What is a Virtual Assistant?

S. Roberts

A virtual assistant is an administrative office assistant who provides general office management from a remote location. General office management duties include clerical duties like document filing, data collection and data storage. It can also extend to legal assistance and accounting services — basically any kind of office work that can be accomplished in the virtual world.

A virtual assistant can work from a remote location.
A virtual assistant can work from a remote location.

Often referred to as VAs, the career path of a virtual assistant became more common in the 1990s when technology advanced and corporate offices increasingly decentralized. As urban density and congestion helped boost suburbia over the years, fringe cities developed. Corporate business followed, prompting companies to open more branch offices in a variety of cities and states. Globalization is now an additional force driving companies overseas to tap into new markets and new consumers. The need to staff those offices arose but frequently was associated with a higher cost.

Virtual assistants may be in charge of answering customer service calls while working from home.
Virtual assistants may be in charge of answering customer service calls while working from home.

A virtual assistant can be an employee of the company he or she works for or he or she can be an independent contractor. A VA might telecommute from home, or he or she might work at the company's offices and manage one or more remote locations.

VA companies are increasingly popping up and contracting their virtual assistants out to companies. Virtual office providers typically have about 10 virtual assistants who manage the virtual offices of about 100 to 150 companies. For instance, if a company in New York City wants to have a virtual office in Los Angeles, using new technology, that company does not have to open a physical branch office on the west coast of the United States. The company can simply purchase a contract with a virtual office provider.

Virtual office providers give the client company a local address and local phone number. A virtual assistant is assigned to answer the calls for the client company at the local address, answering in the client company’s name, and forwarding calls to the company’s headquarters or assigned representative. The virtual assistant also helps the client company target consumers without having to be in that geographic area. This helps provide the impression that the company has a vibrant and active branch location in that remote city.

Virtual office providers may also collect the company’s mail, sort it and redirect it. The virtual assistant may oversee legal and business obligations for the client company so that it can function in another city, state or country. New Internet technology allows the virtual assistants to manage a range of companies or office locations through highly organized software. The technology also allows the virtual assistant to patch through calls to other cities or countries seamlessly.

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