The Virtual World of Online Assistants

Your computer is in your pocket, your data is in the cloud and your assistant is in another country. Welcome to business in the 21st century.

Online assistant | BCBusiness
As online and mobile communications proliferated, virtual assistants became more prevalent in the business world.

Your computer is in your pocket, your data is in the cloud and your assistant is in another country. Welcome to business in the 21st century.

When Amy Hogg answers the phone, people often assume she’s working in a San Francisco office at the elbow of self-help guru Tim Ferriss, one of her most high-profile clients. But a regular business day will find her almost 2,000 kilometres away, working at her home in Kelowna. Hogg, 33, is a self-employed online executive assistant and owner of Secretarial Solutions, a company the former legal secretary founded 10 years ago.

Hogg epitomizes the principles underlying Ferriss’s self-help bestsellers, The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, which are all about making the best use of your time. The 34-year-old jet-setting entrepreneur and “lifestyle design” prophet advocates reducing wasted efforts, thereby living a more organized and enjoyable life. 

Taking his own advice about outsourcing business tasks, Ferriss hired Hogg in 2007 after meeting her through fellow self-help author Michael Port, a former client of Hogg’s. Finding that they shared the same cheeky sense of humour, Hogg and Ferriss hit it off right away. 

Hogg’s duties for Ferriss and other clients feature tasks as wide-ranging as conducting research for books, handling multiple email accounts, fielding media calls, paying online parking tickets, editing slideshow presentations, planning events and travel and managing fan mail. In Ferriss’s single years, Hogg even pre-screened women for dates via email.

“Virtual assistant” became a popular career option for one-time secretaries in the early 2000s, as online and mobile communications proliferated. Hogg belongs to the 748-member Canadian Virtual Assistant Connection (CVAC), an organization founded in Ontario by Elayne Whitfield and Janice Byer in 2003, a year after Hogg started her business.

“It’s just the best kind of lifestyle,” says the single parent of two young sons. “I like that I’m not location-dependent or office-dependent. Tim can be off travelling – he travels to Australia and Colombia and India and all over the place. It would be kind of ridiculous for me to be with him every step of the way. But I can accomplish just as much from anywhere. I could be on the beach with my kids, or I could be travelling, or even at Starbucks. It’s one of the advantages of having that virtual setup.”

And where does a virtual assistant go when she needs virtual assistance? For those in-person tasks she can’t complete online, Hogg turns to personal assistant agencies like TaskRabbit to carry out chores like picking up clients’ dry cleaning or running their cars through smog tests. Hogg explains it’s all part of Ferriss’s mantra about personal efficiency: Her time is better spent focusing on work more closely related to managing her clients’ business. It also helps draw the line between personal concierge and executive assistant, she adds.

No word on where Hogg’s virtual assistants go when they need to outsource.