You arrive at 8:48 am every day. Your supervisor has arrived at 8:30 am and has left the morning sticky note on your computer. You deliver her second cappuccino at 10:15 am – extra shot, extra foam. You know to avoid the break room at 2:15 pm on Monday. You know when your boss accepts pop-in visits. You know how to interpret casual Fridays. You know an extra five minutes of shmooze with the rep gets your team the good calendars at holiday time.
When you work on-site, you are present and pick up the social cues quickly. When you are a virtual assistant, you don’t have this luxury. However, you are still expected to interact with clients and associates with the same voice and approach as if you are right there – even if you are thousands of miles away.
You and your virtual client collaborate to create a dynamic and culture fit out of thin air. Your client probably does not want their constituents to know how far away you are, for a variety of reasons.
On one hand, the remote environment is largely yours to own. You create your own work environment and flow. You are the master of your domain. However, when you are “on”, you must immediately become a chameleon. From 3:00 to 3:05, you are Assistant A; 3:05-3:18, Assistant B; 318-3:40, Assistant C; 3:40 to 4:00, back to Assistant A. This involves a tremendous amount of jockeying and ability to be flexible.
While it is reasonable to expect your client to understand you are not only working for them, you should do your best to ensure they feel that way as little as possible. They elected your services because they felt confident in your ability to acclimate quickly and readjust.
However, given the distance, you don’t have the ability for the pop-in. Your client knows that if they call you, you may be engaged in work for another client and cannot always drop everything. Planning meetings in advance is helpful, so you and your client both know that focused attention is expected.
Spend some time talking with your client about their day-to-day. Ask their insight and experiences, as well as the preferences they know their clients appreciate. You maximize efficacy and minimize irritation if you know how the wheels turn. Don’t shy from questions. If Client A has an account with a particular set of expectations, or a preferred method of communication, you seem with it and in control if you know those things.
Start to observe your client’s workflow and pay attention to their calendar (if you have access to it). Gaining awareness of the rhythm of their work will help you bounce along to the same rhythm. If you can’t get a good sense of that from the tools you have, do ask what their workload is like and how to support it.
Bring yourself to work every day. Even if you are certain there will be no video calls, it’s important that you feel like you are work. Don’t wear that shlumpy housecoat with the food stain from Tuesday. Sweatpants are for the gym. While working from home may afford you a feeling of comfort, skip the mindset. Opt for business attire made from comfortable fabric instead. There are documented cases of people holding remote interviews dressed in a shirt and tie or upscale blouse while wearing gym shorts (or worse!) Business on the top and bedtime on the bottom is a no-go. Dressing for work as if you were in the client’s physical office means that you place yourself in the mindset to execute with excellence.
When you are billing by the minute, you and your client may feel a little uncomfortable with extended non-work dialog. However, small talk is an important in-road to building an open communication style. If you and your client start shooting the breeze, hit pause on the clock. While this small talk is not billable per se, it contributes a great deal to the overall ability to nestle into a client’s style and culture. Ultimately, this pays off, because the client will trust you more.
It is very important that you celebrate your clients’ accomplishments. Your assistance is possibly part of that success, so don’t remain silent. When your client surpasses a sales goal, acquires a new account, or reaches a significant milestone, be enthusiastic. Don’t be over the top or phony. Just as the office would celebrate these things in person, so should be the case remotely. In the case of a remote worker, there are no impromptu lunches on the boss and likely no performance bonuses. However, when you demonstrate clear participation and personal investment in the success of the client firm, they are likely to either a) open more projects to you and/or b) refer you to others who may bring you on board. This is the remote equivalent of perks and bonuses.
Be authentic. Be present. Seek to understand office culture. Position yourself for success.
Submitted by Darcie