Hooray! You’ve reached an important milestone in your business and hired your first team member! You’re both excited to jump right in, but let’s not forget the importance of formally onboarding your virtual assistant.
Now, if you’ve followed my advice about how to plan and hire your VA (and I’m sure you did!), you’ve already:
- Determined which tasks you’re assigning to your VA
- Created and documented standard operating procedures (SOPs) for those tasks
- Selected a virtual assistant who’s skilled in those tasks and the tools needed to execute them
Since you did all of this work up front, and your VA’s tasks are spelled out, step-by-step, you might think you can just hand her the SOPs and let her get started. Not so fast! To fully set you and your new virtual assistant up for success as the new member of your team, there are a few things you’ll need to do for a seamless transition.
What Is Onboarding?
To make sure we’re on the same page, onboarding is the process of introducing an employee or team member to their responsibilities, as well as to the overall operations, vision, and culture of the business itself. In short, it’s what’s going to make your virtual assistant feel like a part of a team and help them to do an amazing job with the tasks you’re handing off to them!
Phase 1: Begin Onboarding Your Virtual Assistant with a Welcome and a Plan
Treat Your New VA Like a Team Member
The first step to onboarding your virtual assistant is to welcome them to your team and get them fully acquainted with your business, beyond the tasks they’ll be executing. Before you discuss a single task, tool, or SOP, share your vision with them. Ensure they understand what your brand is all about. Although their job is to perform tasks you assign, their job will be easier if they have a full grasp of how your business ticks and they’ll feel like a part of something bigger than their tasks.
Remember the last time you started a new job? There was likely a training phase that may have lasted weeks or even months. You didn’t show up on your first day, fully responsible for every detail in your job description, right? Your manager probably gave you a few initial responsibilities. Once you’d mastered those, you were given a few more.
Have a plan to for onboarding your virtual assistant at the same type of pace. Pick out and get started on a few tasks at a time. They’ll be less overwhelmed and less likely to make errors because they took in too much information at once. It will be easier on you, too, as you can focus on managing and reviewing their work in just a couple of areas at a time.
Phase 2: Finish Onboarding Your Virtual Assistant with SOPs & Training
Share the SOPs
Now you are almost ready to dive into the VA’s tasks together. Before you get started, review the list of tasks they’ll be performing for you and explain to them that you won’t be tackling everything at once. (This will help put them at ease!)
Review the standard operating procedures for the 1-2 tasks you identified as the best places to start easing them into their role. Talk through the documented process first, allowing your VA to ask questions and seek clarification.
Train on the Processes
Finally! You’re ready to execute some tasks! But you still can’t hand them the SOPs and expect them to go it alone.
No matter how clearly you spelled out the steps when you created the SOPs for the tasks, your VA will need to be trained on them. Here’s a simple, five-step way to train your VA.
- Do the task yourself to demonstrate how it’s properly done.
- Work through the task together – have the VA perform the task while you observe and address any questions or confusion.
- Have the VA perform the task on their own.
- Review their work.
- Provide feedback required.
Another really great way to offer training and support to your VA is to create a just-in-time resource library! This might include PDF checklists to keep handy or a series of video tutorials the VA can refer to when they need some help.
And remember: This is a “rinse and repeat” process, not a one-time event. Onboarding your virtual assistant will take place over at least a few weeks. Go through the training steps with your VA for the 1-2 the tasks you’re assigning to them, then allow them to complete the tasks independently for at least a week or so before you introduce something new. Set aside extra time to review their work during this training phase.
Once you’re both feeling confident that the VA has mastered the first few tasks, go through the five steps with the next one to two tasks they’ll be performing for you.
Phase 3: Ongoing Onboarding of Your Virtual Assistant
Make Time to Review Your VA’s Work
In the training phase, it should be obvious that you’ll need to set aside some extra time to review the VA’s work and provide them with feedback and guidance. As they gain mastery over their tasks, you’ll be able to taper off on the amount of time you need to review their work. But please don’t think you can stop reviewing the virtual assistant’s work once they become well-versed in their role!
