Avoid the “hire and fire” roundabout.

There is a growing tendency for Australian companies to outsource much of their online design, content and writing work, as well as their general office and sales work, to overseas contractors. This means that we need to be thinking about the types of qualities we look for in our virtual online assistant before we hire them…so that we don’t jump on a “hire and fire” roundabout that just wastes everybody’s time.

We’ve all been there. We’ve spent time and resources training new staff up on the nitty-gritty of our business to get them in a position to be firing on all cylinders for the company – only to find that the cylinders weren’t really pointing in the right direction in the first place.

Maybe the person was too unreliable, unresponsive or uncommunicative, or preferred to be playing Playstation 3 to working, so that it didn’t matter how much product and systems training we gave them they would never have been the right person for the job.

This, of course, happens with “real” assistants as well as virtual assistants. But the very nature of “virtual assistance” is that, while being just as key to the overall workings of a business, it is far more removed from the day to day flesh and blood running of that business. Or to put it another way – It’s far harder to keep track of someone virtually than if they were sitting in your office. It’s part of the trade off you pay as a boss for getting a cheaper workforce.

Anyway, I believe there are some key characteristics you can look for in your online virtual online assistant that should set you on the right course for a long and fruitful working relationship.

Firstly, look for honesty. This is a character trait that you cannot teach; generally people either value honesty as a quality or they don’t. Normally you have to give people the benefit of the doubt with this and it can be hard to judge from a distance, but it’s worth checking work hours logged, for example, to make sure they are being honest with that for a start.

Some outsourcing sites like oDesk and Elance allow you to track work via screenshots taken – so you can check that the hours “worked’ are actually worked and not spent playing Freecell! Screenshots can be a little “Big Brother”-ish though and it’s best to give your assistant a chance to prove their trustworthiness. Honesty and trust will normally be engendered in a relationship as time goes on and will become evident by other behavioural characteristics of your virtual assistant.

Also, make sure your employee is responsive. You can normally get a feel for this by how quickly they respond to emails. I personally like to get back to people who send me business emails on the same day to at least acknowledge receipt of their email.

Attention to detail is another important characteristic. Is their work accurate and are the documents they produce clear, understandable and well-presented?

Is the person consistent and reliable in their work? If they commit to doing something do they do it or is there always some excuse why they didn’t do it? Yes, mistakes and hold-ups can occur but once it becomes a pattern it becomes a problem that affects your business.

Does your candidate have some initiative to be a self-starter and make some of their own decisions when needed? Rote following of procedures is fine when things are going well but you also want people to be able to change course or think for themselves when they come up against a problem.

Your virtual assistant also need to have love of the Internet and computers and ideally should be online and contactable for most of the working day in Australia. Many of the most popular outsourcing countries are in the eastern hemisphere – like the Philippines, India, Thailand etc – so they share similar time-zones to Australia and this may not be a huge problem.

What might be a bigger issue is the English level – especially for written English. Make sure their written Business English is acceptable or it may make your company appear unprofessional or take up a lot of time for other virtual online assistant to make corrections.

We at Melbourne SEO Services provide a working environment that’s built on trust. If you want to learn how we get the most from our virtual workers without doing a Big Brother set up on them, just click here.

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