Virtual Assistant Definition: 2021 Updates on Top Responsibilities

by | October 23, 2020


In the past decade, virtual assistants have changed the way many companies do business. From cutting costs and saving time to scaling and driving development, these remote workers are the unseen force behind the success of businesses around the world.

With outsourcing being the future for many industries, the popularity of virtual assistants is on the rise. As new technologies are making high-profile remote work a reality, more and more entrepreneurs are turning to virtual specialists for a variety of tasks.

Virtual assistants aren’t optional anymore. They are an integral part of any successful team.

Virtual Assistant: Definition

Who are virtual assistants and how do they work? Virtual assistants are independent contractors who offer administrative services to clients remotely. These people usually work from a home office during the hours convenient for them and the client.

These specialists have experience working in the office. However, they choose to offer remote services due to the high demand and convenience that comes with operating from home.

While typical tasks performed by a virtual assistant are similar to what an on-site office manager would do, more and more specialists are expanding their range of services. They can perform tasks related to marketing, blogging, graphic design, billing, and many more.

Depending on the terms of the contract, a virtual assistant could become a Jack-of-all-trades, taking on an impressive variety of assignments and becoming an irreplaceable asset to the company.

How Does a Virtual Assistant Work?

Compared to a full-time employee, a virtual assistant can save a company up to 78% in operating costs per year. That’s why many small businesses and startups are turning to these specialists to minimize spending.

A virtual assistant works from a home office, which is equipped with the necessary hardware, high-speed internet, and commonly used programs. If any special software is required to execute certain tasks, the client provides it together with access to the related files and documents.  

How Much Do You Pay a Virtual Assistant?

Since virtual assistants are independent contractors, they are generally paid by the hour. Some assistants are paid by the task. According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly rate of virtual assistants across the U.S. is $32. 

Some companies prefer to hire assistants from the Philippines and India where hourly rates can be significantly lower. While hiring an offshore assistant could be an excellent way to save money, employers often complain about difficulties as time and language barriers.  

The key benefits of hiring a virtual assistant include:

  • Flexibility — you only use their services when you need them compared to having a full-time assistant in the office.
  • Time-saving — by outsourcing time-consuming administrative tasks to a virtual employee, you can focus on revenue-generating activities.
  • Cost-cutting — since you don’t need to pay a virtual assistant a salary or provide them benefits, the company can save a substantial amount of money.

A virtual assistant (VA) can become an irreplaceable member of your team at a fraction of the price you would pay when hiring a full-time employee.

How virtual assisting has changed in the past 10 years and what’s new for 2021

Even though virtual assistance has been around for decades, it received the widest acclaim in the past 10 years. The reason is the rapidly evolving technologies. In the 1980s, VAs relied on phones and faxes. In the 2000s, they depended on emails.

When the 2010s rolled around with the high-speed Internet available virtually anywhere on the planet and cloud technologies taking a huge leap forward, the possibilities for VA became virtually (no pun intended) endless.

In the past decade, virtual assistants got access to:

  • Improved communication via social media channels like Facebook
  • Cloud storage options such as Google Drive
  • Wi-Fi hotspots
  • A variety of remote team communication tools like Trello, Asana, etc.
  • High-quality communication through Skype, Zoom, and other video-conferencing software.
  • Voice interfaces

All the above made administrative work from home a reality. Just 10 years ago, virtual assistants were limited to making calls and managing emails. Today, they can

  • Post blogs
  • Create social media posts
  • Perform market research
  • Organize calendars
  • Create presentations
  • Communicate with clients
  • Manage files
  • Create comprehensive basic reports
  • Participate in discussions on forums and blogs (for promotional purposes)
  • And much more.

The key thing that changed in the past decade is the psychology of remote work. In the 2000s, people viewed virtual assistance as something rare and often unnecessary. Today, the numerous benefits of remote arrangements are undeniable.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2020, the demand for VAs soared due to the COVID-19 pandemic landing millions of people at home. Businesses worked hard to move their work online while employees actively searched for remote job opportunities.

Even as the pandemic started to subside, the major benefits of remote operation didn’t. Thousands of business owners and employees started mastering the art of virtual collaboration, making experienced VAs highly demanded.

What’s New For 2021?

