Blog Do you need a remote executive assistant or in-house?

Do you need a remote executive assistant or in-house?

May 30, 2023

11 min read

Having a copilot (executive assistant) to fly the plane while you are building it makes sense. Now, when this copilot is working remotely, it can trigger a series of gut reactions that may be based more on feeling than on actual data. We are here today to help you decide what works best for you and your startup: hiring an executive assistant who is working remotely will be enough or will the company’s needs exceed their abilities? Read along to find out more.

Table of contents

  • Working remotely with an EA is possible for almost every team
  • What does the data say about working remotely?
  • How remote EAs support different teams
  • Building trust with your copilot (EA). Will they really fly the plane while you’re building it?
  • Adaptation made easy: The onboarding process makes all the difference.
  • Proactiveness is the key to remote (and all) success.
  • Not everything is for everyone: hiring in-house makes more sense sometimes.

Working remotely with an EA is possible for almost every team

At Viva, we have countless stories about remote executive assistants going the extra mile for their customers, making the leaders prefer the remote structure over in-person hires.

Not too long ago, one of our EAs booked a place for a happy hour, but she wasn’t sure if the parking space would be enough for the whole team. She went on Google Street View and found out there was a parking lot just across the street. She also inspected the area, the front of the venue, and the neighborhood to make sure it fulfilled expectations.

Although technology is an excellent tool for remote workers, sometimes the physical distance can be difficult to manage. As an example, one of our EAs ordered food for an offsite in San Francisco. She didn’t realize that ordering from a vendor across the bridge would make it more difficult to receive on time, because of traffic jams. The place had great reviews and a perfect menu, but the distance became a handicap. In the end, everyone ate and enjoyed their meal but one could say that it was a rocky delivery. To manage this sort of situation, EAs find allies across the company to help them vet places before presenting the options to a superior.

Having both stories is important to understand that while remote work is highly beneficial, it can also mean that not every company would benefit from it.

What does the data say about working remotely?

The remote workforce is happening around the globe and many startups are benefiting from it, either by bringing in talent globally or building software to help other companies do precisely that. Deel, the Series D startup, is a payroll fintech that allows companies to hire and pay contractors globally. This year, they reached $295 million in ARR. This means that multiple companies are hiring remote workers, enough to earn Deel a valuation of $12 billion. If you are deciding on hiring remotely, rest assured that you are not the only one.

McKinskey’s, American Opportunity Survey, queried 25,000 Americans alongside Ipsos and concluded that the shift in remote work has been confirmed. The data shows that the third most popular reason for a job hunt was a flexible job arrangement (AKA remote work) just after greater pay and more career opportunities. As they put it: “… when a candidate is deciding between job offers with similar compensation, the opportunity to work flexibly can become the deciding factor.”

The Pew Research Center released data in 2023, saying that people working from home didn’t feel that this factor made them less productive, or that it blocked their career opportunities. 77% said working from home neither helps nor hurts in being given important assignments and 63% said it neither helps or hurts their chances of getting ahead at work. This suggests that remote workers feel confident about the results that they’re bringing in and the projects they’re driving.

Another stat says that people, working from home and on-site, both feel that their working conditions are either helpful or irrelevant to their ability to meet deadlines (93% & 81% respectively).

Zapier is a 100% distributed company with over 800 teammates across 40 countries. They have a lot of experience and knowledge to share about remote work and have even created an ultimate guide to remote work on their website.

This doesn’t mean that all companies should immediately take their entire workforce back to working from home, but rather than remote work shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. There is strong data to support the claim that a better hire may mean hiring remotely and that working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean less productivity.

How remote EAs support different teams

Remote EAs supporting 100% remote teams

In remote teams, bringing in a remote EA makes complete sense, especially if the remote headcount is 100%. These teams usually have platforms set in place to make sure communication is fluid and continuous, have team-building activities, and have a lot of experience managing and calibrating expectations remotely, just like with performance reviews.

The onboarding is also done seamlessly since they’ve done the same with the rest of the team.

In this case, a company should look out for time zone and technical requirements that make sense for the company. In short, our recommendation is to always hire inside the same time zone if the tasks tend to be time-sensitive.

Remote teams face the difficulty of having engaged teams and a strong company culture, that leaders should take into account. Also, there are strong claims that working from home may lead to burnout if a balance between work and life is not achieved.

Remote EAs supporting hybrid teams

Hybrid teams are teams that have some type of working-from-home arrangement for some or all team members.

Working with a remote executive assistant makes sense for many hybrid startups because, just like with 100% remote teams, they already have tools and communication channels open for remote work and can still take projects to completion without necessarily being at the office.

The leader’s role in helping the team be engaged is crucial. We’ve known about some leaders who sometimes walk around with their laptops so their remote teams can also see what they’re seeing. This makes the team feel involved while being remote.

