Setting expectations and communicating with your virtual assistant
Setting Expectations with Your Virtual Assistant
Communicating with Your Virtual Assistant
Balancing the Workload
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SETTING EXPECTATIONS and communicating WITH YOUR VIRTUAL ASSISTANT
Setting Expectations with Your Virtual Assistant
When you’re working with a new virtual assistant, especially if it’s your first team member, it can be a bit intimidating to know exactly what you can expect from your virtual team member. You may be concerned about what they’ll be able to add to your business and to what level.
The good news is that you have the power to maximize your experience with your VA by effectively setting, communicating, and measuring realistic expectations. But doing this can be a bit tricky, especially when it’s new to you, and you don’t already know how. Not to worry! We’re about to walk you through it.
The first thing you must keep in mind is that your VA can’t read your mind. We know you already knew that, but most of us have a tendency to assume that everyone thinks the same way as we do. So you want to be mindful of that, as you define your expectations. Don’t leave anything ‘in your head.’ It needs to be spelled out in black and white.
Clarify What’s Important to You
Asking yourself, “What’s important to me?” is a great place to start. Clarity around the types of work and overall behaviors that are important to you is critical. Your virtual assistant can’t meet your expectations if you can’t define them for yourself! So, think through what success looks like to you, both in terms of task outcomes and your relationship with your VA.
Having your detailed task list, with step-by-step processes defined ahead of time will help you with some of the specific results you’re looking for, but you need to push further and consider other types of outcomes. For instance, what’s your communication style? Are you the kind of person who wants to be in constant contact with your virtual assistant throughout the day, or would that drive you bonkers? Instead, would you prefer to have your VA save any questions or issues for you to address at a specific time or times of day?
As another example, when your virtual assistant comes up against a roadblock, do you want them to come to you straight away, or would you rather they take some time to come up with an idea for a solution before reaching out to you?
What other values and behaviors are important to you that your virtual assistant will need to know to be set up for success? Take time to reflect.
Know What Stresses You Out
Another way to determine what’s important to you and define your expectations is to think about the things that most stress you out, so you’ll also be able to clarify what not to do. For some business owners, missing a deadline might push them over the edge, whereas others might get super stressed if tasks don’t get marked off in the task manager (even if they’re done!).
Now Write it Down!
Take everything you came up with about your expectations and write it down! Assume nothing and spell it all out in detail. Capture it in various places where it makes sense. You may want to have a master expectations document, as well as keep expectations in writing where the tasks occur (e.g., in your task manager or in process documents). If it’s not written down – and it place where your virtual assistant can reference it – it’s not well communicated. And speaking of communication…
Communicate Your Expectations
We’re going to dig deeper into communicating effectively with your virtual assistant in a section below. But for now, let’s just say – and it should be obvious – that these expectations you’re taking time to develop and write out need to be shared with your VA. This communication should begin during the onboarding process, but should also take place on an ongoing basis. Be sure to go through the process of defining your expectations as your relationship with your VA goes on and you begin handing off new tasks to him or her. Also, be sure to explain why you have these expectations.
So, take the example of the business owner who doesn’t want to be pinged all day long with questions, concerns, and issues? Why? Is it simply disruptive to your own workflow, making it difficult for you to work in your genius zone? Or is it because you tend to be on the move, from place to place, and meeting to meeting, and it’s just not feasible to get back to your virtual assistant on an as-needed basis throughout the day? The better your VA understands ‘what makes you tick,’ the more successful they’re going to be in their work and the more effective your relationship is going to be.
So far, we’ve been discussing general expectations and communication. Below, we’re going to drill down into specific measures for managing and evaluating performance with your virtual assistant.
Performance Manage Your Virtual Assistant
Unless you have been an entrepreneur from the jump, you’ve experienced – and possibly even given – a performance review, where an employee and their boss sit down and consider progress made toward the objectives specified for their job success. These reviews allow companies to assess the performance of individuals, departments, and the business as a whole and to make adjustments to their plans to meet business goals. For this process to be effective, measurable criteria for success must be established and targets set for those measures.
