Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) indicates that you are ready to delegate tasks and focus on more important things. It’s most likely a sign that you want to work on your business instead of working in it, and that’s great. However, onboarding a VA can be overwhelming without a proper process in place.
If you don't have a process or don't know how to create one, don't worry. At Klarecon, we have hired and onboarded hundreds of VAs and freelancers and have learned the importance of having a clear process. In this blog post, we’ll share our method to help you onboard the VA without feeling overwhelmed.
Before we get to the process, let’s look at the adverse effects of not having one.
A lack of a proper onboarding process: the effects
Onboarding is the phase when the VA gets to understand your business closely - your processes, working style, and goals. A weak or absent onboarding process usually leads to the following:
1. Time Lost in Clarifications: The absence of a structured onboarding process hampers task execution and increases the need for frequent questions and clarifications. The learning curve gets longer as the VA spends more time figuring out workflows and tools.
Our experience says that a VA often won’t communicate their difficulties even if they’re fully aware of the problem. Instead, they may continue working with a knowledge deficit.
Ultimately, the purpose of hiring a VA gets lost because a lot of time is spent on back-and-forth communication instead of actual work.
2. Misunderstandings: To ensure that the VA performs their duties according to your expectations, they first need to clearly understand their responsibilities, communication methods, reporting procedures, and other aspects of their job. Any lack of clarity in these areas can result in misinterpretations, ultimately impacting the quality of deliverables.
For instance, let's consider a scenario where the VA is assigned four tasks to complete throughout the day. Your preferred approach is for the VA to provide updates immediately after finishing each task rather than collectively at the end of the day. This allows for prompt identification and resolution of any issues instead of waiting until the following day.
However, if this expectation was not clearly communicated during the onboarding process, the VA may proceed according to their own understanding and convenience, potentially causing significant delays. This situation is more likely to occur when hiring an inexperienced VA who is still learning how to work independently in the most efficient manner possible.
3. Unmet expectations: Imagine this – you engage a highly skilled VA with excellent communication skills. Their responses were impressive during the interview, leaving you with a positive impression. Now, on their first day of work, you assign them a few tasks and assume they will understand how to go about the tasks and which ones to take first.
Upon reviewing their work the next day, you discover that the outcomes differ significantly from your expectations.
It becomes evident that the VA lacked clear guidance on where to start, which tasks to prioritize, and how to manage their day effectively.
While this may be disheartening, it's important to note that it doesn't reflect poorly on the VA as a hire. Instead, it indicates a lack of understanding of their role within your specific processes and expectations. Or, they may be experiencing "newbie syndrome," where they hesitate to express themselves and actively seek tasks.
We’ll see how a proper onboarding process bridges this gap in the upcoming section.
4. Mismatched work quality: Quality work goes beyond a simple definition. It means delivering output that aligns with your company's goals, meets specific criteria, and consistently exceeds expectations.
At Klarecon, a significant focus of our VA onboarding process is to familiarize them with our internal processes and create alignment. We prioritize equipping our VAs with the knowledge and resources necessary to produce timely work that meets our standards.
For instance, one of our key objectives is maintaining a minimal rate of revision requests from clients. Suppose we fail to provide sufficient information and guidance in this aspect. In that case, our VAs may encounter difficulties in achieving the desired results, even if the overall work quality is not objectively poor.
5. High turnover: A weak or missing onboarding process could make the VA feel unsupported or overwhelmed. In many cases, they might just feel off and decide to discontinue within the first week of hiring. You may think it was a bad recruit, but in reality, it was a faulty process that caused the attrition.
It’s worth noting that you’ve not only lost the time you spent on hiring, but now you’re back to round 1. This may continue until you identify and fix the root cause.
Onboarding a VA: A 4-step process
Step 1: A kick-off call
Commence the VA's onboarding process by scheduling a kick-off call. This call is pivotal in acquainting the VA with essential information about you and your business. Zoom or Google Meet are excellent tools for facilitating this purpose.
