In a strong economy or a weak one, companies look for ways to do more with less. When growing fast, it's hard to hire people; and when times are tough, you need to cut costs. For HR leaders, chiefs of staff, operations managers, and others tasked with supporting executives’ administrative needs are turning to remote executive assistants to simultaneously reduce costs and improve organizational productivity..
More HR leaders are turning to long-term outsourced executive support through managed remote executive assistant (also known as virtual assistants) services to fill the gap. Five trends are driving this shift, and this guide explains what is happening and what it might mean for your team.
If your executives are bogged down in day-to-day tasks and need more time for strategic business-building work, this guide can help you discover whether a managed virtual assistant service might be the right solution to provide long-term administrative support.
What is a Managed Remote Executive Assistant Service?
A managed remote executive assistant service is a way to hire executive assistants without adding any management or HR overhead. There are plenty of virtual assistant agencies that match you with freelancers or independent contractors. Training, managing, and supervising the assistants’ work is up to you. With a managed remote executive assistant service, you hire a company, not a group of individuals one at a time. The service provider:
- Manages and QAs all work
- Pays and provides benefits
- Provides career development
The VAs are full-time employees of the service provider and offer a career path, growth opportunities, and incentives to optimize performance. But to you, they are just like internal employees, embedded in your organizations and working directly with your executives.
5 Reasons Businesses are Turning to Managed Executive Assistant Services for Teams
- Improve Executive Productivity (and Wellness)
- Executive Assistants are Hard to Find
- Lower Costs
- Expert Support and Management
1. Improve Executive Productivity (and Wellness)
All the productivity tools and technology that were supposed to make executives self-sufficient have only succeeded in making human admins harder to find (more on that later). The pool of professional admins in the U.S. has shrunk by 65 percent since 2004.
Email, voicemail, chat, calendar apps, travel planning apps, and expense account apps take time to use. How much time? Sixteen hours per week, according to research by Service Now. Companies paying their executives to do their admin work realize that is not a good business decision.
Prialto’s 2021 Executive Productivity Report found that 62 percent of executives said “administrative tasks” are the biggest drag on their time and productivity. And Lisa Kelly, who leads the Workplace Wellness Center of Excellence, called executive burnout “the next pandemic.”
Leadership IQ found that 67 percent of executives have also been less productive because of burnout, and 65 percent admit that they have made mistakes because of burnout. Just 35 percent said they are mentally thriving.
Remote executive assistants are a cost-effective way to take admin work off execs’ plates. Managed services make it easy for companies to deliver this support. HR departments do not have to recruit, hire, train, pay, and supervise assistants. The service provider takes care of all of that. Your executives sit back and enjoy the support of a trained professional and get those 16 hours a week back to spend on strategic work.
2. Executive Assistants are Hard to Find
As mentioned, there is a shrinking pool of U.S. executive assistants.
Job site Lensa released its 2021 list of the most in-demand jobs. Number three on the list: administrative assistant. The most in-demand job roles of 2021 are desk-based administration roles – Customer Service, Representative, Receptionist, and Administrative Assistant, the report said. These were the most posted on the Lensa database.
From 2000-to 2019, the U.S. economy shed more than 2.1 million administrative and office support jobs, mostly due to technology. The shortage of executive assistants is particularly challenging for businesses with larger executive teams needing to scale up support quickly. According to LinkedIn, the tight labor market and surging demand mean it takes 33 days to hire an administrative assistant. Stretch that time out for multiple executives, and you have a daunting challenge.
Remote administrative assistant services emerged to match U.S. businesses with offshore markets where talent is plentiful. But someone still must interview candidates, onboard, train, and manage the VAs' performance. Doing this one at a time is also time-consuming and resource-intensive.
Global workforce consultancy Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) released its first-ever assessment of the remote executive assistant marketplace in mid-2020. The report, “The Virtual Assistant Landscape,” pointed out why businesses prefer the managed service approach.
“The more sophisticated and highly developed VA firms offer a managed service where assistants are supervised locally with the quality of work checked and with regular training and development offered,” SIA said. “This contrasts to a self-serve model which is more akin to a platform that simply facilitates the introduction of a client to an assistant and does not provide ongoing support throughout the engagement.”
Firms hiring assistants through a self-serve platform will have to take care of their own training requirements and generally manage their own quality standards,” SAI said.
Managed remote executive assistant services also offer backup assistants and managers behind the scenes to ensure continuity. The backup means if a primary assistant is absent, a trained backup is always available. Because there is continual training and deployment of new and backup assistants, service providers have a “bench” of experienced employees ready to take lead roles. Hiring time for companies can be as fast as a week.
Hiring executive assistants one by one, remote or in-person, does not scale.
If you want to provide administrative support for a team of executives, hiring assistants one by one is slow, costly, and risky. Even if a freelance agency has VAs available, you need more management resources to onboard, train, and supervise them.
