While outsourcing to Virtual Assistants located in the Philippines isn’t something new, it can definitely feel foreign to businesses that haven’t dipped their toes in outsourcing before. This is why we thought we’d use our 10+ years of outsourcing experience to take you through the advantages and disadvantages of Virtual Assistants and how to solve the challenges.
Watch our video below if you need help deciding whether hiring a Virtual Assistant will be good or bad for your business, or keep reading for our in-depth breakdown.
What?! Disadvantages of hiring Virtual Assistants?
Outsourcing can easily be marketed as your ‘perfect solution’ but there really isn’t a one size fits all approach, especially since every business has their own needs, expectations, work style and budget. We like to be honest with people and show you both the good and bad parts of working with a Filipino Virtual Assistant. As impressive as Virtual Assistants from the Philippines are, even they are aware of some of the common challenges of working in a remote set-up.
Understanding these pros and cons is vital because of two reasons:
- Knowing the disadvantages of hiring Virtual Assistants helps you set the right expectations and understand what you can and can’t do when working with a person from another ZIP code.
- Understanding these limitations will help you find workarounds to any foreseen issues allowing your business to be better prepared.
Over the years that we have worked with our clients, we’ve seen that the most successful businesses are proactive at solving problems. So knowing the weak points of outsourcing to Virtual Assistants offshore should be seen as an opportunity to gain new skills in working effectively with a virtual team (no matter where they’re located!)
8 disadvantages of outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant and how to solve them
To give you some background, our Founder & CEO, Linh Podetti, first dabbled in outsourcing when she started her own eCommerce business and realised that she needed help with building her website and managing her social media. The process wasn’t as smooth as she expected, but over the last 10 years of being in the outsourcing industry, she quickly learned how to avoid or solve these issues when running a business with remote staff.
Here are the most common disadvantages she experienced when working with Virtual Assistants:
1. Language and cultural barriers
One of the first disadvantages of outsourcing for developing countries is dealing with any sort of language and cultural barrier, especially when you’re hiring client-facing staff. This is where both written and spoken communication is so crucial because your Virtual Assistants will be representing your business.
Apart from any obvious language barriers, there may be some cultural barriers differences too.
For example, Filipinos tend to be very formal in their communication, whereas Australians are much more colloquial and laid-back. While an Australian staff member refers to you by your name, a Filipino Virtual Assistant will most likely address you as “Ma’am”, “Miss” or “Sir” unless told otherwise. This is simply part of common custom and etiquette in the Philippines.
How to address language barriers with your Virtual Assistant
While it’s now extremely common for a Virtual Assistant from the Philippines to have a high level of English proficiency (according to the English Proficiency Index, the Philippines actually ranks 15th in terms of English-speaking and writing abilities) it’s not always a given since English is often still considered a second language.
This is why it’s important to emphasise the level of English proficiency you expect from your Virtual Assistant in the Job Description and throughout the interview process.
At Outsourcing Angel, when starting the recruitment process for any customer-facing Virtual Assistant role, we will include test tasks such as a written and/or verbal test before moving them further through the funnel. If the Virtual Assistant can pass this test with flying colours, they’ll be on your candidate shortlist.
How to address cultural barriers with your Virtual Assistant
As a company that has worked with many different staff members from different backgrounds, we’ve come to understand how to bridge the cultural barriers between Virtual Assistants and their clients. To avoid culture shock, these are the key things you’ll need to know about Filipino culture:
In Western Culture, you normally address your siblings and colleagues by their first names. However, in Filipino culture, daily interactions with another person is based on a hierarchy of respect. For example, older siblings aren’t addressed by their names, but with “kuya” for males and “ate” for females and these hierarchical rules also carry over to the workplace too.
This is why Filipino Virtual Assistants tend to use “Ma’am” or “Sir” when addressing superiors or clients, even through casual conversations. This can feel a bit too formal for Aussie business owners, but all you have to do is simply communicate to your Virtual Assistant that it is perfectly acceptable (and even preferred!) that they call their colleagues and your clients by their first name.
Value of workplace friendliness
Like most employees, Filipino Virtual Assistants value working in a friendly environment. But what may seem like a normal and friendly interaction to us, may not always translate when working with someone virtually.
For example, if you’re someone that is short on time, you might fall into the habit of skipping the niceties and going straight into the work tasks. While you value the work that your Virtual Assistant does, this might not translate in your communication.
You’ll need to be consistent with:
- Praising your Virtual Assistant when they’ve done a good job
- Thanking your Virtual Assistant when they’ve completed a task
- Provide feedback to your Virtual Assistant (both good and bad) and open those lines of communication for them to do the same for you
- Acknowledge important dates and events like birthdays, work anniversaries
- Get to know your Virtual Assistant beyond their work life (How is their family? How are their pets?)
This kind of connection will likely motivate your Virtual Assistant to go beyond the call of duty to get things done.
Western vs Eastern communication style
While Virtual Assistants located in the Philippines are highly fluent in English, most will still have Eastern characteristics. One of the characteristics that can affect the workplace is the standpoint of ‘saving face’ and ‘trying to appease everyone’.
