When most people hear the term “virtual assistant,” it conjures up one of two images:
• A sole individual, working at home, alone, assisting clients in their pajamas and distracted by TV, pets, kids, etc.
• A team of overseas, non-English speaking workers handling tasks for a just a few dollars an hour… With some tasks more reliably completed than others.
Neither of these are inherently bad… But they don’t paint the whole picture of our industry. In fact, we’ve been slowly stepping away from the term “virtual assistant” for that very reason. We work differently, and we want the world to know it!
At the top of the list, we all work together in the same office. There’s a little bit of remote work here and there, but on any given day, you can find us plugging away here at 360 Western.
Almost everything we do (aside from a bit of order fulfillment) can be done on a computer, over the internet. We use softphones and VOIP. We’re connected by email and Slack. All of our project tickets are web-based…
Well, we work in the office because it’s not really about all that internetty stuff – it’s about each other, and what we can accomplish together.
It makes a whole lot more sense to train people in person. Questions are easier to answer, new hires can “shadow” more experienced employees, and trainees can call someone over for help if they get stuck.
This one’s pretty simple, actually… Videos and handbooks are helpful (and we still use them for reference), but having someone actually show you the ropes is invaluable.
We work together, and that means putting our brains together too.
Sure, we have shared Slack channels and email chains. Yes, we could have conference calls and work on collaborative Google docs… But when we really get stuck on a complex problem, there’s nothing better than an in-person, face-to-face conversation.
When we’re working ON the business – that is, developing new policies and new ideas, shifting focus, refining services, and all that good stuff – it also pays to have a collective space. We most typically have our “board” meetings on the couches at Unruly, but that’s just a convenient place downstairs from our actual office.
Because we’re all here working, we can just pop downstairs for a brainstorming session. At our weekly (in-person) staff meetings, we can share experiences and offer each other guidance. When something new comes in, you can simply ask around the office, find the person with the right experience, and pick their brain – without waiting for an email response or leaving a voicemail.
Security and Standards
We sometimes deal with sensitive data. We log in to clients’ accounts, use specific software for specific tasks, and so on… By centralizing in an office, we know that each of our iMacs is up to date, has the proper software, and is equipped with LastPass (and other security measures).
We’ve never had problems, but it’s a little step toward making sure we’re all on the same page with workflow, protecting client data, and ensuring that we’re all working with the same set of systems.
Company Culture (and Friendship)
Working in the same office means we actually spend time together. This kind of physical proximity means we talk with each other about non-work things, we get lunch together sometimes, we have a beer after we clock out…
During the day, we’re around to see each other’s posters and desk decor, to get a sense of someone’s style or sense of humor, to learn about all of the life-stuff that goes on outside of work.
All of this serves to strengthen our company culture, and our relationships in general. See, we actually like each other… We actually know each other. When someone is struggling with a task or a client (or anything else), we care – and try to help. When someone has a breakthrough or a big accomplishment, we’re proud of them not just as a company or a team, but as human beings.
None of this is to say that you can build relationships online or over the phone, but there’s something about in-person contact that allows people to really get to know one another… And to us, that is invaluable.