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Growth of virtual business solutions
The drastic changes that have been happening across the globe during the last decade have changed the global work environment as well. The shift towards online is becoming essential for many businesses. The demand for workforce enhancement and need to save unnecessary costs motivate businesses to adopt the online solutions. Currently, the global market trend has been steadily moving towards using virtual business solutions such as virtual executive assistants (VEA's), virtual marketing teams, virtual business consultation teams, and even virtual legal secretaries. It is predicted that by 2018 online working including VEA service will be worth $5 billion and the demand continues to grow[1].

As the demand for more cost-effective solutions for operational and administrative positions increases, more and more specialists who have experienced layoffs due to budget cuts have joined businesses providing virtual services, bringing to the table all their expertise and knowledge. It allows virtual service providers to offer clients cost-effective yet high-standard virtual solutions for their management.

With 7 out of 10 professionals in the UAE working longer than their contracted hours, and almost a quarter working an extra 10 hours per week, virtual administrative support can be a huge help for businesses. A recent study has unveiled that 53% of professionals working these extra hours do not feel their productivity is increased as a result of the extra time spent[2]. Studies also show that up to 36% of the mid-level consultants face gaps in administrative assistance. It's also a bit shocking that 67% of business owners struggle to focus on the primary purpose of their business due to the administrative burden[3]. Thus, while managers spend time executing low priority tasks, companies keep losing money and potential clients due to the lack of free time in their managers' calendars.

In the UAE the concept of having a VEA has started to pick up gradually after the 2008 financial downturn. During this time a lot of businesses and financial institutions had to lay off staff in the administrative, general operations, and midlevel departments. It increased the workload and pressure on the senior management who had to then not only complete their work but deal with tasks usually executed by the operational and administrative teams. This led to cases then staff left organisations due to stress, overload or job burnout. In order to prevent this in the future, companies should look at ways how to reorganise the work for their employees so to increase their productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Virtual Executive Assistance is still a relatively new service in the UAE, and while it is a norm in the USA and a rapidly growing trend in Europe, businesses in the Middle East will need a bit more time to discover the benefits of this offering.

While once seen only as a service targeted for and used only by start-ups and small enterprises to help them save on costs and streamline their business, today VEA providers offer a wide range of services able to support big corporates and organisations as well. Such services can include tasks ranging from email management, agenda planning, invoice recording and overall operational support. While a midlevel manager is always in a hurry, travelling or busy attending meetings, his VA can organise all work, schedule meetings, arrange flights, do research and pick up the pieces for him. All these solutions are designed to keep a busy consultant or corporate executive in mind.

Some of the benefits that the growth of virtual business solutions offers to businesses and financial institutions include:

Saving costs and increasing revenue

As virtual assistance companies provide fully trained experienced executive assistants that work remotely, it takes away some direct costs from companies' shoulders, including saving time and resources on hiring and training new employees, covering their full employment cost and other expenses as well as saving on technical equipment and office space as the VEA work virtually. It makes sense for companies to cut costs on something that doesn't generate revenue but still find a way how to save up to 30-40% of their managers' time increasing their productivity. This allows organisations to invest that money in other areas of the business and in the case of a sudden market downturn, allows them to run their operations smoothly without fear of having to close departments or letting people go.

Relying on professionals with local knowledge

Due to the recent market changes, a lot of experienced professionals have become available on the market. This allows virtual service providers get the high experience talent on board providing them with the flexible working environment. Financial and business institutions benefit from it as well, as these VEAs come with 5+ years of corporate experience, especially within the region. VEA service providers that are based in the UAE or region, can not only support you with the local understanding of the market but also bring you the peace knowing that you work with a business that is regulated by the same law.

Confidentiality and security

Confidentiality is the key while outsourcing, and VEA service providers ensure that it has stringent non-disclosure protocols in place for clients and their employees, giving the client a guarantee that their confidentiality is not affected in any way since this is a major reason for preferring to hire full-time staff as opposed to a virtual one.

By having a well-managed and secured system in place, several levels of monitoring and checks, VEA companies can provide highly confidential and error-free services for the key business needs of the modern corporate world, giving the clients a real-time advantage.

Increased productivity

In the busy corporate world, time poverty is a number one problem that affects all executives, especially at the mid-level. Hiring a full-time PA for all or some of the team members can be quite costly for an organisation, and can be also challenging due to the space limit, etc. According to annual State of Enterprise Work survey[4], only a third of workers manage to maintain to a standard 40-hour week, while a full 50% say they work between 41 and 80 hours per week. The figures are even more shocking for marketing teams: 21% work 40 hours per week, while 60% toil away for up to 80 hours weekly. Since the reputation and business success depends on the service provided, the virtual assistance provider strives to keep the productivity and efficiency high with the strict internal processes controlling the quality and perfect execution of tasks as well as constantly investing in the training of its employees. As the result, virtual executive assistants are trained to work faster concentrating on the core tasks.

[1] Source : Virtalent 2016

[2] Source : MorganMcKinley 2016

[3] Source: HeraldScotland, 2016

[4] Source: The State of Enterprise Work survey,2015

Author: Warsha Joshi
Warsha spearheads Platinum VA and is responsible for growing the company in the region. Warsha is passionate about improving business productivity for enterprises as well as SMEs. She wears multiple hats and is also a professional Gazelles business Coach enabling companies under USD 5mn to build their growth road map to scaling up.
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