How to provide helpful instructions to your virtual assistant

writing instructions for a virtual assistant

The whole point of working with a Virtual Assistant is that they are virtual – i.e you don’t need to be in the same location to effectively collaborate. Remote work offers different benefits from the traditional workplace role – but issues unique to remote work can arise. It requires a considered approach to management and VA support to ensure the best results and effectiveness. 

One of the biggest factors I see in how effectively – or not – a VA is able to complete a task is how the instructions are delivered. There are a few reasons for why instructions need to be given differently to how you might typically be used to with an in-office employee, including:

  • Language and cultural differences
  • Remote location – not being with them physically to explain details
  • Communications – with time differences, they may not be able to ask you quick questions or call you to confirm things 

The best way to combat any miscommunications and ensure that you are giving the best instructions possible is to follow a structured format of what to include. Here are my tips for things you MUST include when giving instructions to a VA.

How to provide instructions to your virtual assistant 

1. Provide your VA with video recordings of task instructions.

I use the program Loom to record every instruction I give. Sometimes I will also give written instructions but it depends on the complexity and whether it is a recurring or project based task.

Providing instructions for recurring tasks: 

When using Loom, or any screen recording software, for recurring tasks, the best thing to do is to simply implement the task yourself and play out the exact instructions as you need them completed, explaining what you are doing as you go. The greatest benefit I have found in this is that you only need to explain things once but they can rewatch it if they need to clarify anything. This makes up for the lack of the VA being in the office and not being able to ask you small questions to reconfirm things. Of course this only works if you provide all the information (see point 2)

Providing instructions for project tasks: 

Typically with project tasks I will provide written instruction, with pictures and/or a video as needed. This way you can show clearly what you are looking to achieve.

2. Give your VA as much information on the task as you can, as clearly as possible.

When you are giving instructions to your VA, you need to fill in all the gaps and possible questions that might come up, because again with the missing office element, it isn’t a simple shout across the room to clarify something. So the more information you can give, and the more clearly you can give it will avoid any back and forth and ultimately save you time in having to clarify things or correct mistakes.

3. Give your virtual assistant a clear due date for delivery of the work. 

Your VA may not necessarily understand or share your priorities, so when you request a task of them it is vital to give a due date and time. This allows them to know how to prioritise it within their other work, as well as allowing you to know when you can expect it. This will also aid in performance management.

It is also really important to make sure your VA knows they can speak up and communicate if the due date isn’t possible or they need help with something. Cultural differences may lead to them being more reserved and afraid to ask questions or to not complete something as asked. By setting the frame of “it’s okay to ask for help” you are setting yourself, and them, up for success.

4. Keep it simple

Most Filipino VAs have excellent English skills and if you include English testing in your hiring, you should end up with someone like that. So this isn’t about their language skills, more so about avoiding confusion.

When giving instructions the most important thing is to keep the language simple. No fancy words, or complicated sentences and weird flow. The rule of thumb is, if a 5th grader can read and understand the instructions, that is perfect. If they can’t, your instructions are too complicated. And that’s not saying that your VA has the same English Comprehension level as a 5th Grader, it is saying that that is how simple you need to keep things for it to most effectively translated and avoid any confusion.

Follow each of the 4 elements listed above when providing instructions and you will have a successful, efficient relationship with your VA!

For more tips, be sure to check out our new book, The Virtual Assistant Advantage

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