Also, if the Covid crisis has taught us anything, it is the importance of workforce flexibility. When shutdowns were announced, companies went remote in a matter of days.
- Employees created home offices with or without extra space.
- Companies delivered laptops, webcams, and headsets.
- All meetings went online.
- Millions of employees were laid off.
Now companies are struggling to scale back up. But with ongoing economic uncertainty, hiring FTEs feels risky.
In a managed service, assistants are hired, trained, and supervised by the service providers. There is no onboarding, training, or performance management on the part of the client. Because the service provider has hundreds of assistants on hand, businesses can quickly scale their admin layer without additional HR or management resources, and without the long-term commitment of FTE workers. Trained backup assistants, performance managers, and account managers are on hand to ensure continuity and quality control.
You can scale up and scale back as business conditions change.
“Employment can be burdensome,” SIA said. “Managed executive assistant firms offer their clients the ability to upscale or downscale efficiently in reaction to unexpected changes in business demand.”
Administrative tasks are not core to most businesses. Offloading functions like calendar and inbox management, travel planning, expense accounts, data entry, and document preparation enable executives to pull the company forward. Offloading these tasks to a managed remote assistant service further boosts operational efficiency by avoiding added management and HR overhead. At the same time, a managed service enables levels of organizational flexibility that are much more difficult to attain with direct hires or independent contractors.
4. Lower Costs
“There are several reasons why organizations take advantage of remote assistants, and they mostly mirror the reasons why organizations might opt to outsource more generally,” SIA said. “Of course, a driver of any productivity enhancement is to lower costs.”
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an executive assistant in the U.S. is $72,000 per year—about $38 per hour. That is just the salary. Typically, a fully loaded full-time employee’s benefits add another 25 percent to that cost to the company. Remote executive assistants are usually hired on a fractional basis, as SIA noted, from markets where labor is less expensive.
There is also the cost of recruiting, hiring, training, and managing the employees. There is overhead for HR and executives, assuming each executive oversees their assistants. Some businesses use a Chief of Staff or operations manager to manage the administrative layer of the company. A managed service requires no HR or management overhead. The provider handles salary, benefits, and performance management.
A managed remote assistant service starts at about $25 per hour for offshore VAs—included in that are all training, HR, benefits, backup support, and performance management.
Then there is the cost of office space. It costs about $11,000 per year per employee to provide office space. The service provider bears that cost. In the managed service model, the VAs are not independent contractors working from home. They work in secure facilities with company-owned computers and networks.
“Transitioning roles from a wage to an outsourced hourly basis means that you can carve out precisely the support you need at a price you can afford,” SIA said. “Clients can save money on training and other employee benefits, payroll processing, and desk space (potentially lowering office rents).”
5. Expert Support and Management
The fifth reason businesses are turning to managed services is to take advantage of administrative expertise they do not have internally—on the service and management sides.
“Tapping into third-party expertise” is among the drivers for remote assistant services that SIA lists. “Remote assistant firms specialize in offering skilled workers in specific categories, and organizations that use these services prudently can gain a competitive advantage.”
With a managed service, businesses get trained executive assistants, already onboarded onto their systems and tools, that show up ready to work on day one. They work in cohorts so that, when they need to learn a new app or technology, they can quickly find someone on their team with that experience and learn from them, not from you.
“Remote assistant firms are remote work experts first,” SIA said. “With onsite work restricted, organizations having to source remote administrative support might prefer to use suppliers with well-established processes, technology, quality standards and protocols for remote work.”
But it is not just about the individual and collective expertise of the executive assistants. The built-in performance management and service optimization are equally valuable.
Executive assistants do not traditionally have a career path, and most companies do not have personnel trained to manage and support teams of administrative assistants.
With a managed executive assistant service, you get experienced managers who understand how to build processes and workflows to make the service as efficient as possible. The managers also coach assistants and provide quality control of their work.
The management layer improves service performance and retention of assistants. The assistants have career growth opportunities in a managed service—they can become mentors, managers, and trainers. The assistants can also move into operational roles like recruiting, HR, and IT. VAs stay longer at firms that provide growth opportunities, especially in regions of the world where that kind of opportunity is hard to find.
“The remote executive assistant market was in robust health before the onset of the global pandemic,” SIA said. “As COVID-19 swept across the world in Q1 2020, 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.”
Covid also sparked a drive for efficiency and digitization across organizations, and businesses created digital versions of themselves and offloaded more non-core work than ever.
Analysts at McKinsey wrote that an outcome of the pandemic is that companies are rethinking approaches to G&A work that are not core to the business. Managed executive assistant services are increasingly attractive for larger enterprises looking to streamline their administrative functions and cut the costs of non-revenue generating roles. Outsourcing organizational administration to expert teams makes economic and operational sense.
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.