In general, the minimum preparation required to become a virtual office assistant is a high school degree followed by some office training. There are community college and vocational school programs as well as online educational options for someone who wants to become a virtual office assistant, and many people with traditional business or management degrees can become virtual office assistants. To specialize or advance to a legal or medical position, one can pursue additional training and, in many cases, certification. If one is self-employed, some additional requirements might include investing in office equipment.
A virtual office assistant has essentially the same job description as a traditional office assistant, except that the he or she typically works out of his or her home office as a freelancer. In many cases, a virtual office has several advantages over a traditional office setting. For example, telecommuting is often more convenient for employees, and it can be more cost effective for both parties.
Typical office assistant duties include administrative tasks, such as performing basic data entry and maintaining files and records. Other common activities include mailing, emailing, and faxing documents, along with writing business letters and reports. Office assistants are often responsible for tracking budget information and for making appointments and travel arrangements for their supervisors as well. A virtual assistant can also focus on a specific niche — he or she might work in publishing as a virtual author's assistant, for example; others are hired specifically for legal or medical transcription.
To become a virtual office assistant, one can train by following the conventional route of learning secretarial skills in high school, and then completing a one- to two-year office administration program in a vocational-technical school or community college. Increasingly, community colleges are also offering programs specifically for virtual office assistants. Some examples of courses include computer technology and website design, along with traditional skills, such as transcription and bookkeeping.
In lieu of attending a local school, someone who wants to become a virtual office assistant can complete his or her entire course of study online. Several organizations offer coaching and training programs at varying costs. Although certification is not required to become a virtual office assistant, one can become certified through the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It offers the designations of Certified Virtual Assistant, Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant, and Real Estate Virtual Assistant. There are also several legal secretary certification programs available.
Some basic skills that are generally required to become a virtual office assistant include good verbal and written communication, along with knowledge of business etiquette. For many office jobs, efficient typing skills are often required, and attention to detail and the ability to multitask are also deemed important. In addition, a freelancer typically needs certain equipment in order to establish a home office. At a minimum, he or she usually uses a computer, printer, phone, and a fax machine.