I like to start every year by choosing a word to guide the next 12 months. In 2020, that word was “elevate.” To me, this meant honing our processes, developing the team that we had carefully cultivated, and really taking our business to the next level.
In March 2020, though, everything changed. Like most businesses, we went from any dreams of elevating to the realities of surviving.
Suddenly, clients needed to pause work. Daycare and in-person school were canceled for many of the people on our team (myself included), leaving us juggling full-time childcare with full-time work. Clients and team members were personally touched by COVID.
Don’t Panic is fortunate to be able to say we pulled through, and that’s because we have a strong and gifted team and really wonderful clients. (Plus supportive networks outside of work, with family, friends, and neighbors willing to hop in and lift us up!).
So when the ball dropped on January 1, 2021, it seemed like the right time to hit the reset button on our word: elevate. This year, we’ve been thinking about ways to elevate the VA in 2021, both internally and in the broader world. Here’s how we’re doing it.
1. Supporting Our Community
COVID has been a reminder of how interconnected we all are. A microscopic virus that began in a faraway corner of the world has changed lives across the entire planet. We fall or rise together.
Virtual assistants, and anyone in a support role, are in a unique position to facilitate rising (literally, elevating!). This support might look like something tangible, like setting up a new Calendly integration for a client that allows them to block off chunks of time that conflict with homeschooling duties. Or it might be something intangible, like reaching out to a teammate with a virtual hug and offer to listen if they’re having a tough time and want to talk.
We define community broadly and look for ways to help wherever we can.
2. Reevaluating Everything
We are rethinking many of our internal processes. We’ve revisited our VA onboarding processes and are creating a repository of templates, tools, and information to help get new hires up to speed. We’re offering real-time “Latte & Learn” virtual trainings on key tools—like our project management platform, ClickUp—to ensure we all know how to get the most out of these resources.
We’re listening to feedback from our team to drive these changes. When we heard that many struggled to enter their hours in our payroll software, we invested in a new, more intuitive time tracking tool.
By reconsidering many of our internal processes, we’re setting up new systems to support our team, and thereby, our clients.
3. Tapping Into Empathy
One of Don’t Panic’s core values is to be curious. While we’ve historically meant this in a more academic way, inviting our team to learn new ways of doing things, curiosity about others’ emotions is part of it, too.
These past 18 months haven’t been easy on anyone. And while some have been open about their struggles, others have kept things closer to the vest. Either way of being is totally valid, but when you’re working with someone and get a vibe that they might be struggling, we invite our team to be curious.
Is your client sending terse emails? Are they taking a long time to reply? That might mean something is going on in their lives. There’s no need to pry, but tap into empathy. We encourage our team to extend an open-ended ask: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Sometimes that opens up lines of communication and makes them feel comfortable sharing. Other times, they choose not to, but even the simple act of showing that you care can make a big difference.
We also do this internally. I’ve gotten into the habit of recording monthly “State of the Union” videos to connect with the team about the latest changes, both within Don’t Panic and the wider world. In these videos, I try to be honest and acknowledge the difficult things going on all around us. And I always end with a reminder that my virtual door is open if anyone wants to chat.
4. Being Proactive
Yet another important reminder from COVID is that life is unpredictable. You can’t plan for everything, but you can have frameworks and processes in place to make any potential impact less damaging.
Make sure all of your passwords are stored in a secure place and shared with the right team members (we use LastPass for that). Create SOPs so folks can step in and do a repeatable task without the need for hand-holding in real-time.
We recently sent out reminders to our team to update internal process documents for each of their regular clients. That way, if someone gets sick or has to take some time off, someone else can seamlessly step in to get the job done.
5. Remaining Accountable
A number of our core values—being humble, reliable, and communicative—point toward accountability. But 2020 taught us to rethink what accountability and showing up look like.
How can we be accountable in confronting systemic inequity? Following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent national outcry, we created a Slack channel for our team to share anti-racism resources. We also published our team’s diversity stats and remain conscious of the importance of elevating marginalized people.
We’ve started including our pay rates in job descriptions, too, which has been proven to reduce wage gaps for women and people of color.
Part of remaining accountable is recognizing that there’s always more to do, and we continue to look for opportunities to make the right choices for our community.
At the end of the day, when we elevate one, we elevate all. Our VAs elevate each other and our clients. Our clients elevate us. And when our global community looks out for each other, we can grow and rise together.
We all spend a lot of time at work, so finding ways to elevate each other in the jobs we do can have major impact. It’s something all leaders should take time to think about. If you ever want to talk or share ideas, my door is always open.
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Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm
Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now: panicproofbook.com
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