks.
  • Give virtual tours of each other's homes.
  • Introduce each other's pets.
  • Share vacation photos.

With some intention, such as pairing people of similar age, family, or hobbies, "the buddy system" can strengthen your business and culture.

Getting to Trust 

As the saying goes, you never get a chance to make a first impression, and onboarding is your chance to make a great first impression with your virtual assistant. Your virtual assistant is someone you want to trust with your calendar and communications, not to mention sensitive information like revenue and credit cards.

Trust is a two-way street. Yes, you want to trust your virtual assistant, but you also want your assistant to trust you. Every employee needs to feel safe and know they belong. Belonging is one of the most fundamental human needs, just after food and shelter.

The virtual assistant onboarding process sets the tone for the rest of your working relationship. It is easy to only think about your side of this relationship as you get started, but you want a VA who enjoys working with you and wants to see your business grow. To make this happen, you need to also think about their side of the experience and make sure it is a good one.

Most virtual assistants are dedicated people who thrive on helping people be more organized and productive. With good onboarding, you will ensure your assistant has everything they need to help you, including your support and trust.

Consider Delegating the Virtual Assistant Onboarding Process

If all this seems like too much, you can delegate the hiring, onboarding, and management of your virtual assistant to a managed virtual assistant service like Prialto. You get all the benefits of a trained, skilled, professional virtual assistant with none of the management or HR overhead associated with hiring a new employee.

To learn more about working with Prialto, read our guide.