Should you have a virtual assistant?
The simplest answer is: yes, of course you should. After all, who wouldn’t want a helping hand with some of the most difficult tasks in today’s working world: bookkeeping, accounting, scheduling, email management, marketing management, and more?
But virtual assistants haven’t yet caught on with everybody. That’s why it’s worth taking a deep dive into virtual assistant statistics in 2020 and the previous years to find out where the trends are pointing, how much virtual assistants cost, and whether a virtual assistant might also be right for you.
If you want to know more about what virtual assistants are, where the industry is headed, and whether they might be a match for your company’s specific needs, let’s dig deeper into the statistics. Here’s what we found:
How Popular is Virtual Assisting?
First things first: just how big is the industry, and is it on the rise? When we look at the overall numbers for administrative assistants and secretaries, we’ll find that the market for assistants is not only large—it may be well larger than you imagined.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total amount of secretaries and administrative assistants in the U.S. was over 3.7 million in 2018.
It’s worth noting that this is a general category and doesn’t refer only to virtual assistants, but it does give an idea of just how steep the demand for assistants runs in the U.S. A labor market of that size means that assistants can be found in almost every type of niche and industry—wherever there’s a place that leadership could use a helping hand.
- Statista notes that the total value of the outsourced services industry is approximately $85 billion, and potentially growing.
Now we get a little more specific: by noting just how big the outsourced services industry is, we see that companies have a strong demand for low-cost labor. Virtual assistants might be included in this industry, but it’s also worth noting that the large number of $85 billion is partially due to outsourced labor of all types—not just virtual assistants.
But it’s also worth noting that this is an emerging trend: outsourcing or working remotely is making up a new economy of people who are able to get work done at home.
- According to Regus, the amount of people who work remotely for 2.5 days per week or more has reached over 50% in the business environment.
As you’ll see later, this is in keeping with emerging trends in freelancing. Simply put, more and more people are not only able to work from home, but more and more people deliberately choose to work from home as a remote worker or contractor. The fact that we’ve now reached the “tipping point” worldwide means that a trend like virtual assistance isn’t just arriving. It’s arrived.
It’s also worth pointing out that the trend of working remotely is only going to expand in future years, according to the statistics.
- Intuit believes that by 2020, 40% of the entire U.S. work force will be freelancers.
That suggests that the idea of working remotely isn’t a passing fad. It’s something that’s become more and more possible as technology like web conferencing and remote project management has made it easier to maintain a team remotely.
The trend of freelancing also fits in with the need for companies to cut back on labor costs. By hiring virtual assistants, for example, companies can reduce costs while essentially handling the same amount of work they would otherwise get done with a full-time assistant.
So far, we’ve seen that there are major macro trends pointing in the direction of plenty of remote assistants. But how many of these are virtual assistants? Numbers on that are more difficult to find. However, scrolling through online job platforms, it’s not difficult to find virtual assistants in abundance:
- As The Week notes, there are “more than 5,000 virtual assistants listed on Upwork, 74,000 on Guru, 26,000 on Freelancer, and 5,000 on PeoplePerHour.”
In many cases, job boards are filled with categories like virtual assistants. Rather than just being an interesting niche, many businesses are finding that virtual assistants are a vital way to get work done and expand their productive capacity without spending big-company dollars.
How Productive are Virtual Assistants?
Depending on the statistics, you may find that virtual assistants are either just as productive as any other assistant—or, in many cases, more productive. Some data suggest that this may be due to the comfort and flexibility that comes from working at home.
Virtual assistants don’t have to get in a car and commute to work. They don’t have to use your offices for the basics of living: snacking, using the bathroom, taking breaks. When they’re on the clock for your company, they’re on the clock for your company and doing little else. That makes virtual assistants highly productive and capable of handling a wide variety of tasks. Let’s look at some of the most relevant statistics here:
- 91% of virtual workers reported feeling more productive when they worked from home.
This is in line with what we’ve seen from self-reporting in virtual assistance: it’s just easier to work from home! This effect often extends beyond what virtual assistants do; remote workers in general often point to higher productivity rates when working in their pajamas.
But let’s look at some of the more specific tasks of the virtual assistant and see if they also come out favorably there.
- Staff who worked at home were able to finish over 13% more calls at a Ctrip call center than those who were working in the office.
