Now you might be surprised at the title “How to Work with a Virtual Assistant” in a blog like this on a site on cultural awareness training.How to work with a Virtual Assistant

If the concept of a Virtual Assistant is new to you, you can read the book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated) or have a look at the sites of Chris Ducker.


I just keep stumbling on the topic of Virtual Assistant’s (VA’s) very often recently. Having worked with a VA from India, I figured it makes sense to highlight the cultural differences on how to work with a virtual assistant.

At first I was all excited about working with a Virtual Assistant. I’d prepared a whole list of things he or she could do for me. After careful consideration, I dismissed a few here and there and added a few more until I got my list ready!

I did some research on the web to find an organisation of VA’s who could help me.

The Process

My first contact with the company I choose was really smooth and promising.

I was given a local phone number which would connect me to my own VA in India. I was really excited!

From the above-mentioned book from Tim Ferriss, I had written down a few questions on how to get to work with a virtual assistant better and to see if he and you would be a good match. My first talk with my own VA went OK. I had the idea he was a bit timid, but maybe he was just not so outgoing.

So I handed my first job over to him. This was simple admin. Then my second job. That took a bit longer. Actually that took really long: he had to make a backup copy of some sort of database. As a matter of fact, that took him about 6 hours to do in total.

It went from bad to worse from there. Not all was bad, but overall my experience was not a positive one as described by so many. But… I did learn.

How to work with a Virtual Assistant; The Culture Factor

The vast majority of people working with VA’s are Americans, Brits and maybe Australians. And the vast majority of VA’s are located in India, with the Philippines second.

What should you know Culturally, before working with a VA from a different culture? Let me give you some tips:

  • If things work out and all runs smooth, excellent!
  • If things do not work out at first, realize that this is not done on purpose. Friction between cultures is almost never on purpose. It is exactly those cultural differences that cause the friction.
  • When “instructing” your VA, be as specific as possible. Both in terms of objectives and time spent.
  • Keep a close eye on the progress. For Anglo-Saxons it is not common for constant inspection by their boss. For Indian and Filipino workers, this is much more common, and therefore also expected as a sign of you showing interest in the progress of your work.
  • Don’t expect disagreement with your work/assignment. In India and the Philippines you usually do not contradict your boss. Even though if you know he or she is totally wrong. Contradicting your boss is just not your job.
  • If you explain things incomplete or unclear, chances are your VA will not get back to you and ask for clarification. They will work with what you’ve given them. Making it up if necessary. The result might be that the work is not what you expected. You get upset while the solution is to better explain what you want and keep a closer grip on the process.
  • Spent time on the relationship between with your VA. In collectivistic countries like India and the Philippines, people are much more relationship oriented, while in the Western World we are much more task driven. If you want to know how to work with your virtual assistant, this is probably the most important thing to invest in.

What did I miss? Comments? Leave them at the end of this post

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Chris Smit
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