The Virtual Workplace: “The New Normal”

— May 4, 2020 —

Over the last few years all types of businesses from large Fortune 200s to small start-ups, charitable organizations, and foundations, have laid witness to the trend of the digital workplace replacing the traditional physical office. This trend is allowing entire teams and key employees including executive assistants to work remotely. Now, with the dramatic impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and mandatory stay at home orders in place across the U.S., businesses have quickly adapted to working from home. The virtual workplace, formerly a privilege offered as a “perk”, has become the “new normal.”

The virtual workplace will emerge strong and is here to stay.  It has not only changed the way we work, via Zoom type meetings and real time communication platforms such as Slack, but it has also transformed the hiring process. Since the closure of almost every office nationwide, hiring of new employees has been greatly impacted, but surprisingly some businesses are continuing to hire and are conducting the entire hiring process virtually. We’ve seen many companies adapting, including the first ever virtual 2020 NFL draft. Watching the player’s joyful responses as they heard the news at home and celebrated with their wives and families was heartwarming whether or not you are a football fan! 

Over the last two months here at C-Suite Assistants, where we specialize in the placement of administrative support for C-level executives, we have successfully partnered with numerous clients and coached them through the virtual hiring process. In many cases, the entire interview process was conducted remotely without ever meeting the candidates in person. Of course, we realize that nothing replaces an in-person meeting, but when this is not possible, either due to travel schedules or physical distancing, you do not need to hold up the interview process. Zoom, Skype, Google Chat or any video conferencing tools are great alternatives and becoming more and more an accepted business practice.

RECENT VIRTUAL HIRES:

To see how other companies are hiring virtual assistants, here are some very recent placements we have made: 

  • In the midst of the pandemic, the President of the Americas of a premier, global sports organization needed to find a bilingual or trilingual (English, Spanish, German) Executive Assistant to support him. Although based in NYC, the position would be virtual for the foreseeable future.  The entire interview process was conducted via video interviews with the President and his Head of Marketing during the Covid-19 stay at home order, and the two finalists candidates were invited for a Zoom “coffee chat” designed to simulate “taking them out for coffee”. The President was in Miami at the time and wore shorts! The virtual coffee with the successful candidate lasted 1.5 hours and sealed the deal. The winning candidate was bilingual, an avid sports fan of this particular team (actually owned a jersey with the team logo) and had several years of experience at hedge funds and investment firms. This is her “dream job!” Sometime soon they will meet in person. 
  • A Tampa based Founder of a software consulting firm who is also a real estate entrepreneur, asked C-Suite Assistants to find a “right hand” to help him grow both businesses.  The person needed to live in Tampa, but would be working remotely most of the time, meeting the principal at his home office three afternoons per week.   During the pandemic, C-Suite Assistants found the perfect candidate to help the principal grow his business. The successful candidate had experience working at another small software firm as an EA as well as experience in sales/business development. The interview process started after social distancing measures went into effect, so all interviews were conducted virtually via video conferencing. The offer was extended and accepted without ever meeting the candidate in person and she will be starting in a completely remote capacity. 

For more examples of these virtual hires and the executives who were able to forge ahead decisively, click here.

CONSIDER THE PROS AND CONS:

For every client who made the decision to move forward with their virtual hire, there are other clients who have put their search for an Executive Assistant on hold even if they have identified a finalist candidate. This is understandable. In some ways it’s like the difference between reading a book on a Kindle or on paper or listening to an Audio book- the end result is almost the same- but how we experience the book is different. With hiring, many of us default to the experience we are comfortable with, so we want to meet someone in person to decide if we like the person or not. Before making a decision on how your company will hire and operate, first consider the pros and cons: 

The advantage of a face-to-face meeting, especially if you are undecided between two candidates, may be the right move. You might firmly believe that something about that in person meeting will tell you if the chemistry is right. On the other hand, if you are a CEO who travels a lot or works from different locations, how an assistant “clicks” with your work style when working remotely is almost more important than how you “click” when working together in a physical office.  More and more, business leaders are working remotely and it’s not uncommon for CEO’s to have more than one home office and work across time zones. An assistant who works seamlessly and who can communicate with you and your team across the airwaves is essential for success. 