One of the biggest holdbacks for remote assistant work is trust. Executives worry about being unable to control VAs in-person.

When the COVID-19 pandemic showed that numerous employees could work remotely, the psychological barrier related to the lack of trust broke down. After being forced into remote operation by circumstances, decision-makers realized the numerous benefits of hiring a virtual workforce.

In 2021, the demand for VAs is likely to be on the rise. The range of responsibilities outsourced to such specialists is going to expand. Startups and small businesses are likely to delegate the entire scope of administrative tasks to VAs who also have experience in marketing and finance.

What virtual assistants do for small business owners and entrepreneurs?

Virtual assistants can offer irreplaceable help for small business owners and entrepreneurs. You can outsource your tasks to an assistant who is an expert in the field for a fraction of the price you’d be paying an in-house employee.


Small business owners often struggle with the lack of workforce. Each employee needs to juggle a number of tasks. They simply don’t have enough time to focus on what they do best. A virtual assistant tackles manual, tedious administrative assignments to create free time for other team members.

Besides taking calls and managing calendars, these specialists can be knowledgeable in such fields as marketing, inventory, scheduling, and even HR. You don’t have to hire a person to do each of the above-mentioned tasks separately, thus saving money.


Entrepreneurs enjoy the flexibility of working with VAs. They are available when you need them the most and absent when services aren’t required. This reduces the financial burden of paying salaries and arranging benefits drastically.

Some small business owners and entrepreneurs hire personal VAs to handle repetitive tasks, which can’t be performed by a computer. Others hand out complex assignments, such as customer support, social media marketing, recruitment tasks, and more. In both cases, they save time and money while getting the job done by a professional.

What virtual assistants do for executives and managers?

Executives and managers can rely on a VA to handle project management duties. This could require specific knowledge and experience in working with special platforms. Today, it’s possible to find a VA with the necessary skills.

Besides acting as a project manager, a virtual assistant can execute administrative tasks, such as scheduling, handling calls, managing files, answering emails, and more. They can also handle remote office management, do bookkeeping and invoicing, work on payroll and accounts payable/receivable, and more.

Executives often hire VAs to handle specialized tasks. With numerous experts preferring remote work, it’s possible to find a VA with a certain set of special skills.  

Managers and executives are taking collaboration with VA even further. They are nurturing specific skills that make these assistants an integral part of business growth and development. Meanwhile, they still save on benefits, salaries, and office rent.

What virtual assistants do for professors and nonprofit organizers?

Virtual assistants aren’t limited to helping business professionals. They are in high demand by academics and non-profit organizations.


Professors, researchers, and even graduate students can benefit from hiring VAs to do such tasks as:

  • Professional transcription
  • Simple research assistance
  • Personal research tasks
  • Marketing servicing
  • Proofreading
  • Creating presentations
  • Editing
  • Formatting manuscripts for specific journals

Academics often fail to complete their tasks on time due to the overwhelming number of repetitive manual work. That’s where VAs come in.

They can also help professors with scheduling as well as arranging files and documents. Overall, these experts can boost productivity while freeing up precious time for academics to focus on important tasks.  

Non-Profit Organizers

Non-profit organizers have to deal with a huge influx of information and paperwork. While some of their tasks can be automated, many require personal attention. With all the arrangements to manage, non-profit organizers often suffer from minor drawbacks related to the lack of time for repetitive activities.

A VA can handle such tasks as:

  • Creating spreadsheets
  • Direct mail support
  • Data entry
  • Data organization
  • Database management
  • Social media marketing (creating, editing, and posting content)
  • Sending out newsletters
  • Distributing online press releases
  • Creating donor follow-up emails
  • Developing training materials
  • And more

Since non-profit organizations usually need these services on-demand, working with a flexible VA is an excellent solution.

Staying on Top of Your Game with a Virtual Assistant

In the past decade, virtual assistants have evolved from optional helpers to irreplaceable associates. As more and more companies are discovering the benefits of working with VAs, failing to consider one could mean falling behind the competition.

Virtual assistants can handle a wide range of tasks from scheduling appointments to supporting marketing campaigns. Flexibility and low cost make working with these experts beneficial not just for entrepreneurs and executives but for academics and non-profit organizations.