Performance management is critical to business success, and it’s equally if not more important to apply the process to virtual teams as a company would with in-house employees. In order to know with confidence that your virtual assistant’s performance is moving your business forward, you ways to measure their performance and in a way that’s aligned with your overall business goals.
Establish Key Performance Indicators
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are what companies use to measure how people, teams, and the overall organization are progressing toward their goals. KPIs are objective criteria and typically take the form of a “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goal. You can think of KPIs as the glue that connects everyday tasks to your business success. As an added bonus, collecting, reporting, and analyzing KPI data not only helps you create the strategy and tactics for achieving business goals, but it also increases communication and engagement within your company by connecting everyone to your business vision and larger purpose.
You may recall how we emphasized bringing your virtual assistant into your business vision when you are onboarding them to your team. Reminding them and involving them in your business vision should also be an ongoing discussion. In fact, as you establish KPIs and milestones for your virtual assistant, share the thinking behind the measures you’ve developed and allow your VA to add their input to boost their buy-in. Plus, they may have a great idea of their own about how to measure their performance and ensure their efforts are aligned with your overall goals.
Keep in mind that the ideal number of KPIs is somewhere around five to seven, so we’re talking about the core metrics you want to look at to determine progress, not every tiny detail. Once you and your virtual assistant have settled on the KPIs, be sure to put them in writing along with the plan for tracking and reporting hem, as well as how often you’ll review them together. Make sure the two of you review progress at intervals in between formal performance reviews so that you can make adjustments if measures are lagging behind your targets or milestones. For example, if you intend to have just one formal, annual performance review, review the KPIs together quarterly. Otherwise, you’ll miss opportunities to improve performance along the way and will be at higher risk for missing your annual targets.
Be sure to weave your reporting requirements for your virtual assistant into your project management tool and into your communication structure (best communication practices are described below). Make it crystal clear so that you will have access to the numbers whenever you need to look at them.
As a final note on expectations, make sure that both you and your virtual assistant know how you’ll assess whether or not expectations are being met. What does success look like? What are the results you’re after? What does failure look like?
Again, let’s go back to an example from above. If you’re the type of business owner who wants all of the tasks not only completed but ticked off the list in the project manager at the end of the day, that’s a success criterion. And it’s a great one because it’s black and white – the list is either done or not done. For other areas, success might not be so yes or now, so be sure to back up your expectations with instructions, criteria, and even examples of what does and doesn’t meet expectations.
Finally, you may want to implement some sort of success dashboard where the day’s or week’s results are reported. This both keeps everyone on the same page and allows you to look at progress over time.
Balancing the Workload
You may have noticed that the concept of “mental workload” has been trending lately, especially as it applies to both work and home life. The fact is, we’re not just impacted only by the actual physical workload, it’s the mental – and even emotional – workload, too. A large portion of mental exhaustion can be attributed to this mental labor.
Consider what this might look like for your virtual assistant. Think about every email, every quick ping on Slack, or every “can you quickly look this over” or “what do you think?” request you might send. Add to that the timing around when those are received. Are they restricted to work hours, or is the virtual assistant getting messages after hours and on days off?
And even when those messages are happening during work hours, what’s the VA’s expected response time? Interruptions such as message notifications divide our attention, directing it away from our current task. We’re so used to being bombarded by notifications these days, so this might not seem like a big deal. However, there’s a high cost to task-switching in terms of the mind-fatigue that leads to burnout, as well as in terms of productivity. In fact, it’s believed that it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on task following an interruption!
Here are a few tips about minimizing the potential for burnout:
- Have an established routine and avoid the chaos of random interruptions.
- Establish a hard stop for work.
- Be clear about priorities and emphasize quality over quantity. (If everything is “high priority,” then nothing is!)
- Have (and help to keep) clear boundaries – there’s a big difference allowing flexibility and expecting your team to be at your beck and call.
- Allow for breaks – we call need and benefit from them!
You can read more about these guidelines and grab a guide for noticing the symptoms of burnout in our blog article, “Balancing Workload and Preventing Virtual Assistant Exhaustion.”