This involvement may be difficult at times when a part of the team is on-site and the other remote. Executive assistants may face challenges with following up on tasks agreed upon in person.

Even though the downsides are very real, many of Viva’s executive assistants are able to perform successfully with hybrid teams. When we asked them about the reason for this success, they mentioned team collaboration and engaged leaders, along with assertiveness and substantial delegation and organizational skills.

Remote EAs supporting in-person teams

When the entirety of the team is in-house and just the EA works remotely, a completely different scenario emerges.

Difficulties are easier to imagine. While the team is making in-person decisions, there needs to be a key player that makes sure these decisions are communicated clearly and promptly to the executive assistant who is working remotely, and may not be able to attend the meeting. Otherwise, it may result in conflict or missed deadlines. However, remote executive assistants can still attend in-person meetings, dialing in through multiple tech solutions.

Remote workers are mainly in their workstations because that is where everything is happening. This is not the case for on-site teams who might be away from their workstations while performing their duties. This might make it difficult for the remote EA to reach them effectively at certain times.

On the other hand, being the only person working remotely can also have great advantages with productivity. Remote EAs working with in-person teams say they are able to complete tasks without constant interruptions. The distance actually allows them to have more focused time throughout the day. In turn, they are able to prioritize important tasks and complete them faster.

Another great benefit is that stressful situations don’t have the same impact on the remote EA because those feelings are not so easily transferred through online channels. A study from Attlasian found that teams that are excited about work are actually more productive.

At Viva, we’ve been able to work successfully with all types of teams. Ultimately, it comes down to how you and your team work best. We’ve had skeptical in-house teams that tried Viva and are pleasantly surprised and the array of creative solutions that are able to drive effectiveness for this remote relationship. Take a look at our customer testimonials about working remotely in all kinds of teams: remote, hybrid, or in-person.

Building trust with your copilot (EA). Will they really fly the plane while I’m building it?

The key to working with a copilot / executive assistant is setting expectations early and communicating them clearly. What kind of support will you be receiving? Email and calendar management? Will they be supporting project management tasks?

Establishing clear deadlines is also crucial, for all teams.

Some EAs send EOD recap emails with a list of what they’ve done and learned every day. This helps leaders understand what they’ve been working on and gain their trust. Our recommendation is to let the work speak for itself. When your email starts being manageable with 5-10 unread messages instead of hundreds, and your calendar has no redundancies, that’s when trust is really gaining traction. Most of our customers say they saw value within 1 week.

To avoid misunderstandings and conflict, the best bet is to overcommunicate. Every bit of information is helpful and provides much-needed visibility, so don’t hesitate to share. Overcommunication is essential in remote working relationships. We recommend this for all teams, regardless of role.

Adaptation made easy: The onboarding process makes all the difference.

At Viva, we take training very seriously. Before actually onboarding, our EAs go through an 8-week training to gain the skills and abilities necessary to produce high-quality work.

In our onboarding process we:

  • Establish the main areas of support corresponding with the executive’s needs.
  • We work with the executive to provide access and resources to the EA so they can perform.
  • Next, we recommend you introduce your EA to your team and organization clearly stating what tasks they’ll be taking over and how to reach them.
  • Begin delegating tasks and projects: starting points suggestions are calendar and email.

Our Customer Success team works closely with customers in the following months to ensure that the EA is performing as expected. They also put out any fires before they cause any damage. So far, this approach has been a driver of success.

Proactiveness is the key to remote (and all) success.

“If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing.”

John C. Maxwell

Proactiveness is a crucial trait for any person working with a C-level suite. To describe what proactiveness looks like, we’ll go to Frank Slootman, who wrote Amp it Up, which describes the driver/passenger mindset that applies very well to the executive assistant’s proactiveness.

One trait that executive assistants with the driver mindset have is taking the initiative and ownership of projects. They do so by anticipating needs and opportunities.

While passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting.”

We wrote a guide about what to expect from a great executive assistant that is based on proactiveness as the key feature for performance.

Not everything is for everyone: hiring in-house makes more sense sometimes.

Sometimes, hiring remotely won’t make sense to you and your team. Some CEOs do a lot of travel and need to have their EAs traveling with them. Another scenario would be startups that have very small teams and would rather have an hourly commitment instead of a full-time copilot. These are usually companies’ pre-product market fit or any pre-Series A. And lastly, some startups have zero remote work policies not allowing for remote hires.

Our recommendation is to explore your options, without dismissing remote EAs altogether. At Viva, we are on a mission to help executives 10x their productivity and we take that to heart. If helpful, we can have a conversation to expertly guide you in the right direction, whether in-house or remote.

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