How to Properly Induct a Virtual Assistant.

Posted on October 5, 2015

Alicia Rennie from Oxygen Executive

Technology has opened the door for virtual workers across a range of industries. But before you go ahead and fill a remote position in your company make sure you have an induction strategy in place.

When I think back to my first job in recruitment 17 years ago I never dreamed I would one day be running a company that employed someone in another country. But here we are in 2015 with our first virtual employee who happens to be 6056 kilometres away.

When it came time to hire again for our recruitment company earlier this year I started to think about the articles I had read on virtual assistants and wondered if it just might be what we were looking for. The job didn’t call for an in-house staff member and when I looked closely at the requirements of the position I realised the person didn’t even need to be in the same country.

Hiring a virtual assistant meant we were able to employ someone quickly, match our skill requirements, negotiate a flexible working arrangement and still afford to invest in training the right person for the position, rather than exhausting our budget on expensive set-up costs.

If hiring a virtual assistant adds up for you like it did for us there is one important area you can’t afford to overlook – induction. While I had read about the benefits of virtual employees I hadn’t come across much on how to make sure someone you might never meet face-to-face will become an effective part of your team.

So, here’s how we met the challenge of inducting a virtual assistant to ensure success for both employer and employee:

  1. Do Your Prep
  • To ensure a smooth and professional start to your relationship with your virtual worker make sure you have their systems access and tools for communication (such as Team Viewer, Skype and file sharing software) up and running before you have your first virtual meeting. Set a program of what you want to get through in the first few days to keep the process on track and avoid any crucial information getting left out.

We sent an introductory email to our new team member prior to their start date. It included a welcome note, an outline of the induction program and some background reading.

Tip: Use technology freebies to your advantage. There are lots of great programs like Dropbox that allow you to share and store files virtually.

  1. Terms and Expectations
  • No doubt you will have a contract with any virtual staff members but it’s a good idea to recap and confirm working arrangements in terms of set days and hours in your first meeting. If your employee is working from home make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to childcare arrangements and go over the procedures for if they are sick or unable to work a particular day.

It can help to talk through your contact preferences in your first meeting and find out what works best for both parties. Some people respond immediately to emails while for others Skype might be the preferred way to make quick contact.

Because your employee isn’t going to be in the office you can’t physically look at each other to see if “now is a good time to go over something” so discuss a procedure for impromptu contact and make a plan for daily or weekly catch-ups.

Tip: More frequent meetings are good early on and then you can taper off to regular meetings as you get into a pattern of working together.

  1. Background Briefing
  • During the induction phase we wanted to give our new team member a sense of “who we are” as a business. We talked about the values of our organisation and provided background information on our target markets, typical clients, etc…

Our new team member had never recruited in our industry sector before so we provided resources to assist her to gain an understanding of our market.

Tip: While you want your new employee well informed about your company be careful not to overwhelm with them too much information and make sure what you are giving them is relevant and easy to digest.

  1. Don’t Leave Out the HR
  • If I put my human resources hat on for a minute, I know that an employee who knows exactly what’s expected of them has a much better chance of being able to meet their employer’s needs.

We wrote a job description when we first started looking for someone to fill this position and used the induction meetings as an opportunity to go through this again and make sure we had a mutual understanding of exactly what each duty meant.

Tip: Give lots of opportunities for your new team member to ask questions!

The induction process is also the perfect time to cover how and when you will review performance. It lets them know that just because they are out of sight doesn’t mean they are out of mind.

Tip: This is a good time to recap on what interests them and what they are hoping to achieve in the role.

  1. Be Resourceful
  • For me one of the key challenges of inducting virtually was to make the experience “real”. There’s no opportunity for your new virtual assistant to buddy up with co-workers or sit down for a coffee with their new manager. It can get boring quickly when it’s just the two of you talking on Skype for hours on end. To make the experience more stimulating we tried to use lots of different resources. We shared YouTube videos on how to do things and suggested industry e-newsletters for our team member sign up to.

We put real thought into how we could best support our new employees learning and growth long after we had hung up from the Skype call. We provided business planning and marketing documentation for them to go over and then set a time to catch up for any questions.

Tip: Encourage your team member to take lots of notes during discussions so they can refer back to this information on future assignments.

At the end of the day it’s really important not to forget that your virtual employee is a real, live person. Try to remember the things that made you feel valued whenever you started a new position. Even though technology has allowed us to remove geographical boundaries for employment it can still be hard to achieve the same level of understanding in-person contact provides. Encourage questions and celebrate milestones, no matter how small, especially in those first few weeks.

Alicia Rennie runs Oxygen Executive; a permanent and contract staffing solutions and HR consulting company in Sydney.