For example, when someone is giving you instructions on a task, you may feel comfortable saying things such as “Could you please repeat that? I just want to make sure I have all the details”. However, a Filipino Virtual Assistant may try to ‘save face’ by saying “Yes” to a task without fully comprehending all the instructions which results in miscommunication or inefficiencies as they’re trying to read between the lines.
To avoid this from happening, you’ll need to emphasise that there is no such thing as a ‘silly question’. This is something that we always address with our Virtual Assistants and our local staff members here at Outsourcing Angel. It’s always better to clarify the information you’re given, rather than taking a guess and wasting time and energy for everyone involved.
“It’s always better to clarify the information you’re given, rather than taking a guess and wasting time and energy for everyone involved.”
2. Internet connectivity
Something that is often brought up as a concern when working with Virtual Assistants in the Philippines is the availability of a stable internet connection. For example, in the Philippines, there are some cities where internet connection can fluctuate or even be slow for specific periods because of its archipelagic nature.
The nation has over 7,000 islands, which means that creating the infrastructure to connect with the rest of the world can be costly. Although you should be pleased to know that this has improved five-fold since 2016, average speeds, however, still lag compared to first-world countries.
How to address internet connectivity issues
When hiring Virtual Assistants, it’s necessary to ask for an internet speed check and see how much bandwidth is available to your Virtual Assistant. Not only is this a necessary part of our recruitment process here at Outsourcing Angel, we take it a step further by asking our Virtual Assistant candidates what their back-up internet solution is too.
This is particularly important for jobs that require regular video calls, customer service and website maintenance. The minimum speed an offshore assistant will need to have is 10 MBPS download and 5 MBPS.
With that being said, here are the things we look for when hiring a Virtual Assistant for any role:
- Fast internet connection: Check both the download and upload speed. Upload speed is extremely important if your Virtual Assistant needs to transfer larg files like video files.
- Back-up internet connection: What is the back-up solution in case their primary internet provider goes down for some time?
- A good home-office set-up: they have a quiet space conducive to work and virtual meetings.
- Online communication platforms: A good knowledge of communication platforms like Zoom and Slack.
- A laptop with a webcam and clear video and audio: These gadgets should be the bare minimum. We always ask our Virtual Assistants to submit a video of themselves as part of their job application.
Time zone differences
Some business owners are hesitant to work with remote staff members because they prefer to work with local staff that can work within their time zone. For example, Outsourcing Angel has been working with Virtual Assistants from the Philippines for the past several years, which is usually 2 hours behind Australia (3 hours when it’s daylight savings).
How to address time zone differences
We always check with our clients what working timezone they expect from their Virtual Assistants. This ensures that we’ll hire someone for the role that is more than happy to accommodate to your working schedule.
Throughout your relationship with your Virtual Assistant, make sure you also clarify which timezone you’ll be referencing when communicating with your Virtual Assistant. For example, instead of always having to say “let’s meet at 8am Philippine time, which is 10am my time,” tell your Virtual Assistant that you prefer to set appointments and schedules according to your timezone and stick to just saying “Let’s meet at 10am.”
Your Virtual Assistant can easily use time zone conversion tools online like Default Time Zone Converter if they’re ever confused.
Security and privacy concerns
If you’re planning to hire someone to handle sensitive company information or you’re simply worried about providing passwords and creating accounts for an offshore Virtual Assistant, then of course you’re going to be concerned about data and security.
Other disadvantages of outsourcing your business include sharing financial details like credit card details, which can be very risky too, especially when working with Virtual Assistants located in another country.
How to address security and privacy issues
Whether we’re working with remote staff or local staff, you should always treat your privacy and security with the same level of concern. Here are some steps to ensure your data privacy when working with staff:
- Ask your local staff and Virtual Assistants to sign a mutual non-disclosure and non-compete agreement. This offers you further protection against any theft of information.
- Use login and data protection tools like LastPass instead of sharing your username and password details. LastPass allows you to grant certain levels of access to different types of accounts without having to share any information and passwords can be changed quickly and instantly without you having to provide new passwords to any staff members.
- Use a remote desktop tool like Critix. Our friends over at teba specialise in creating digital workspaces allowing your staff remote access that is extremely secure.
Looking for an experienced and reliable Virtual Assistant?
Our Outsourcing Specialist is here to talk about all your business needs so that we can find you a Virtual Assistant that meets your expectations and fits seamlessly into your business.
Impact on your in-house employees
The truth about Virtual Assistants is that some in-house employees could see them as a threat at some level, which often stems from many misconceptions. For instance, some people might be afraid of taking on remote staff because they assume that work will be taken away from them and reassigned to the Virtual Assistant. This could impact employee morale or make your employees feel hesitant to guide and work with the Virtual Assistant effectively once they’re hired.
