||This article contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. (May 2011)|
Virtual assistance is assistance that is provided by phone, fax, e-mail, or even instant message. Virtual assistance is provided by a Virtual assistant (VA), independent entrepreneurs who work remotely and use technology to deliver services to clients globally. Most work from their home offices and receive their project instructions by phone, fax, e-mail or even instant message. Although many virtual assistants offer secretarial services, as more people with diverse backgrounds and skills enter the ranks, virtual assistants who specialize in such areas as marketing, graphic and Web design, IT support or even translations are becoming more common.
Virtual assistants utilize today's technology to deliver their services and communicate with clients by working remotely.
A virtual assistant's (VA) core practice and specialty is that of administration. Some virtual assistants diversify; offering additional specialties that fall under various other categories, such as marketing, website development or maintenance, creative and technical services, etc. In addition, many VAs have target niches—types of professionals they support, and those include real estate professionals, coaches (business, life, executive, etc.), speakers, authors, executive and non-executive directors and CEOs, medical and legal professionals, and consultants to name a few prominent ones. Most recently, VAs are tasked with social media monitoring and the scheduling of social media posts for personalities, brands and businesses.
Virtual assistants come from a variety of business backgrounds, but most have several years administrative experience earned in the real (non-virtual) business world working in occupations such as administrative assistant, executive assistant, secretary, legal assistant, paralegal, legal secretary, real estate assistant, office manager, etc.
The virtual industry has changed substantially over the past 5 years as it attracts those that are outside the administration classification. The next phase of virtual workers are Virtual Specialists who concentrate on delivering their "specialized" services virtually. Marketing, social media, internet marketing, bookkeeping, reception, sales and management are just a few of the specialized areas that clients can now outsource to. "Virtual" relates to the method of delivering the service rather than the service itself. As the industry progresses, it is feasible that a band of virtual business managers will materialize and they will provide management skills and experience to small business owners and entrepreneurs who have had no training in management.
Services and companies
A virtual assistance service is a larger company providing clients with a wide variety of support services through a single point of contact. Tasks may or may not be delegated to another person in the company depending on who is best-suited for the assignment. For instance, graphic design work would be delegated to a graphic designer within the company. Proponents of this model[who?] say that the benefit to the client is that all types of services are offered under one roof.. Critics[who?] of this model say that the danger to the client is that if there's a problem with one of the team members, the loss of the entire team could be devastating, and it's smarter for a client to work with a solo VA practitioner and build a team around his or her own business.
In popular culture
Virtual assistants were an integral part of the 2007 bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. Ferriss claimed to have hired virtual assistants to check his email, pay his bills and run parts of his company.
Difference from employment or temps
Virtual assistants are business owners, not employees, who structure their own rates and operating standards and policies, pay their own self-employment taxes, and control management of the work and how it is carried out. While many self-employed people specialize in one area—for example, they are bookkeepers or web development specialists who work from home—a virtual assistant can provide across-the-board administrative (and sometimes other) services.
Temps are employees of a staffing agency who go on-site or work virtually for an employer's client. They are paid by the staffing agency they work for, while their on-site or virtual work and activities are managed, directed and supervised by the client of the staffing agency.
It is worth noting that different countries have different definitions of "employee" and if you operate as a virtual assistant it is wise to check with your respective tax office or workplace health and safety office. In Australia for example, the Australian Tax Office has a very well-defined definition of what an employee is and unless you satisfy a list of criteria you could very well be operating as an employee without realizing it.  As someone who employs off-shore virtual assistants, in Australia, as the employer you are responsible for their workplace health and safety set up.
- Moncel, Carolyn. "Starting a Virtual Assistant Business". Entrepreneur Media, Inc. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- Moncel, Carolyn. "Starting a Virtual Assistant Business". Entrepreneur Media, Inc. Retrieved 23 May 2013. "Virtual assistants are independent entrepreneurs who work remotely and use technology to deliver services to clients globally. Most work from their home offices and receive their project instructions by phone, fax, e-mail or even instant message. Although many virtual assistants offer secretarial services, as more people with diverse backgrounds and skills enter the ranks, virtual assistants who specialize in such areas as marketing, graphic and Web design, IT support or even translations are becoming more common."
- Ferriss, Timothy The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich' Crown (2007)
- Maney, Kevin (October 7, 2007). "Tim Ferriss Wants You To Get a Life". Portfolio. Retrieved 2008-03-21. "..if you have a virtual assistant, let them go through your email and respond when necessary"