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The world is really round? Is the Virtual Assistant Dead?

So we have all read books on the topic of outsourcing your life (4HWW, TWIF), and they recommend outsourcing tasks that are frankly a waste of your time. I remember sitting in a senior management meeting of a mid-sized company in 2002, the CEO stood on stage and encouraged all his managers to stop making copies leave that to the administrative staff. The intent was to focus efforts on strategic and higher skill related tasks utilizing resources at lower bill rates to do more administrative tasks. Great in concept but does it really work? I can understand in a larger company setting when you have staff supporting you who gets to know you and work with you, there is a certain learning where they can take over some specific tasks with high level direction, in the case of a short term resource or where language may be an issue it seems to be proving that its easier to just do some tasks yourself. In the spirit of GTD (David Allen) you can save up those tasks for a specific context where you knock all those lesser tasks in a moment most appropriate. When Lee Iacocca started work in the eBike startup he shared how in a large company you have many people surrounding you and in a startup you are the resource and you answer your own phone and make your own copies. 

In today’s advanced world, we find ourselves constantly pursuing efficiency. We seek to outperform our contemporaries and we seek to expand our business and personal lives. With Tim Ferris covering Brickwork India and Your Man In India (YMII) / their business has expanded greatly. But as you see in the past 5 years the quality of these concepts has not increased. Increased demand has actually resulted in poor quality. New competition has entered the market ( and often the skill set has decreased to many smaller tasks. In the time you explain what kind of flowers you wanted and where to send them when you could have done it yourself. Perhaps someone could have helped in finding all the options of where to send flowers from (ftd,, pro flowers, etc) and you could have had them review all your discounts available and search for coupons online.. but in the end the cost is not commiserate with the value. 

So where does that leave us? The world is flat yet round? Is it cheaper to find someone locally for $15/hr part-time through Craigslist? Or someone half way around the world where you may have cultural, cognitive, language, and time zone differences? Is there an opportunity for north and south outsourcing yet un-tapped? Where you can take the time-zone factor out? Or is it better to look for resources in areas where wages might be lower but still be domestic and reduce many of those other issues. 

The reason why America had a competitive advantage was the fact that our innovation improved our quality of life at a lower cost, our labor was cheaper, and our ability to do more work for less money increased. Today as India and China have growing educated workforces they have had a cheaper workforce especially in the manufacturing center. Today they also seek to expand that into knowledge work and in many cases this proves to but more cost effective. 

In my experience working on a variety of large and small projects with a variety of regions from the baltics and asia. I have found that most require excessive documentation, hand holding, and extra support. In some cases it takes more resources to get less work. 

In some cases this is the result of using under qualified resources that were over  sold. In other cases its a context issue where you inability to directly manage the resources results in time sharing on the backend where a resource may be working multiple projects and yours may not get the appropriate attention it deserves. In the case of larger companies they may be able to bankroll these resources for staff augmentation and keeping them on longer engagements. This enables a greater focus on the work and organizational knowledge over time. 

As an independent practitioner looking for a part time resource this still leaves a gap. While some have had very good experiences with virtual assistants, many do not and abandon the concept or change companies within a few months. 

So how do you find quality part time resources that are cost effective, reliable, trustable, and well useful? I think the jury is still out, but its definitely an area for someone to emerge to fix that problem.