I answer a lot of questions on Quora. Follow me if you like. Recently I came across a question that stopped me in my tracks:
Why should I communicate with my virtual assistant?
It had never occurred to me that someone would question the importance of communicating with their assistant. Here is my answer as found in Quora:
The foundation of any good relationship - be it with your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and yes, even your assistant (virtual or otherwise) - is communication. Great teams are built on great communication and communication, as you may well know, is a two-way street.
When we talk to business owners about what they’re looking for in an assistant, or ask them about the best assistant that they ever had, we often hear about mind-reading. What many people (somehow) don’t realize is: Your assistant is not, and no assistant has ever been, a mind-reader.
Stay with us. This is the unvarnished truth.
I have an amazing virtual assistant in Lindsay and even she needed time and practice to get to the point where she is today (which is being f*cking outstanding, life-saving, and you know, the backbone of everything I do). Trust me, there are times when even I am lulled into the false notion that she’s reading my mind, because she is that good. But she’s not psychic, and she doesn’t have special powers - beyond a great work ethic and deep desire to succeed.
If being a professional administrator doesn’t involve reading minds, then what is the secret sauce - and how do you get some?
Oh, I’m so happy you asked.
First, remember that we’ve written before that your ideal virtual assistant may not be who you think.
Second, know that your professional administrator will be someone who pays attention. Someone who picks up on cues, and notices all the messages you leave lying about. You may not be aware of it but, whether intentionally or not, you are communicating all the time. A great virtual assistant will get to know you and your communication style, stealthily in the background, and you may or may not notice. This takes time. It could even take years, if you’re especially cryptic. Want to speed up the process?
Of course you do.
Remove the pressure on your assistant to decipher the terrifyingly mysterious clues you leave in your wake, and instead make mindful communication a priority in your business.
Start with a weekly check-in. Ideally, this is a 15 minute call at the beginning of your work week. While it’s more time that you don’t have, we know this works. Not only will this practice save you in mistakes and miscommunications, but the time you spend on it will get shorter and shorter as you get to know each other. On top of that, it will force you into kickstarting your collaborative work style with your assistant and make it painless to delegate all those things that float into your head when you’re thinking out loud, but rapidly disappear when you receive an email or Slack message asking what you might need help with.
While you’re at it, book some “No Communication” time - hours when you can simply focus on the work you do best. Your assistant can book this for you, and be protective of that time on your behalf, fielding phone calls and emails, and shifting appointments and meetings to those times when you have the energy and the focus for them. Trust me, this is exactly what my virtual assistant does for me and it makes me more productive than I ever thought possible. I am one of those people who will pick up the phone, answer the email, and say “yes” to all the things that come my way. Between the occasional bout with a scarcity mindset, a deep desire to make everyone, everywhere happy, and ADHD - which ensures if I don’t deal with something now, it’ll probably never get dealt with - trusting my assistant to manage all those things doesn’t just free up time. It frees up brain space, decision-making energy, willpower, and removes self-doubt.
Talk to your assistant about the best ways to communicate with you, and clarify which avenue of communication to use based on the level of urgency. Perhaps a text message should be used when things are super urgent - my smartphone sends notifications to my smartwatch, so I know that I can basically ignore anything that doesn’t make my wrist vibrate. Regular communication and “today” urgency could go through Slack - we chat easily throughout the day on this great messaging service. Emails can be answered tomorrow, or the next day. Anything less urgent can be added to our weekly check-in agenda and discussed at that time. And if anything fell off the side of the ship during the past week, it can be added to the check-in agenda by your assistant, ensuring nothing ever gets lost.
Try to learn about your assistant’s communication style too - this will pay off in spades. Yes, you’re paying them to know about you, but that small piece of effort on your part will pay off in big dollar bills. Maybe your assistant thrives on chaos and likes catching all the knives you throw at them during the week. Maybe s/he finds that things get lost in Slack and that voicemail, email, or the CRM/task system you both use will work better, ensuring s/he gets what’s needed, when it’s needed. Maybe your assistant is a careful thinker and needs time to process instructions before responding. Knowing these things, and placing standards around your expectations, such as 24 hours to respond to an email after “regular work” hours or maybe 1 hour during regular work hours, will ensure that you both know what you’re dealing with and when you’re dealing with it.
Your assistant wants to be successful at making you successful. Lend a hand by being a great, mindful communicator.