Ideally, this call should take place on day 1 of the onboarding process. While it may seem obvious, many individuals overlook this step - we've been there too. Even if you have recorded materials, initiating with a brief call provides a personal touch and offers clarity on the subsequent steps. Verbal communication fosters relationship development and increases the likelihood of the VA approaching their responsibilities seriously right from the beginning.
If the VA will be reporting to another team member, it's advisable for the reporting manager to join the call. In some organizations, like ours, an HR department may oversee and coordinate these meetings.
Key topics to address
Accounts access: Provide the VA with an email account and access to messaging platforms, calendars, project management apps, and any other account that the VA needs to perform their duties correctly. Ensure these are ready before the orientation call to eliminate or shorten any waiting time.
As minor as this step may seem, it often gets forgotten or ignored, resulting in lots of wasted time. It can easily be resolved by creating checklists of tasks to be completed before and during the onboarding process.
Communication preferences: Discuss your preferred communication style. Determine whether video calls, chat platforms like Slack or Discord, or other methods work best for you. Communicate your availability and preferred contact times.
We suggest maintaining a written protocol that guides the VA regarding the DOs and DONTs of communication.
Reporting expectations: Determine how often you expect updates and specify whether you prefer written reports, video calls, or a combination. Setting up these expectations facilitates alignment and ensures you receive the needed information as you prefer.
The reporting becomes effective when the VA knows what a good and bad report looks like. Provide them examples of both and explain which one works better.
SOPs: Provide a brief overview of your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Ensure that the VA knows where to access these resources for future reference. Mention any personal preferences. For example, if you prefer to schedule weekly meetings on Tuesday, specify that and set it up as a recurring event in your and the VA’s calendars.
Step 2: Goal-setting and fostering regular communication
“Do I need to set goals for my VA?”
Yes, you do. Setting goals for the VA is essential for several reasons:
It helps establish clarity of why they’re doing what they do
It develops a sense of purpose and motivation
It helps establish benchmarks to evaluate performance
It provides opportunities for professional development
For effective goal-setting, consider the following tips:
Explain the “why”: Educate the VA about the “why.” Explain why you want them to achieve specific goals - how they relate to your business’ growth and sustainability. By doing so, you’ll give them a sense of belonging, even if their work is nothing complicated. This sense of belonging will further cultivate a sense of achievement since they know that they’re making an active contribution to the overall mission of your business.
Provide clarity and specifics: When discussing goals, be clear and specific about what you expect to accomplish. Clearly outline desired outcomes, milestones, and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will define success. Additionally, highlight the timeline and priority of each goal, ensuring the VA understands the importance and urgency of specific tasks.
Track progress: Regularly review and assess progress towards the set goals. Use the scheduled calls to discuss achievements, challenges, and adjustments as needed. By monitoring progress together, you can address any obstacles, provide guidance, and celebrate successes.
Adjust and refine goals: As the working relationship progresses, be open to refining goals based on evolving needs and circumstances. It’s also required because the initial goals are more targeted toward completing the onboarding process. As the VA moves to the next phase, you may need to extend their goals.
Fostering regular communication
Transparent and consistent communication is paramount to cultivating a productive working relationship with the VA. Schedule regular calls, ideally at least once a week, to touch base and monitor progress.
To maximize the efficacy of these calls, consider the following tips:
Advance scheduling: Consistent catch-up calls will eliminate surprises and help you and the VA stay on the same page regarding different projects and the associated tasks. Strive to avoid last-minute scheduling or rescheduling, as regularity is key. Plus, pre-scheduled calls will help establish a habit where both parties know they need to block a particular time and day for these calls.
Preparing talking points: Enhance meeting productivity by exchanging talking points in advance. Encourage the VA to maintain a running document of the meeting agenda, giving both of you clarity on making the best use of the meeting time.
Providing clear instructions: When delegating any assignments during the meeting, be explicit about your expectations and outline the desired outcomes concisely. This is even more important when you want the VA to pick up an urgent task. Everything from – “how it should be done” to “how soon it should be done” to “when it should be done” – should be ultra clear.
