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Assistants gone virtual

26 April 2023

Author: Zoe Garner, Co Finance/Operations Manager - Property Managemet, Harcourts Glenfield and Victoria Heyes, Director, The Rental Bureau

Zoe Garner and Victoria Heyes share their experience with incorporating virtual assistants into their business — and why you might want to do the same.

There are hundreds of day-to-day tasks required of property managers — requiring a significant amount of desk time. This has always been a challenge for property managers who tend to spend a lot of their time out on the road during office hours physically managing properties.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, many companies explored virtual working options and as a result, it is becoming increasingly common for organisations to offer virtual services and local employment without requiring a physical presence.

Virtual assistants were traditionally based overseas, but as we grow further into a world where flexible working becomes the norm, it is common for this service to be an employee who carries out their role online close to home due to barriers around getting to the workplace physically.

Hiring a virtual assistant

Victoria says The Rental Bureau welcomed their first virtual assistant, Aisha, two years ago.

“Aisha had detailed knowledge of our operating systems based on her experience. After two interviews over Zoom, Aisha was onboarded the same way as any other member of our team with our six-week training programme,” says Victoria.

Not long after, they hired another virtual assistant who has also proved to be a huge asset to the business amongst their team, tenants and owners.

Zoe Garner says Harcourts Glenfield decided to recruit Henry as a virtual assistant in 2019 as a result of her having to work two-full time jobs which soon becoming unattainable.

“Henry’s tasks include invoicing and disbursements, ledger corrections, payment files, end-of-month procedures, preparation of monthly figures, data management and daily banking,” adds Zoe.

As with any employee, it’s vital they have a structured onboarding process — and this is the same for virtual assistants.

“Prior preparation was necessary in making Henry’s transition into our business smooth. I screen-recorded the processes Henry would be taking over, and Affordable Staffing (employment agency) converted these into step-by-step instructions which we then added to a Trello board — showing our daily tasks. For three months we worked via Skype where he shared his screen with me to oversee him completing tasks,” says Zoe. 

The pros and cons of having virtual assistants

There are many benefits that come with incorporating a virtual assistant into your business and Victoria says the biggest advantage is that, ironically, someone is always “there”. It allows her team to have complete coverage across all emails and phone calls, even when all their property managers are on the road.

Virtual assistants can take over many time-consuming and administrative tasks, increasing the dollar value of productive work and enabling high-quality service. It also allows a business to focus on core operations and make plans for new tasks.

Zoe says that three years on, the only aspect of having a virtual assistant that could be considered as a negative, is the inability for Henry to make and take calls due to his overseas location and time difference. However, most of his tasks can be achieved through email, and if a call does need to be made, Zoe can take over.

Victoria says that the biggest disadvantage they have come across is the social aspect. Despite her team talking online every day, a Christmas party or a celebration of business wins isn’t the same when the whole team isn’t present.

“We’ve overcome this a little with online events like quiz nights, but the team is very keen to get together in person,” she says.

So, is this the future of property management?

It could be. Victoria says the future of any industry is technology and over the last decade, property management has seen digital transformation through virtual inspections and 3D property walkthroughs — who says it will stop there?

“Technology has enabled us to bring different views and skills to our Rental Bureau whānau, which we are very grateful for.”

Zoe’s team’s success in hiring a virtual assistant influenced their sales department to do the same — they now have four virtual assistants in the sales team. She says there is so much potetntial for virtual assistants in property management, particularly in assisting with large portfolios and for data management.

“I’d be lost without Henry. He is an integral part of our team and we utilise him hugely. He is a valued employee and on a personal note, we are good friends. He knows all my kids and what they are up to, and we share photos with each other of our families. We have built a strong friendship, even though we’ve never met in person,” Zoe adds.

This article was originally published in the autumn/winter 23 edition of Real Estate.