We can't deny that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has and will continue to affect businesses all around the world. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs conducted from March 16 to 17, 2020, more than half of small business owners in the United States felt that they wouldn't be able to continue business operations if the global pandemic persists for the next three months. Moreover, according to the same survey, only 53% are confident about their contingency plan to continue operations, while 96% say that their businesses have experienced declines in sales revenue.

Unfortunately, this cannot be called an isolated case in the US as this has been proven true for many businesses the world over. An example would be a forecast by GlobalData published on March 24, which predicted a loss of 12.6 billion pounds in the UK retail industry this year. These dips have been causing huge dents in our global economic status, making it more and more difficult for us to standby and not do anything about the decline. Having said this, there is absolutely no reason to simply sit around and sulk while you watch your ship sink. With the situation literally being a ride or die case, it is best to be prepared for what's to come by planning ahead and doing your best to adapt to the situation, no matter how daunting and challenging it could be.

In this article, we will be discussing how hiring a virtual assistant or a VA for your operations could help increase productivity for your business amidst COVID-19, and help prepare for life post-pandemic.

How Businesses Can Adapt to the Impact of COVID-19

In this list we will be narrowing down some of the most important elements of a business or an enterprise that one should focus on, and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them.

1. Financial

Considering the enormous dip in the economy, it is best for businesses to assess their current revenue gaps and develop profit-improvement contingency plans as preparation for the post-pandemic era. Moreover, financial forecasts must be modified to consider worst-case scenarios, a sample of which could be changing procurement efforts as required and reducing overall costs.

2. Sales and Marketing

Over the past few months, there have been many dramatic changes in consumer behaviors amidst the coronavirus crisis, and it is quite possible for these changes to continue on in the future and might even become permanent. Having said this, sales and marketing teams should work closely to determine whether new customer policies should be implemented, how consumer communications could be improved, and what necessary steps could be taken to further strengthen customer trust and improve relationships.

3. Business Operations

Business operations in the time of corona should focus on changes in consumer behavior and new demands that have emerged, ensuring that the company’s sales team could be more prepared with adapting to the rapidly changing consumer movement over such a short period of time. Furthermore, it is essential for companies to have plans in place to protect the safety of employees in the manufacturing sector, from COVID-19 and other risks, to avoid factory shutdowns and in effect, an even further collapse in the economy.

4. Technology

There is absolutely no doubt that the global health crisis has forced businesses to adopt newer technologies such as telecommuting, automation, virtual meeting spaces, and other communication platforms. This also includes the implementation of onboarding virtual assistants or VAs, as well as other technologies that help simplify and automate business processes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Having said this, how can virtual assistants help businesses based on the aforementioned elements and other aspects of businesses? This, we will be discussing below.

The Role of VAs in Business Operations During COVID-19

Before anything else, what is a virtual assistant? In a nutshell, virtual assistants are remote workers who perform a myriad of tasks and business operations from remote locations. Given this information, how exactly can hiring virtual assistants help you and your business during this global health and economic crisis? Here are some of the key benefits:

1. Cost-Efficiency

As established above, the biggest impact of this COVID-19 crisis to today’s businesses is money - or the lack of it. Many businesses all over the globe are currently unable to generate revenue at all, especially those in the hospitality industry. Therefore, cost reduction is now a pressing necessity, and this is where hiring a remote personal assistant comes in handy. Outsourcing virtual assistants can prove to be cost-efficient in many ways, two of which are the following:

  1. Reduce operational costs and salaries

    Instead of hiring full-time employees to perform small tasks, you can opt to hire virtual assistants for this. Virtual assistant providers such as OkayRelax offer plans that charge per hour or per task, so you only pay for work that is required and done.

    As per a recent study by Inc., the average worker is only productive for less than three hours in a typical 8-hour workday. This means that you are essentially paying five hours worth of salary per employee per day for practically nothing.

    Overall, it is estimated that with each full-time VA you hire in lieu of a full-time employee, you can actually improve operating costs by as much as 78%.

  2. Training costs

    With every first-time employee, much time and resources are invested in order to train them for various tasks and responsibilities. A remote personal assistant, on the other hand, only works on the specific task that they have already trained for prior to their onboarding as VAs are often skilled at a myriad of tasks in order to be effective.

2. Improving Speed and Efficiency

On a daily basis, companies deal with various non-core activities such as data entry, scheduling meetings, sending routine emails and newsletters, and so on. While these are admittedly necessary tasks, these are not the priorities that can make or break your business’ success. In the post-pandemic era, these tasks could become even less of a priority than before. Hence, it is ideal to outsource them to a virtual assistant with the right skill set to assure efficiency in the workflow.

To give you an example, here are only some of the tasks that virtual assistants at OkayRelax cover:

Personal Tasks

  • Wedding research
  • Sending gifts on your behalf
  • Product research and comparisons
  • Customer service
  • Finding deals on a product or service

Travel and Planning

  • Planning your itinerary
  • Finding flight and hotel deals
  • Booking your flights
  • Following up on your reservations
  • Hotel research
  • Processing your car rentals

Administration and Management

  • Social media management
  • Preparing presentations
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Email management
  • Creating basic reports
  • Auto-responder management
  • Data presentations
  • Calendar management
  • Creating email newsletters

With a VA to help you accomplish these tasks, your full-time employees can therefore spend more time to focus on core tasks that are highly essential to tackle issues such as the current pandemic.

3. Reducing business process inefficiencies

As previously stated, ensuring that your company’s finances are in good shape is important during this COVID-19 situation, and will even be increasingly more important after. Operational inefficiencies can cut your annual revenue to approximately 20% to 30% per year. That is quite a significant amount, and is money that you can use today. These inefficiencies are often caused by not having systematic processes in place, examples of which include automated invoicing and sending canned auto-responses, among others. With trivial tasks such as these, hiring a VA to set up these systems and processes can help you save valuable time and resources for you and your business.