Creating a meeting summary: For meetings that necessitate further action or follow-up, it is advisable to have the VA generate a meeting summary. This summary ensures clarity regarding the next steps and provides a reference for the follow-up topics.
These meetings are stepping stones for you and the VA to sync up effectively. However, if expectations are not met, or challenges arise, step 3 offers a solution.
Step 3: Enhancing Processes through Constructive Feedback
Many individuals fear providing negative or constructive feedback, but here’s an interesting fact – 72% of respondents to an international employee survey believe constructive feedback is significant for their career development.
Honest feedback enables you to rectify behaviors, enhance performance, and promote learning. Make feedback an integral part of the VA onboarding process.
Tips for Providing Constructive Feedback
Objectivity is key: Approach feedback from an observational standpoint rather than making assumptions. Initiate constructive critique with phrases such as "I've observed..." or "I noticed that..." instead of immediately pointing out mistakes. Back up your claim wherever possible – not to prove the blame but to help the VA understand your point clearly.
Encourage dialogue: Engage the VA in a conversation by asking if they agree with your observations or if they can elaborate on their challenges. Not many people feel confident in disagreeing with a complaint or a different point of view. Encouraging a 2-way conversation is not only beneficial for your project, but it also leaves a positive impact on the overall growth of the VA.
Here are a few examples of how you can encourage dialogue:
“I noticed that you haven't followed two specific steps while executing task X. Were the instructions unclear? I'd like to understand your thought process and address any confusion together.”
“This is my understanding of your approach. Do you agree with me? If anything is missing or any gaps in my understanding, please point them out so we can ensure we're on the same page.”
“What do you think about my comment? Feel free to express any disagreement. We can discuss and clarify.”
Specificity in feedback: Be kind but direct when providing corrective feedback. Tell them if something goes wrong and explain why it’s important to avoid repeating such mistakes. Also, educate them on how to avoid the mistakes they made.
Keep it goal-oriented: When providing constructive feedback, ensure it revolves around the goals set for the VA. Align your input with the desired outcomes and objectives, highlighting areas for improvement or adjustments that will help them achieve those goals.
Public praise, private criticism: Acknowledge the VA's accomplishments publicly, but provide constructive feedback privately. However, if you must discuss it among a group, emphasize the mistake and how it could have been avoided rather than who made it.
Step 4: Elevate collaboration
As your comfort level with your assistant grows, take steps to fully integrate them into your daily work life. Integration goes beyond granting access to tools and logins. At this stage, you’re helping them fit into your work environment and become a part of it. Getting to this stage also means the VA has gained some of your trust, and you are ready to move forward.
Key aspects of integration
Complete integration of the VA entails the following actions:
External stakeholders: Notify in-house collaborators that the VA will be working with you. Ensure they are aware of the VA's role and responsibilities. If someone else is allowed to use the VA’s help, make sure the VA knows how to prioritize requests so they don’t end up becoming a yes-sir or yes-ma’am person. Too many ad-hoc requests from several team members and departments can distract the VA from their primary duties.
At Klarecon, we assign each VA a dedicated manager who is the primary point of contact for all requests. If anyone else requires the VA's assistance, they must seek permission from the manager. This approach mitigates the risk of confusion and prevents the VA from being overloaded with conflicting priorities throughout the day, enabling them to concentrate on high-priority assignments.
Another benefit of this arrangement is that the manager can identify if the VA spends excessive time on low-priority tasks and suggest necessary adjustments to prevent wasting time.
Active participation: Involve the VA in discussions, meetings, and email threads as needed. This way, they gain natural awareness of ongoing projects and anticipate tasks they may be assigned in the future. Integration also minimizes the need for separate meetings to bring the VA up to speed and increase the sense of belonging.
Check out our next post, where we’ve shared proven tips for setting up an effective onboarding process. It’s a 5-minute, no-BS read.