Why Virtual Assistant Services are Booming and Moving Upmarket

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 26 Oct, 2021

The virtual executive assistant market went through a major growth spurt in 2020. Demand has grown so much that Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), a global advisor on staffing and workforce solutions, launched its first-ever assessment of virtual executive assistant services as a mainstream staffing model for U.S. businesses.

The report, "The Virtual Assistant Landscape: An emerging part of the Workforce Solutions Ecosystem," was released in 2021.

"The Virtual Assistant market was in robust health before the onset of the global pandemic, the report said. "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."

VA Service Growth Drivers

U.S. VA service providers that source offshore VAs are being tapped by larger businesses to meet growing admin demands. "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 said.

The growth and move upmarket are driven by:

  • Labor shortages in the executive assistant field

  • The difficulty of hiring admin teams at scale

  • The need for remote work expertise

Growing Businesses Struggle to Find Admins

The growth of VA firms is in part due to the shrinking supply of executive assistants in many local markets. Nationwide, job site Lensa found that it’s the 3rd most in-demand role in the country.

As the U.S. economy surges, workers are even harder to find, and many businesses are discovering that their executive ranks are growing faster than they can bring on support. Traditionally, firms hire assistants one at a time as the executive teams grow. But when Covid hit, office support vanished with the office, and businesses needed to scale support quickly.

That was the case for CytomX Therapeutics, maker of innovative cancer treatments in Silicon Valley. "Our internal executive assistants were overwhelmed," said Matt Paulson, Chief of Staff Development at CytomX and the de facto HR leader. "We had just four assistants supporting 20 executives. Things were slipping through the cracks."

CytomX turned to a virtual assistant service provider and quickly scaled to 14 assistants—the service provider hires, trains, and manages the VAs. "It's a no-brainer," Matt said. "You get a super-responsive service you can trust, without any added personnel management."

And it doesn't hurt that VAs come at a fraction of the cost of fully loaded FTEs.

With admins hard to find, hiring a lot of admins at once strains already maxed out HR leaders. Few HR leaders have the experience to qualify candidates and manage performance, or the time to recruit, interview, and onboard assistants, especially at scale.

SIA differentiates between managed and self-service VA firms in terms of scalability and support.

"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 with regular training and development offered," the report said. "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."

Businesses that hire VAs through a self-service platform "will have to take care of their own training requirements and generally manage their own quality standards."

VA Firms have Remote Work Best Practices Dialed In

Another reason VA businesses can scale quickly is that they already have remote work dialed in. They have already refined best practices for communication, response times, and synchronous and asynchronous workflows.

"VA 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."

Outsourcing Administration Operations

Virtual assistant services are increasingly attractive for larger businesses 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. "Offloading routine, time-consuming tasks will allow more time for employees to focus on their core areas of expertise and, thereby, improve productivity," SIA said. Access to remote admin expertise on-demand, with minimal operational lift or risk for HR leaders and executive teams, frees executives to focus on the work that pulls the business forward with greater efficiency.

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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.