4. Hire talent on a task-by-task basis

Among the many benefits of hiring a virtual assistant, perhaps one of the most important in the post-pandemic era is being able to hire them on a task-by-task or project-to-project basis. With this option, there is no need to worry about the tasking recruitment processes needed to find and onboard full-time employees when you can outsource to VAs with companies that do the recruitment for you.

During and after the pandemic, business growth in any industry can be wildly unpredictable, and this benefit provides you with the flexibility to adjust your Human Resources budget and allocate it to other business expenses that require more immediate attention. To share an instance where this could be beneficial, if there comes a sudden increase in demand, you can utilize virtual assistants to quickly and efficiently deal with the surge and little by little, hire the required full-timers you need once you are assured that this surge in demand is more than just a passing trend.

Furthermore, there might also be situations during the time of coronavirus where your business is required to lean into more unconventional ways to keep itself afloat, leading you to venture out and conduct experiments on new strategies that you haven’t even thought about trying before. In such cases, recruitment for new talents will surely be necessary, but outsourcing to a VA can help you execute these tasks without having to commit to an additional expense on a monthly basis.

5. 24/7 human customer support

More than anything, perhaps multinational business can reap more from this benefit than most, given that their audience and customers are spread across the globe. When your staff is located in one place, handling 24/7 customer service while taking account of international time zones can be a very significant challenge. Since virtual assistants are remote workers, you are provided with the flexibility to hire people from all across the globe to cater to different time zones without having to worry about employee burnout from having to take graveyard shifts. Virtual assistant services like OkayRelax employ VAs from various parts of the world with different time zones, giving you the leeway to maximize efficiency without exhausting resources and employees.

When the whole COVID-19 situation subsides, the demand for good customer support will most likely increase as more and more consumers will be more careful and concerned about the products and services that they purchase. Ultimately, hiring VAs to help you out will ensure that you have a well-performing customer service without having your budget flying way over its limit.

Here are some of the things your virtual assistant can do to help improve your customer service:

  • Respond to customers’ questions and reviews, which can be very time-consuming
  • Create email responses or develop FAQs to be posted on your website to improve customer experience
  • Customer follow-up
  • Handle complaints or requests

How to Manage Your VA Team Amidst COVID-19

If your business is currently affected by the economic crisis, know that you are not alone and that there are ways to get through this challenge. For most who are privileged to keep their jobs amidst the worldwide surge in unemployment, perhaps the biggest challenge they are currently facing is the reality of remote work, especially having to manage people from home on top of learning how to course through the entire process yourself. This is especially true if you have never worked with virtual assistants before and are in immediate need of your own team of world-class virtual assistants to help keep your business afloat.

To help you manage your expectations, here are a few tips we can offer when it comes to managing your team of VAs from the comforts of your home:

1. Communication is key.

With your entire team working remotely from home, the risk of communication breakdown will always be there and when a virtual assistant misses a piece of key information, the consequences could be significant. Given this, it is important to ensure that you have a proper communication process in place. You can set up a team management app such as Slack or Mattermost to manage your VAs, but even a proper email routine can do the job.

Another crucial thing is being clear when delivering your messages, especially with the objective and expectations for each task. Creating a communications system that works will help your VAs stay on track and help you manage your team and your time more efficiently.

Most importantly, don’t micromanage. While micromanagement is already widely considered to be bad practice, it is even arguably worse in a remote setting. Rather than micromanaging, it is better to utilize your time for strategic thinking and coming up with ideas on how to battle the coronavirus pandemic head on.

2. Maximize the accessibility of technology.

Technological advances are all around you, so utilize these technologies to set up better processes for both your internal and external business operations. For example, Google Docs can be used to share documents between you and your VA as this offers real-time updates when it comes to edits from both parties and the much-appreciated auto-save feature that protects your document from sudden power outages and other disruptions that may cause the loss of your document’s contents.

Furthermore, you can also set up project management softwares such as Slack or Monday, and use Dropbox for file sharing. There are also various virtual meeting spaces such as GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts Meet for audio and video conferences with your team.

In these cases, one size does not fit all. Different processes may need different technologies to optimize the performance of your team as a whole. Again, communication is key. If you don’t know where to start, you can always ask your VAs for suggestions on applications or softwares that might fit your business process and they would be more than happy to guide you through them.

3. Don’t forget social interactions.

Perhaps above anything else, it is important to always remember that, while communication with them is often done through a screen, your VAs are humans, too. You are more than welcome to celebrate their birthdays, organize parties and games with apps such as Houseparty, and even initiate some good old fun by implementing Casual Fridays, albeit having a remote work set-up.

These small yet meaningful gestures can be significant in boosting morale. Aside from the aforementioned ideas, you can also set up fun games for your VA team to encourage teamwork and camaraderie among teammates, no matter how scattered they are all over the world. During this crisis, many of them are probably stressed and afraid, and by having fun together, you can help alleviate their worries and burdens even by just a little bit.

Working from home can be quite a challenge, especially for the majority of workers who have been working in a physical office for a long time now. However, it is highly likely that this set up will become the new normal even after the pandemic disappears so perhaps it is best to embrace this reality now and learn how to adjust to this new work arrangement. Learning how to be practical and turning your weakness into strengths can help you work your way through this crisis, and with the help of virtual assistant services such as OkayRelax, you are sure to have just the resources you need to help you and your business survive and prepare to thrive in the post-pandemic era.