Seeing is believing. It’s a well-worn adage, but it carries a great deal of truth. While our data infrastructure develops and expands our ability to communicate, humans can only adapt to these changes so quickly. When it comes to trust, we instinctively tilt towards the physical: a firm handshake, a welcoming smile, a clean-cut appearance. We often mistrust what we can’t see. It took years for credit cards to become the method of choice for in-person sales and many holiday seasons for shoppers’ concerns about the security of e-commerce to subside.

While understandable, our predilection toward the physical is more visceral than rational. Credit cards simplify transactions for consumers and, from the perspective of the seller, facilitate spending. Online purchases are often safer than purchases at stores that use obsolete point-of-sale technology.

A similar dilemma confronts the business owner considering to bring on a virtual assistant. Rationally, the business owner understands the benefits of the virtual assistant, including lower cost, greater flexibility, and the ability to draw from a pool of talent unconstrained by geography. But, the business owner instinctively trusts what she can see – a person who greets her when she comes into the office, a person to whom she can hand over documents for proofing, a person that she will recognize if she bumps into him on the street.

We should not pretend that these inclinations don’t exist. Instead, the business owner should address her mistrust by putting in place safeguards that maximize the chances of hiring a trustworthy virtual assistant. Once steps have been taken to ensure the virtual assistant’s trustworthiness, the business owner should take time on the job to assess the VAs strengths and weaknesses. After the completion of that assessment, the business owner should integrate the VA into the business in a way that builds trust and confidence.

Do your homework and implement safeguards: The fact that you haven’t physically met a virtual assistant candidate does not mean that you can’t take steps to ensure his reliability. Set up a video conference so that you can read the candidate’s body language and get better context for their answers during an interview. Speak to relevant references. If the candidate has other clients with whom they do similar work, ask to be put in touch with them. If the candidate has worked in a more traditional environment, ask to speak to the individuals to whom he reported. Finally, use a reputable agency to run a background check on the candidate. Throughout the process, pay attention to the virtual assistant’s responsiveness. If the virtual assistant is not responsive when trying to get the job, communication may be an issue if you hire them.

Once you’ve made the decision to hire a candidate, consider having him sign a non-disclosure agreement. A non-disclosure agreement is a tangible step to take to safeguard your important information. In the event that your virtual assistant were to inappropriately disseminate your information, it can specify a remedy, such as an injunction, to prevent further disclosure.

Train and test: Do the work you need to figure out how the virtual assistant best fits in your organization. Training is a must. As with any new employee, you will need to spend time educating your VA about your business’ goals and your processes. Don’t expect your virtual assistant to be able to anticipate your needs from the get-go. It will take time for even the most intuitive virtual assistant to gain an understanding of how you work and what your preferences are.

After orienting your virtual assistant to your business, start by giving them initial assignments to assess their ability and performance. This is your starting point. If your virtual assistant does not ace these initial assignments, don’t panic! Expect that there will be a learning curve and work with him to improve performance. Once you’ve provided guidance, provide a similar assignment and assess his performance again.

Ideally, your virtual assistant’s performance should rise to the level that you expected. But, that may not always be the case. Your virtual assistant’s skill set may differ somewhat than what you expected. Be flexible and consider adapting the projects you assign to the virtual assistant’s abilities. For example, if you’ve hired a virtual assistant to aid with marketing projects, it may become apparent that the virtual assistant is not the writer you expected, but has an unexpected knack for laying out a newsletter. Rather than force the issue, it may make sense to adapt the projects to fit the virtual assistant’s strengths.

Integration into business operations: The assessment phase, by its very nature, requires more active interaction and oversight. Once you have determined your virtual assistant’s capabilities and provided guidance on how to complete your projects, it’s time to give them freedom to operate.

  1. Move beyond the project stage and define an area of responsibility for your VA. Examples of such areas include bookkeeping, social media marketing, and customer relations.
  2. Set up a system of self-reporting. Rather than checking in on your virtual assistant, put the ball in his court. Determine how the VA will report to you on his progress so you can offer guidance without having to constantly check in. While it’s important to know how many hours your virtual assistant worked and how those hours were allocated, reporting should be results-oriented. For example, if your virtual assistant handles customer complaints, assess the number of complaints that the client handles and how successful he is at resolving them.
  3. Avoid micromanaging your virtual assistant. If you are constantly looking over your VA’s shoulder, you haven’t fully delegated responsibilities and you’re not getting the most value you can get from them. Trust in the self-reporting mechanism; if you need more detailed oversight, make changes to the reports, but avoid the temptation to intervene in the virtual assistant’s responsibilities.

It’s natural to be hesitant about working with somebody that you’ve never met face to face. But that hesitancy should not cause the intelligent business owner from availing themselves of a virtual assistant to provide cost-effective support. Taking steps to assess the competence and trustworthiness of a virtual assistant can go a long way toward dissipating this initial discomfort.