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How Virtual Offices Work

        Money | Work Life

The Cyber-assistant

Back in the good old days of corner offices with big windows and a secretary outside your door, you knew exactly how to get the administrative part of your work done... your secretary handled it. But what do you do when you don't have that office or that secretary outside the door? The answer is simple, in a virtual office, you get a virtual assistant (VA).

Just go to your favorite web browser and type in "virtual assistant." You'll find many links to sites that are built, managed and maintained by those people who used to sit outside your door and help you manage business.

These assistants can do just about everything their predecessors did. (You will have to get your own coffee!) They can provide services on an as-needed basis. Or, if you prefer, you can contract a specific amount of time each day, week or month. By using e-mail, fax, and other electronic technologies, you can get work in and out just as quickly as before. You pay only for the time you use rather than paying someone to sit idly at a desk during slow periods. Many of these VA's also offer after-hours services. There is even a Virtual Assistant University (AssistU) that offers 20-week courses for Virtual Assistants and awards degrees and certifications at both basic and masters levels. The program has received very good reviews.

What should you look for?

Aside from the flexible work hours and the reduced cost involved, the benefits of using VAs also include the wide range of skills you can find. Although the AssistU defines a Virtual Assistant as a person that provides long-term administrative support for clients, you'll see many people referring to themselves as VAs and offering skills ranging from basic data entry to web design to accounting. Make sure you see samples of their work and speak with references. When you speak with their references, ask not only about the quality of the work, but the also about the speed and accuracy.

With these VAs being entrepreneurs themselves, you'll also find that they may be pretty savvy about new ways of getting things done more efficiently in a cyber-environment. Look for innovative ideas on their web sites, and effective layout and formatting of the sample documents they provide you. Also ask the references you speak with if the VA has offered any good ideas for improving the work process.