Online collaboration software seems to be catching on amongst the virtual assistants I know, but especially those who have multiple projects on the go or work in a multi-VA/multi-contractor environment. Yet, despite the productivity benefits of using programs like Central Desktop or ClientSpot, a lot of VAs are saying it remains a challenge to get their clients on board.

I understand all to well. It’s hard enough to remember to log in to the software I use for my own company let alone doing so as a client. I have one fab VA who works for me and uses Basecamp religiously. Yet I still can’t seem to stop myself from sending quickie emails when I need something on the fly. Then again, maybe we’re expecting too much from these programs. I mean, who over the age of 25 doesn’t live and breathe email?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate why we need or think we need to use online collaboration software in the first place. Then we can make a more informed decision as to whether it’s worth both the expense and the effort to create long term buy in. To do this, we must look at both sides of the equation: VA and Client.

From the virtual assistant’s perspective:

  • Potentially how many hours a month of admin time will I save? Does this justify the monthly or yearly expense incurred?
  • How much work will it be to get everyone on my team using the software consistently? Is it worth the effort?
  • Do I want this to be an internal collaboration tool, much like a company intranet, or do I want to use the software as a way to more effectively engage my clients? Or both?
  • Do my clients even care if we have these kinds of tools? Does it impress them or make them view me/my company as less freelance and more entrepreneur?
  • Does the software offer functionality such as milestone tracking or contact management that could replace my existing tools offline?
  • If the system goes offline for a period of time will business continuity be impacted?

And from the client’s perspective:

  • Am I paying competitive rates despite the software’s cost of use?
  • If I’m paying a premium for my virtual assistant services, what are the value adds? Increased productivity? More effective communication? Peace of mind? Faster data retrieval?
  • What are the potential drawbacks of adjusting to “working in the cloud?”
  • Can you make a convincing case for me to change from email thinking to “log in” thinking (i.e. working in the cloud versus working in the hard drive)?
  • What if I just don’t want to work collaboratively online, period? What’s your policy on this? For example, can you work internally on my project in the cloud but work with me via email and phone?

These are just some of the questions swimming in my head of late as I try to make my own collaborative processes more efficient. Right now, I am using Backpackit as a company intranet, no clients allowed. And for the moment, it is working, though not as well I hope it will function for my team in the future. I’m tempted to bring my clients onside, but then I have to think about the whole privacy and “play nice while the client is watching” thing. When I was using Basecamp I found this a bit onerous. Not because we’re a bunch of potty mouthed VAs and consultants, but because having to constantly remember who is privy to the conversation thread and who is cumbersome and even squelches free thinking at times.

Therein lies the rub. As a client, do you want to be part of a collaborative environment all or most of the time? Not always having say as to who is privy to the conversation thread you’ve just been pulled into? Do you feel more or less in control when a discussion is primarily taking place via email? Or do you find a VA who uses online collaboration software to actually be more professional, more organized, more on top of things?

Not only do we want to hear what other VAs have to say about the pros and cons of using online collaboration software, but what do you the client think of this trend? Do you want to see more of it? And if so, to what extent do you want to be involved?

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