How to address the impact of Virtual Assistants on your employees
As the leader, you’ll need to highlight the key benefits of hiring a Virtual Assistant such as:
- It frees up your in-house employees to do more meaningful work
- Time-consuming and low-impact day-to-day tasks are no longer bogging them down
- Virtual Assistants can fill the skills gap and focus on areas that your in-house employees may not want to or be capable of which diversifies the talent of your team
Instead of seeing Virtual Assistants as a cause for concern, show your staff that they are a value-add to the team and allow them to also provide you their thoughts and concerns so you have open communication too. Ask them questions like:
- How has work been since we hired a Virtual Assistant or Virtual Assistants?
- Are you able to do more of the tasks you love doing?
- Do you have any suggestions on how we could improve this arrangement?
Lack of trust and commitment
The truth about outsourcing is that building and maintaining trust and commitment needs to be made from a distance, which isn’t easy for everyone! This is especially true if you’re a micro-manager or someone that often says “it’s better if I just do it myself rather than give it to someone who still has to learn the business!”
We’ve worked with soooo many business owners that are afraid to let go of tasks and control, which is understandable because your business is your baby after all!
But we’ve been able to successfully show our clients how to build trust and commitment with their Virtual Assistants to the point that they trust their virtual team enough to look after the business while they’re away.
How to build trust and commitment with your Virtual Assistant
Here are some ways to keep trust and commitment intact amidst the distance factor:
- Decide on communication channels and expectations: We like to use Slack as our daily chat tool to communicate quickly with all of our staff members. Slack also allows you to see if someone is online or offline and it integrates with some helpful apps like Jibble, which is used to track everyone’s work hours and work output. Every Virtual Assistant is expected to be online during their work hours, fill out their Jibble timesheet as well as contribute to the conversation when they’re needed.
- Get feedback naturally: Create a feedback loop where you can catch up with your Virtual Assistants on a recurring basis (this could be once a week or month). During these catch-ups have an open conversation with your Virtual Assistant and allow feedback to flow both ways.
- Project management tool: If you’d like to assign tasks to your Virtual Assistant, it’s best to use a platform like Asana or Trello to assign these tasks and see the work progress. Anytime you need to follow-up on a task or ask questions, you can simply click into the task and notify the assignee.
- Show appreciation and trust: Trust is something that naturally comes when the leader openly gives it first. Show your appreciation for your Virtual Assistants through small affirmations for work done well. It might seem insignificant at times, but the words we speak directly impact the work culture negatively and positively. So go for the positive route by using positive words.
Reduction in quality control
All new employees need time to get through the learning curve of working for a new company. Sometimes, it can take a few weeks to get used to a whole workflow and deliver the kind of output that matches your brand, culture, or style, especially when you’re working with anyone in a creative Virtual Assistant role like a Graphic Designer or Video Editor.
How to address quality control issues
Here are the different methods we use to address any quality control issues that may arise when hiring a new Virtual Assistant:
Assign a Team Leader
Something that we do at Outsourcing Angel that has helped our clients immensely, is assigning an experienced Team Leader to every Virtual Assistant to check the quality of the Virtual Assistants’ work in the initial on-boarding phase. This helps us maintain a certain level of standard based on the client’s expectations as well as address any issues as soon as they’re identified.
Throughout this process, our Virtual Assistants will begin to see the pattern in the output revisions and constructive feedback and the quality of work will continue to improve. While it can be time-consuming initially, there will be much more saved time when our Virtual Assistant starts picking up the pattern.
Develop guidelines with examples
Don’t expect your Virtual Assistant to understand your brand, style and aesthetic without providing them with clear guidelines and examples. For example, here are snippets from our Social Media Design Guidelines to assist our Social Media Virtual Assistants when creating content for our online channels:
Social Media Colors
These types of guidelines ensure consistency and give your Virtual Assistants a point of reference so that they can meet your expectations faster.
We can’t express just how important that ‘feedback loop’ is for you and your Virtual Assistant. If you’re working with any employee, constructive feedback is the only way you can improve your working relationship. If your Virtual Assistant doesn’t understand why you like or dislike something, they’ll have no idea where they stand with you.
Potential for abandonment
We’ve heard countless horror stories of people hiring their own Virtual Assistant or Freelancer only for them to suddenly disappear off the face of the earth. There are also going to be instances where your Virtual Assistant is suddenly unreachable because of an emergency or natural disaster.
How to avoid a disappearing Virtual Assistant
Working with an agency like us offers you an extra layer of protection. If for any reason your Virtual Assistant is suddenly unavailable or you’re unhappy with their work, we’ll offer you a fast and free replacement as well as 1 week free.
It’s our responsibility to ensure you’re never left high and dry to avoid time and money wasted on undelivered work.
Unfortunately, when hiring a Virtual Assistant directly, it’ll be up to you to look for a replacement if your Virtual Assistant suddenly becomes unreachable.
Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing
After studying all the advantages and disadvantages of Virtual Assistants, the question is whether it’s all worth the effort. We’ve weighed the pros and cons of virtual assistants with hundreds of clients in the past, and the consensus remains the same for the far majority— working with Virtual Assistants can have its set of challenges, but it’s still worth it in the end.