Global Productivity: Virtual Assistance Beyond Time Zones

Here’s a story from the distant past. These days it seems like working remotely is no big thing. In the years between when I started my practice in 2000 to today, there have been advances in technology that make the following story seem ‘quaint’. But it’s probably worth telling because when these events happened, everything was still so new and ‘remarkable’!

Picture this: it’s 2009 and Greg Cole, Research Director and US Principal Investigator of the Global Ring Network for Advanced Applications Development (GLORIAD) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee, was on the lookout for an extra pair of hands. He wanted a Virtual Assistant, but not just any VA – this one had to be different. Why? Well, Greg needed someone situated in Australia – it was all about the time difference.

“As I spent a lot of my time out of hours responding to emails and writing proposals and reports,” said Greg of that time, “I needed a VA who would have the work completed after the end of my business day, ready for me next day to proofread and send out, thus making us a truly 24-hour operation.”

Enter me! I saw Greg’s call for help via an email discussion group. And back then, not many VAs were providing services to overseas clients! I know – seems bizarre today, right?!

Working with a US-based client added a whole new dimension to the VA work I was doing – and showed how truly global this industry is. At the time, the call for an RFP came from the group administrator directed ONLY to US-based VAs – despite Greg was looking for someone in Australia. I ignored the proviso and reached out to him anyway – and turns out I was the only one who did!

global collaboration, emphasizing the irrelevance of location in the face of seamless communication and technological advancement

Using the digital technology available at the time – which was still in its infancy in Australia but well known in the US, Greg dictated his documents and email replies, sending the file to me via email – or posting to an FTP server for download. Today this seems like a no brainer but back then hardly anyone was doing it! The resulting transcribed documents were emailed back to Greg providing him his 24-hour operation.

Beyond document production and email management, I was wearing multiple hats – proofreading, copyediting, desktop publishing, internet research, and online database maintenance. It was a virtual whirlwind, and we made it work seamlessly.

You would think having an assistant on the other side of the globe would prove difficult when a quick response to a query was needed.  Not so.  Greg utilised email-to-mobile technology – something that we take for granted today but it was a novel idea back then!

When an audio file came through corrupted, I was able to email his mobile after he’d left the office, asking for the file to be re-sent and it was in my in-box within 2 minutes of my distress call. I smile at the memory and at how far tech has come in the intervening period – and how many people take it for granted!

Recall this was back in 2009 so way before tech like Teams, Google Meet or Zoom – but we did have Skype which began in 2003 and was the tech of choice – well, the ONLY tech actually – that enabled us to talk in real time as if we were in adjoining offices.

Mind-blowing stuff right!

(Skype was retired in 2023 in favour of Teams and Zoom.)

Greg also travelled quite extensively to Russia, China, Korea and within the USA.  But with the tech available at the time our locations were irrelevant. I was able to complete Greg’s work no matter where he was in the world – no matter where I was for that matter! A reality that is still true for my work with clients today.

“The arrangement has worked out better than I expected,” said Greg at the time.  “It’s just amazing!  Almost too good to be true!  It has improved our productivity 100%.  Lyn’s transcription of my work is just wonderful, and she clearly has no difficulty with my Tennessee accent.  I am one grateful, happy customer!”

Well, as I said at the start of this article, this was quite some time ago and technology has advanced in leaps and bounds – far exceeding anyone’s expectations and enabling us to work with anyone, anywhere. It’s amazing to think that what was so revolutionary and remarkable in 2009 is taken for granted today – it’s hard to believe there once was a time we didn’t have it!

But this story highlights that what was true back then is equally true today – even more so.

When you’re looking for a Virtual Assistant you don’t have to limit yourself to your timezone.

The world truly is your oyster!

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop