Virtual offices and virtual assistants come a dime a dozen these days. Do a search for "virtual office" and the first thing you'll likely get are job descriptions. Many people would love to be a work-at-home virtual administrative assistant, so it goes without saying that the levels of quality you'll run into will range from the utterly time-wasting to the superbly profitable returns on investment.
To make sure you opt for a virtual office service or virtual assistant that reigns in profits for your company by allowing you to focus on what you do best (while they take care of running your menial office tasks), be sure to follow these guidelines:
1) Ask for referrals and references. If hiring a lone-standing virtual assistant not attached to a larger company, make sure you get references and follow up on them. The references should be real - not merely work done for a family business. Working remotely for a company is not like working in-house, and it certainly is not like working for a family member.
If outsourcing to a virtual office company that offers administrative support services, be sure to get referrals, or ask around in your network for recommendations. If they've done a good job for your buddy at XYZ company, they'll likely do a good job for you too.
2) Consider the Cost. Going for the lowest price is not the best strategy when looking to outsource a work-from-home office worker. The higher the price, more quality you can expect (and demand). If you hunt based on price alone, you can expect that your virtual assistant with named qualities will be less than perfect for the job - or even worse, merely a high school student under cover as a professional secretary.
3) Don't Go the Obvious Route. When looking at sites like guru.com or odesk.com, you'll get a lot of variety, and actually the results on your search query will be overwhelming. People bidding on a job can be anybody. Same goes when you post on Craigslist or Kijiji for a virtual assistant. You'll get a huge flood of resumes piling in to your inbox because everyone thinks they can do it.
Instead, look for a niche company that specializes in finding virtual assistants, or even better, specializes in offering virtual office support. That way, you never have to deal with staffing issues - it's all done in-house by the virtual office company. A key to finding businesses that offer these services is to search "business centre" on the Internet. Business centres offering shared office space usually also offer pay-per-use secretarial support.
4) Look for Affiliations with Associations. Virtual office companies and assistants who belong to an association in their industry already have a head start on capturing your attention - or at least they should. Belonging to these associations means that a) they are serious enough about their business offering to join the association and b) they are quality workers or service providers that risk being ousted by the association if they develop a seriously bad reputation for the work they do.
4) Finally, Meet the Personality Behind the Person. This is important and can save you from making a silly mistake in choosing a virtual assistant. Yes, virtual assistants work remotely, and are tech savvy, but who says they can't meet you for a coffee chat to discuss how you might work together, and what your expectations will be? This also ensures your virtual assistant is local, which means quick access and no time zone differences when you need something urgently.
The best way to find a virtual office or assistant is of course, to try them out. If this is your first time looking to outsource your office services, you're on an exciting road because your company won't have to deal with the headache and cost of hiring someone full time. While there may be risk in taking on a virtual assistant, it is far less of a risk than hiring an employee, spending time and money to train them, and then finding out they're not the right fit. With virtual workers, you only pay for what you use, and there is no commitment. Plus you are more free to shop around. So try them and see!