Sunday, January 26, 2014

Covering Maternity Leave - The Virtual Assistant Option

When you hear that one of your admin staff is pregnant, your first thought is usually one of joy and congratulations, shortly followed by a realisation that you'll have to cover their maternity leave - which can be anything up to 52 weeks. You could just as easily be faced with covering a father's paternity leave, although at 2 weeks, it's no worse than a vacation. Maternity leave is much more of a problem.

If the job you have to cover is important, then you will need a solution that maintains the quality of work. Hiring a replacement on a short term contract often takes too long - hiring period, notice period and training period included - and Agency Temps are expensive and not always satisfactory. Temps have a reputation for inconsistency, being disinterested and not delivering. You need someone reliable and committed, who can slot into your business quickly and do a good job.

The third option is a Virtual Assistant. In recent years, many women have set themselves up as Virtual Assistants, a new breed of home worker equipped with Broadband, PC, Phone, and Printer/Copier/Fax. Many quickly find it too difficult, only to give up and go back to regular job, but others establish a credible business and offer an ideal solution for maternity cover.

If you are looking to cover an extended period of maternity leave, the following sections should help you to better understand the Virtual Assistant option, what questions to ask and what to expect.

What you stand to gain

Let's start with the benefits of hiring a VA. In addition to instant maternity leave cover you get:

  • An experienced PA or Administrator

  • A ready trained person

  • New skills and ideas

  • Holiday and sickness cover built-in

  • Efficiency, you only pay for hours worked

What managers like most, is that an experienced VA is "ready to go". They have all the essential office and IT skills needed, and will pick up their work quickly and effortlessly. Better still, they need little supervision because they are self-motivated and take pride in the quality of their work. Managers find it refreshing that they simply give instructions and work gets done. It's how management ought to be.

An added benefit is that managers get to see what the true work content of a job really is. Because VAs time-record and only charge for the work they do, the manager instantly gets a picture of staff productivity (less the down-time, breaks and chatting). If anything, this tends to raise their expectations and the standards of permanent staff.

Selecting the right VA

Finding the right VA for maternity leave cover requires careful consideration, but once you've found her you have her for this and any other situation that arises in future - you'll be an important client, so she'll always be there when you need her.

Here are a few things to consider during the selection process:

Web Search:- Finding a VA is easy using Google - there are 100s of them - you find them in online Business Directories like Free Index, and specialist VA Directories.

Long List:- Qualify 5-10 possible VAs by assessing their credentials, based on the quality of their website, qualifications, clients and the strength of their online presence

Short List:- Aim for 3-5 good candidates, but first, start your assessment by speaking to them personally by phone, and look for hidden clues in the conversation;

  • Are they confident and comfortably knowledgeable?

  • Do they exhibit the telephone skills you'd expect?

  • Do they listen and ask intelligent questions?

  • Are they tuned-in to "clients" or "tasks"?

  • Are they on-the-ball and organised?

Proposals:- Only if they tick all your boxes, ask for a proposal. Focus your evaluation on their understanding, approach, skills, IT support, team and capacity to deliver.

Charges:- Most VAs will charge around 瞿20-25 per hour pay-as-you-go, but you should look for a discounted Retainer Rate, if you can predict the workload.

When looking specifically for maternity leave cover, take a moment to think about where else they might fit when the employee returns to work. This may prompt you to look for a wider set of skills.

For more information on selecting a Virtual Assistant, I can recommend an online article about "Hiring Virtual Assistants" by Alex Shalman, Personal Development Coach.

If you would like to find out more about Office Lifeline cover for maternity leave and other long term absences, feel free to pitch a question at the author.

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