Regardless of how quickly your new VA masters their responsibilities, you must continue to manage your VA by reviewing their work and providing feedback. Yes, this means day after day, week after week, for as long as they’re on your team!
Create a daily routine where you take 15-30 minutes to review your VA’s tasks. Any issues that occur will be resolved quickly. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to routinely tell your VA where they’re doing great! Trust me when I tell you that this small investment of your time will save you and your VA from errors and headaches down the road. (Have I ever led you astray?)
A Small Caveat on Reviewing Work: Don’t Expect Perfection
You’ve been doing things to your exacting standards since you started your business. Now that you’ve given control over some routine tasks to a team member, the output of these tasks will likely look a bit different than what you’re used to. And that’s okay! Especially at first.
At the same time, I’m not asking you to lower your standards. It’s fine to provide feedback to your VA that steers them closer and closer to your ideal vision of the outcomes. Just remember that you want to manage and not micromanage your virtual assistant. If it helps, remind yourself why you hired a virtual assistant in the first place: to ease your workload so you can focus on more important matters. Ensure that your feedback is kind and constructive in nature, and you, your VA, and your business will benefit!
Create a Communication Plan
In addition to your daily review of your VA’s work, it’s a great idea to also build a daily check-in or daily review into their routine. Establish a channel for daily communication and have them send you a status update at the beginning and/or end of each workday. Share updates through a Slack channel, Voxer messages, or by tagging you in a comment Trello or another task management software program.
I only suggest not doing these updates via email, as most of us have overflowing inboxes and therefore emails tend to get buried! Plus, keeping them together on a specific channel makes it easier to keep track of them over time.
Make it easy by making it routine! Here are some suggested prompts you could ask them to answer each day:
- What are you working on today?
- What do you need help with?
- What hours will you be working today? [If you haven’t already established a set schedule.]
- What tasks did you complete today?
- Are there any tasks that require action on my part in order to move them forward?
In addition, to the extent that it may affect their work, you may want to share your answers to these prompts with your VA each day. For example, if they don’t already have access to your calendar, you may want to let them know when you’ll be unreachable due to meetings or other commitments.
Checking in electronically on a daily basis is a great way for the two of you to stay in sync. However, truly gelling as a team also requires real-time, face-to-face interaction. As a virtual team, you obviously have to do this virtually, but – woo-hoo! – there’s technology for that!
I recommend having a weekly meeting via Zoom to review the status of all tasks and to provide a built-in opportunity for your virtual assistant to ask questions and get any help needed. Doing this each week also gives you the chance to provide feedback in a way that’s more approachable than text or voice messages. When you’re giving feedback, do not neglect to tell your VA where and how they are doing a great job!
Also, knowing that you have this meeting each week will help you both stay accountable to your parts in your business processes. Plus, you’ll more easily resolve any miscommunications that may have taken place through your daily updates. Finally, just as you started onboarding your virtual assistant with a welcome to your business, these meetings will make your VA feel more like a valued team member than simply a taskmaster.
Lastly, early in the process of onboarding your virtual assistant, establish a way they can reach you outside of your routine communications. Have a communication channel and a process in place so that your VA knows how to reach you if they have a question, a problem, or are otherwise stuck and need your input to move forward on a task.
Figure out the best way for your VA to get your attention throughout the day. Ask yourself:
- What’s the fastest way for my VA to get my attention?
- Which apps or channels do I always have open throughout the day?
- Which notifications are most likely to grab my attention?
Create this one-off contact plan around what you’ll respond to quickly, in order to keep your VA on task. Make sure you’re clear with your VA on the best way or ways to reach you. And don’t forget to set expectations around how quickly you’ll be able to respond.
Wrapping It Up
I can’t emphasize enough how onboarding your virtual assistant effectively can make a positive impact on your working relationship – and therefore on your business success. Please don’t skip any of the steps! Welcome them and make them feel like they’re really a part of something. Plan to ‘drip’ their tasks to them to prevent overwhelm and the potential for errors. Take the time to train them and allow them time to get in the swing of things. Provide constructive and positive feedback. And absolutely begin your relationship with clear and routine communications planning. Do this right the first time and your new virtual team will be virtually unstoppable!