Team Double-Click Combats Isolation Among Virtual Assistants
Despite a 400% business growth Team Double-Click has achieved within the past year as a first-class international virtual staffing agency, corporate officials were baffled by a larger-than-normal turnover rate, particularly among newer virtual assistants who were stay-at-home moms. Highly qualified virtual assistants, who seemingly enjoyed the benefits of working from home would simply quit working, unexpectedly, and did so revealing few clues to the reasons why.
Branded for its rigorous 16-step interview process, skills assessment tests and evaluations, Team Double-ClickSM accepts only three out of 10 applicants into the company’s 19,000+ virtual assistant pool. Applicants who were once employed in traditional work place settings as sales executives, administrators, computer programmers, et al, are matched by skillful virtual personnel staff with small business owners and entrepreneurs who require assistance to cultivate their businesses.
With so much attention paid to virtual assistant selection, why then, would such a carefully crafted opportunity for a new virtual assistant able to meet her familial needs suddenly relinquish an ideal work-at-home business arrangement?
Janice Clark, Virtual Services Manager for Team Double-Click and her core staff analyzed the disparity and sought an ingenious solution to a problem that began to chip away at staff morale and company profits. Clark said, “When a virtual assistant quits unexpectedly, the effect is far-reaching. Team Double-Click loses all of the time and money invested in that assistant and cannot recoup the initial marketing costs devoted to nurturing a client and the associate. The virtual assistant loses because she feels as if she has failed and the client suffers because they feel betrayed having lost a good assistant. When a virtual assistant quits, everyone has to reinvest in the training, time and money for a new assignment so the whole process becomes quite costly all around.”
Through interviews with current virtual assistants, Clark reported that the number one reason for the low retention numbers among newer virtual assistants, particularly those caring for small children at home, were the eroding effects related to job isolation.
Clark explains, “We found that new virtual assistants working from home often feel isolated and detached from the outside world. They spend their days using technology which is designed to allow them to get more work done in less time. This simply frees them up to do more work. They do not work face-to-face with other adults. Their social life consists mainly of conversations with infants and toddlers whose limited language skills can often ‘wear out’ a mother mentally. These issues are only compounded by their own high expectations of being able to be a full-time caregiver for their families while also working a full-time job from home.”
Another reason Clark cited for high attrition rate among new virtual assistants is that family and friends do not often perceive working from home as having the same status as working outside the home. Clark says, “Often family members do not understand why the house is not cleaned or that the dinner is not on the table and often supplement that argument by reminding the virtual assistant that they are ‘home all day’. Despite the fact that a virtual assistant has worked several hours on a client project and cared for her children, the low-level of recognition from the support group surrounding the new assistants also chews away at their self-esteem. They get fed up and they quit.” Clark adds, “It is not uncommon for well-meaning friends and family members to consistently remind the virtual assistant about the availability of ‘real jobs’ outside the home.”
The isolation realized from the daily interaction with a computer that simply cannot give a virtual assistant a "pat on the back" for a job well done, is supported by an article available through the American Psychological Association’s APA Monitor magazine, entitled, "Isolation Increases with Internet Use." Author Scott Sleek summarizes Psychologist Robert Kraut, Ph.D of Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute by stating, “… Kraut and his colleagues ... report[ed] in a study that greater use of the Internet leads to the shrinking social support and happiness, and increases in depression and loneliness.” Kraut added, “We were surprised to find [in the study] that what is a social technology, unlike the television, has kind of antisocial consequences.”
To combat the antisocial costs affecting new virtual assistants, Janice Clark and her staff reshaped the common conference call into a revolutionary social program for new virtual assistants. Entitled, "Team Double-Click’s Virtual Assistant Coffee Chats," assistants call into a conference line once a week and join their peers in an "anything goes" chat room.
Clark and her staff use non-virtual means to invite the new assistants to the ‘coffee break room’. Rather than using traditional e-mail to extend a chat invitation, individuals chosen to participate received a more personal telephone call welcoming each to attend.
Clark said, ‘We decided to personalize the coffee chats as much as was possible, even though we are all calling in from around the country and would not be speaking face-to-face. Since implementing the weekly program, we have nearly 50% participation from all the invitees.” Contributor numbers are expected to grow as more chat groups develop with flexible days and time slots; allowing for greater number of participants to attend. Clark explained that veteran virtual assistants mentor the chats but they do not make any topic suggestions for the discussions. The random chat subjects are completely participant-driven. Chat topics range from "what is on the menu for dinner that evening" to the latest news story, to an exchange of ideas about how to better time manage their own busy work days.
Clark says, “Often virtual assistants who participate in the coffee chats are shocked to find that other people share the same problems they have. Contributors lean on each other, learn from each other, and enjoy the camaraderie normally associated with the friendships that occur in a traditional work environment.”
The positive results of the weekly chats have been immediate. Morale has improved immensely, stress-levels reduced, and the attrition rate has dropped. If a virtual assistant is having a work-related or personal problem, the mentor makes a note and speaks privately with the assistant at a later time to offer helpful suggestions. The coffee chats have even spurred creative projects amongst the virtual assistants themselves. In an effort to spend less time in the kitchen, and realizing the need to feed their own families nutritious meals, Team Double-Click’s virtual assistants are creating an e-cookbook. Clark explains that the cookbook idea was envisioned by the assistants themselves, on their own time and without any help from Clark or her staff mentors.
“Like any technology, the World Wide Web can lead to good or bad behaviors, says John Grohol, PsyD, creator of Mental Health Net, a massive index of mental health-related web sites, online mailing lists and newsgroups. And he believes it provides some vital societal benefits, such as the large number of online self-help groups that exist today.”
Team Double-Click not only continues to lead the staffing world as the virtual human resource department for small business and entrepreneurs but goes one step beyond as a leader in human resources for virtual assistants.
(For more about starting your own online coffee chat program, please contact Janice Clark at http://www.TeamDoubleClick.com.)