Another  disadvantage of holding off on your hire while you wait for offices to open up and social distancing measure to be lifted is that you risk losing out on your top pick candidate. Your highly qualified candidate may accept another offer from a competitor who is running virtual interviews. Not only might you lose your top candidate but you may have wasted critical time and productivity as the aftershocks of the pandemic continue to impact how we work. We may never get back to “business as usual”, but if we do and you’ve made a successful hire, you will be able to hit the ground running with the peace of mind that you’ve hired someone who is highly adaptable to changing times.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A VIRTUAL HIRE?

If you decide to forego the traditional in-person office interview, how does virtual interviewing work and how is it different? Here are some tips we have provided to our clients to make the virtual hiring process easy:

  • Choose a video conferencing platform that you are comfortable with and is easy to install on your laptop or desktop at home. We have tried several different softwares and have found Zoom to be our top pick. It is user friendly and the non-tech savvy are able to navigate through the program with ease. Also, Zoom is entering the mainstream and becoming fairly universally used by many due to Covid-19. Our other recommendations would be either Skype, Google Chat, or BlueJeans (being acquired by Verizon). 
  • Once you have decided on your video conferencing method, if you have not used it before, do a practice call with a colleague to become comfortable.
  • Prepare for the virtual interview as you would for any in-person interview. Review the resume. Review the job description. Have your questions ready.
  • Make sure you are in a place with good lighting and be aware of the background, which the candidate will see from your screen. Better not to sit in front of a bright window or light. This makes it hard for people to see you in the video.
  • Eliminate all the background noise that could be distracting. It’s helpful to toggle the mute button on when not talking or contributing to the conversation.
  • Dress appropriately in a way that conveys your business culture. Do not wear all white or all black, or a busy print (that can be distracting.)
  • Make sure your computer screen is elevated to eye-level so you are not looking down. A stack of books or even a cardboard box works really well.
  • Sit up straight, remember to smile and look directly at the candidate. It can be hard to make good eye contact when the person is on a screen, but don’t be distracted by that and start looking sideways or down at notes on your desk.  
  • Establish a good flow of conversation. Remember there may be a cyber-lag in your communication so be patient, listen carefully and ask the candidate to repeat something that might not come through clearly.

HOW TO WORK WITH A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT?

When you have completed the virtual interview process and have an accepted offer, you need to carefully plan how you will work with your new assistant. You need to consider whether they are starting at home and will eventually transition to the office, or whether they will be a full “Virtual Assistant” and always support you from a remote location. 

So what can a Virtual Assistant do to support you? With the exception of running personal errands or filing papers, they can essentially do whatever you would have an assistant do in person. 

Tasks your virtual assistant might do include:

  • Manage your travel
  • Organize, prioritize and answer emails
  • Answer phone calls
  • Schedule meetings and keep your calendar
  • Transcribe meetings
  • Manage expense accounts
  • Prepare for meetings and creat agendas, proposals and marketing materials
  • Manage social media including the website, mass email correspondence and newsletters
  • Manage accounts payable/accounts receivables
  • Event planning
  • Project management

You can expect a virtual assistant to work in whatever capacity you wish. The key to making the virtual work place successful is to establish good communication from the on-set, whether it be a daily morning call, Zoom briefing, or frequent check-ins by text or email. The other important success factor is establishing clear goals and expectations from the start and providing feedback on a regular basis as the working relationship develops.

THE WELCOMING TOUCHES

When your assistant is starting in a virtual offices, here are some some of the nice touches our clients have provided to welcome them. There are endless possibilities so be creative:

  • A company laptop
  • A paper copy of the Employee Manual, Benefits, an Organization Chart and even an Annual Report to encourage them to learn more about the company. Any documents like this presented in a custom folder give an immediate sense of belonging
  • A start up supply of company stationary, pens, post it notes (but make it clear that this won’t be ongoing if the position continues to be virtual)
  • A water bottle with company logo
  • A stand to hold their cell phone
  • A supply of healthy snacks or an old fashioned box of chocolates
  • If you are a consumer manufacturing company, a token supply of lotions, makeup, tools, gadgets, etc.

THE VIRTUAL CONCLUSION

Since we can’t meet with you in person, only virtually, we hope this information has inspired you to be proactive and to make virtual hires where applicable. We have clients who have been doing this for years, but now it has become “the new normal”. If you need advice, inspiration or encouragement, please get in touch.

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