Not so long ago, the word “outsourcing” had a bad rap as being synonymous with lost local jobs and greedy CEOs looking for dirt cheap labor. Today, however, busy entrepreneurs and companies everywhere are considering the advantages of virtual outsourcing.
There are many reasons for outsourcing to a virtual assistant, but it can be difficult to determine if the benefits outweigh the negatives. Here are some pros and cons of insourcing versus virtual outsourcing to consider before you decide if a virtual service is right for you.
Pros of Outsourcing to Virtual Teams
- Lower Cost: With all of the expenses that go into hiring an in-house employee, such as recruiting costs, healthcare and other benefits, parking, office space, and supplies, outsourcing to a virtual assistant can be much more cost effective.
- Ability to Deploy Experts in Specialized Areas: Whether you work alone, or have a staff, there’s a good chance that you’ll eventually have a need for your business that you don’t have the expertise to fulfill. Whether it’s a one-time marketing research project, or lead generation on an as-needed basis, outsourcing to people that already have the experience in those areas saves time, and improves results.
- Frees Time for Higher Level Projects: By delegating menial, repetitive tasks, you can focus your time and energy on making important decisions, closing sales, and attending meetings and calls. Outsourcing the small stuff allows you to be more productive and spend your time where it matters most.
- Ability to Get Large Projects Done Faster: Sooner or later, everyone has a project or task that is especially large, tedious, or time-consuming (and often it’s all three!). That’s when taking advantage of a virtual workforce can be the most effective option, and sometimes, the only way to meet a looming deadline. Depending on the service, you can customize the hours needed, and the number of people assigned to suit the size and timeline of the project.
- Work Gets Done During Your “Off” Hours: If you’ve ever wished that work could magically get done while you sleep at night, outsourcing to a virtual assistant is for you. By selecting a virtual assistant that works during some or all of the hours you are out, you can be twice as productive. This option also allows you to start your work day one step ahead when your emails are already sorted, your appointments are made and confirmed, and the research you need for a project is waiting for you.
- Easier to Make Quick Adjustments in Hours and Staffing: In-house hiring and firing decisions can be difficult to make because there are so many variables to consider, such as the cost of recruiting, hiring and training a new employee that may not turn out to be the right fit or changes in business needs that leave you unable to keep salaried employees busy enough to justify the cost. There is also the impact on morale and company culture when there’s lots of staff turnover. One of the advantages of virtual teams is the flexibility to increase or decrease use, switch out team members that aren’t the right fit, and add additional services based on your needs.
Cons of Outsourcing to Virtual Teams
- Sharing your Business Processes and Other Private Information: Most companies are extremely careful about sharing proprietary information and processes with their own employees, let alone anyone outside the company. Keeping information private and secure is a huge consideration when outsourcing any work. Be sure to ask how the service stores secure information, and if needed, have them sign an NDA.
- Losing Time to Training and Relationship Building: Often, when you’ve worked with someone for a long period of time, you develop your own shorthand for communication: they know your expectations around how a task should be done and how long it should take, and can often anticipate your needs. When you outsource to a virtual team, there will always be a ramp-up period where a certain amount of training and communication will be needed. If a task that requires a lot of training or explanation can be done by someone you already work with, you may want to keep that task in-house. If you don’t have someone available though, consider that you would have the ramp-up period and training time whether you outsource or insource to someone new.
- Longer Response Times vs. In-House: When you need an update or have a question on a task or project, it’s extremely fast and convenient to simply walk over to that person’s desk and have a quick discussion. When using a virtual team, you will inevitably have some longer response times as you email back and forth or find a time you can both jump on a call for longer discussions.
- Possible Lack of Investment or “Buy In”: Getting your own employees to care about the success of the business or the positive outcome of a project is easy. They have a stake in the company's’ success because it means secure employment as well as bonuses, raises or other potential financial benefits. When you outsource to a virtual team, they are not a part of your company or culture, so they need to be motivated in other ways.
- Language or Cultural Barriers: When outsourcing to international virtual services, you may find communication issues due to differences in language, or a lack of knowledge of common U.S. cultural terms and slang. This can also be an issue with knowledge of specific areas in the States, exchange rates, and transit systems. One way to avoid this is to use a virtual service that provides U.S.-based assistants.
- Possible Impact on Employee Morale: Sometimes, the decision to outsource to a virtual team comes from the desire to save money versus having a higher paid staff member spend time on the project. But, if the project is something the employee wanted to be assigned, or they see the outsourcing as a lack of confidence in their abilities, it may leave them feeling disappointed or resentful.
Tips for Success with your Virtual Team
- Set clear goals from the start: Your team should know exactly what you want to be accomplished, the time frame, and the programs or processes you prefer for completing it. Make sure they have access to everything they’ll need, and clear instructions they can refer back to from the beginning to avoid possible delays.
- Establish clear communication channels: Set up a main point of contact so the virtual team knows who to go to with questions or issues. Also, use the right medium for the situation. Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” are fine for text or chat. Lengthy information that might need to be referred back to is best sent over email. And, any explanation or answers that might have follow-up questions are best done over phone or video chat. If a process is more detailed and difficult, consider screen sharing over video chat to walk through the process together.
- Set best practices and quality standards from the beginning by providing feedback: Affirming that the work is done correctly will let the virtual team know to repeat the performance. Giving specifics on any changes that need to be made will increase the odds of fixing the problem the first time. Letting the virtual assistant know if you prefer daily updates, or communication in the afternoons only, or the use of a shared task management system will help them understand the way you like to work. The more feedback you give in all areas of the working relationship, the better your chances of success.