Remote, ‘virtual’ assistants are helping working women bring balance back into their working and personal lives.

For much of her career, Lori Kennedy thrived on independence. She was a personal trainer at 19 years old, then ran a nutrition practice. In 2015, she launched a business helping health and wellness practitioners and coaches go digital. But somewhere along the way, she realized, “I need help.”

During her time as a nutritionist, Ms. Kennedy saw clients from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., but it didn’t stop there. “I would see client after client after client, and I had a one-year-old,” she says. “So I would be staying up late at night and waking up at 5 a.m. to do all sorts of back-end admin work. I only got paid when I saw clients, so I wasn’t about to give up client time to answer emails.”

Feeling less joy and motivation due to the overload, Ms. Kennedy hired her very first employee: her aunt, who answered emails and did invoicing and billing. Today, the Vaughan, Ont.-based entrepreneur has 47 employees serving clients from all over the world. And – no offence to Aunt Kennedy – she also has an executive assistant who handles both business and personal tasks.

“It lessens my mental load,” explains Ms. Kennedy, who is a single mom. “Juggling motherhood, the home, the business – it was too much. It’s a 24/7, 365-day thing, even when you’re on vacation. Especially as women, we balance a lot.”

The rise of the virtual, or remote, assistant

For decades now, women have struggled with the challenges of balancing a demanding work schedule with caregiving and other household duties. For women in busy leadership roles, having it all often means doing it all. As Ms. Kennedy puts it, social conditioning has led many women to believe that it’s “our role and responsibility” to do it all, “because nice girls don’t say no.”

Women entrepreneurs confront many inequities when attempting to expand their businesses, from financing to networking, says Kim de Laat, assistant professor of organization and human behaviour at University of Waterloo.

“Much of this is caused by negative stereotypes of women as less committed ‘mompreneurs’ unwilling to invest the time and effort to grow their companies,” she says. “This is simply not true.”

Hiring an assistant can help women entrepreneurs level the playing field. And, because women-led companies are more likely than men-led firms to be home-based, “having a remote assistant means women can hold off on investing in office space until they are financially ready to do so,” says Dr. de Laat.

Bobbie Racette is CEO of Virtual Gurus, a Calgary-based company that matches virtual assistants who work remotely with entrepreneurs. She says the demand for her service has grown 300 per cent, year-over-year, since the pandemic began in 2020 and many entrepreneurs moved their businesses online.

“There’s empowerment in getting help,” she says. “As we become more aware of the importance of mental health and well-being, more people are embracing this out-of-the-box approach.”

Ms. Racette adds that it’s important to view hiring an assistant as an investment in your business and yourself, as it can help enhance productivity, support mental health and reduce burnout. While the cost of a virtual assistant varies depending on the individual’s needs, virtual assistants (whether part-time or full-time) won’t run you as much as an assistant who is physically in your office, she notes.

Adrianna Crawford, a Toronto-based, full-time virtual assistant, works for several clients and says she finds joy in being a master of organization. She does everything from e-mail management to billing to scheduling to social media marketing.

“My job allows others to expand their businesses and give them more freedom to pursue other opportunities within their line of work,” she says. For example, her clients – who are largely health-care practitioners – are able to spend time focusing on expanding their businesses or taking courses to improve their skill set.

“I always tell a client when I work with them that I will be their boundary,” says Ms. Crawford, who works exclusively with mothers. “It is so important to have an off switch at work, because as mothers or partners, we don’t always get to turn off our brains. It’s the best feeling in the world to hear them feel relieved when I tell them ‘I got it.’”

Another form of ‘pink tax’

While hiring extra help can be a boon for professional women, Sharla Alegria, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, notes that it can also be a double-edged sword.

“If hiring an assistant is something women entrepreneurs do to balance work and home demands in ways that men do not, then it is another form of a ‘pink tax’ where the cost of many aspects of work and daily life is simply higher for women,” she says.

Dr. de Laat notes that virtual assistance could be a shorter-term investment only when it’s required. For example, entrepreneurs could utilize fractional executive support (such as outsourcing human resources) to bridge time- and labour-intensive periods of child care.

If you’re wondering whether you might benefit from some extra help, Ms. Kennedy suggests a simple exercise that helped her make the call. Grab a notepad, write out all your frustrations, then rank them from the toughest to less so. Those that come out on top are where you require help. For Ms. Kennedy, hiring an assistant resolved quite a few of those frustrations.

“[My assistant] complements me and I complement her because I’m allowing her to work in her zone of genius, which is details, and that allows me to work in my zone of genius, which is visioning and marketing,” she says. “It’s very liberating.”

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on The Globe Women’s Collective hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback? E-mail us at [email protected].

Source link