As the Harvard Business Review notes when quoting Nicholas Bloom, that means “that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them.”
Imagine what your company could do with an extra workday per week out of its high call volumes and you begin to see the appeal of the virtual assistant.
Let’s also look at just how productive a salaried employee can be.
- Throughout an eight-hour workday, an average worker is only productive for about two hours and 53 minutes, as Inc.com notes.
This may be part of what makes it so cost-effective to hire a virtual assistant. As you’ll see below, the costs associated with hiring a full-time assistant are much higher than you would imagine. This also paves the way for more drastic savings statistics from virtual assistants.
But if you were to hire a virtual assistant for only 2 and a half hours every day—which you could reasonably expect will be fully productive hours—you’ll not only save money on salary, but on the overall scope of the job you’ve created.
Hiring a salaried worker, Inc.com notes, includes paying for someone’s time as they read news websites, check social media, and discuss non-work related issues with co-workers. For instance, reading news websites can take up to an hour and five minutes of daily time.
When you hire a full-time worker, you have to really consider what you’re paying for. With a virtual assistant, you’ll have far more assurance that you’re paying for productive work.
Saving Money with Virtual Assistants
It’s all well and good to note that virtual assistants are productive and that there are plenty of them in the marketplace. But the bottom line is the most important thing.
In short, are you going to save money by hiring virtual assistants over full-time assistants?
This is an interesting trend to watch. Keep in mind that while a virtual assistant will almost automatically save money over a full-time assistant, the question isn’t necessarily whether a virtual assistant will cost less than a full-time employee. In most cases, a remote worker is going to cost less than a full-time employee when you factor in benefits and salary.
What’s important to watch is whether virtual assistants cost less than full-time assistants, even if you break it down.
- According to Value Walk, “companies that hire virtual assistants benefit from lower costs because they are not required to provide any benefits, equipment, paid training, or bonuses.”
We start with this statistic, because it encapsulates why virtual assistants can be such an affordable alternative while still providing plenty of high-quality work. In short, it costs a lot to get a full-time assistant working. It requires each of the four elements listed above: benefits, equipment, training, and bonuses.
With a virtual assistant, companies can essentially bypass each of these requirements.
- A virtual assistant can save up to 78% in operating costs per year.
Now we see a striking statistic that highlights just how powerful this effect can be. According to BestOfBudgets.com, there are some important reasons we see a statistic this drastic. For starters, a virtual assistant is responsible for their own expenses. That means that you won’t have to purchase any additional office equipment (such as a computer and a desk) to get a virtual assistant up and running. These hidden costs factor into every full-time, on-site hire. For example, the Harvard Business Review notes that when Ctrip went to increased remote calling for its call centers…
- Ctrip saved an estimated $1,900 per employee for a period of nine months.
You’ll also find that recruitment and training are far easier with virtual assistants. For example, a virtual assistant that already has the skills you want—such as bookkeeping and calendar management—doesn’t really need a large training period where they adapt to what it is you want to accomplish. You can also sort your virtual assistant hires to select for these specific skills.
Other Virtual Assistant Statistics Worth Noting
Thus far, we’ve arranged the statistics by theme. But there are some other noteworthy statistics that will give you insights into the world of virtual assistants that don’t fit any of these particular themes. Here are a few key items to note:
- The McKinsey Global Institute found that 97% of contractors found they were much happier than full-time workers.
- 82% of contractors and freelancers admitted to being proud of their career.
- 94% of self-employed workers felt they were making a worthwhile contribution.
- 35% of traditional full-time workers felt they needed more support and encouragement from their home organization.
- The majority of virtual assistants are already married, at a rate of 69.3%.
- Almost 60% of virtual assistants have a college education.
- According to one survey, the most in-demand virtual assistant skills were social media management, email marketing, and project management.
What do the statistics tell us overall?
The statistics point to virtual assistance being a trend, rather than a fad. And it’s a growing trend that is participating in the overarching global commitment to freelance and remote work.
Virtual assistants are also far less expensive than their full-time counterparts, which is especially true when you factor in how many full-time workers waste time while at work.
In short, virtual assistants are viable options for any business that wants to expand its capacity. They’re affordable, productive, and they make life easier for the leaders who choose to hire a virtual assistant.