Virtual Services: Its Origin and Evolution


By: Anna Garcia

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Image Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

With the advent of computers and the world wide web, it’s not so difficult to imagine that people now have access to a world of infinite possibilities — especially when it comes to information technology. The benefits brought on by these innovations, however, are not limited to the efficient processing and storing of data. They have also made possible a new era of professionals — the virtual assistants.

But when did this type of profession actually emerge? What inspired its inception? Who were the forerunners of this digital age concept? Who came up with the apt term? Well, if you want to know the answers, don’t stop reading.

The Beginning

Many believe that the precursors of what the world now know as virtual services was what people used to call “secretarial services”. And if you really think about it, it makes sense. After all, secretaries were the all-around assistants of managers, supervisors and executives. Decades ago, before computers and typewriters, the main tasks of secretaries were to take down notes for their bosses or superiors within the confines of a private office or a meeting room — regardless if they’re for important reports, contracts, business correspondence, or mere reminders.

For Males Only

But did you know that when the secretarial profession was born, only men were allowed to do it? As a matter of fact, the first secretarial school that was founded by Sir Isaac Pitman, the inventor of the shorthand method, only accepted male students. Back then, women were relegated to the role of mere housewives. When the typewriter got invented during the 1860s, however, women started to find a place in the secretarial arena and slowly began to dominate the field.

The Birth of the Virtual Industry

To further enhance the skills of professionals in the US secretarial industry, the National Secretaries Association was founded in 1942. Not 10 years after that, people who wanted to be professional secretaries, had to take and pass the Certified Professional Secretaries Examination. Since then, over 60,000 people have qualified for the said certification.

Decades after women dominated the industry and years after the internet has gone mainstream, a woman from Connecticut named Christine Durst had a vision of utilising the internet to pave the way for doing business globally. This was one of the reasons that in 1995, Durst founded both Staffcentrix and the International Virtual Assistants Association along with Michael Haaren. Thus, virtual services was born.

Who coined the term?

According to Durst, the one who came up with the famous term was her co-founder Michael Haaren. She said that it was Haaren’s vision to help people with disabilities as well as military spouses utilise these digital age technologies to develop portable career solutions for themselves.

However, another version of the story is that years before, a home-based entrepreneur named Stacy Brice has been providing travel planning and personal assistance to international clients from her home since 1992 — about 3 years before Durst and Haaren founded IVAA. According to Brice, years after she had been working from home, a client by the name of Thomas Leonard, the founder of Coach U that later on became Coachville, contacted Durst to take over his administrative duties while he goes on a sabbatical. He called the position “virtual assistant”.

Whichever version you might give credit for the term, the fact is that the profession started out as an alternative source of administrative services for entrepreneurs who wanted to concentrate on their business’ core tasks. Clearly, it was an answer to a demand for cost-effective and efficient administrative work.

What exactly do Virtual Assistants actually do now?

Virtual services today don’t just entail secretarial tasks, but more of vital administrative duties. In fact, many of them are now more aptly called Virtual Specialists since they offer a wide array of support services for any type of business and in almost any industry. Some virtual workers offer special skills such as in marketing, creative and technical services, web design, web development and maintenance. Others also offer specialised administrative assistance for particular industries such as in medical, legal, and real estate — to name a few.

The road so far…

The virtual industry has certainly come a long way from its earlier roots. When virtual assistance was in its infancy, professionals utilised telephones as well as the internet to perform their tasks. Now, they mostly rely on the power of the internet to efficiently deliver excellent results. Of course, the internet has greatly evolved since the 1990s and will probably continue to evolve in the years to come. And with the help of technological advances and continued training, virtual assistants will continue to become more skilled and efficient in their field.

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Author Bio: Anna Garcia writes for Regus, an international provider of digital solutions to small and medium-sized businesses as well as large corporations. Among the products and services they offer are workplace recovery solutions, business lounges, meeting facilities and virtual services.

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Posted on May 22, 2014, in Filipino VA, Guest Post, Virtual Assistant and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is such a great post! We should know the basic and fundamentals of every relevant things coz it really helps us to grow as an individual. The filipino virtual assistant is very dedicated in terms of dealing any form of work.

  2. I found this very informative. Thank you!

  3. Any idea what year did the Virtual Assistant trend start here in the Phillipines? There are more people now working online as web developer, graphic designer or as a virtual assistant. I’m glad I found your blog, I’m also a virtual assistant myself.

    • Hi Leo! Thanks for visiting my blog. It was a guest post by Anna Garcia. One of my mentors, Sir Jomar Hilario learned about Virtual Assistants from the book, The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. He hired his first formal Virtual Assistant around 2007 through the website getafreelancer.com. John Jonas, founder of onlinejobs.ph has been hiring VA’s for more than eight years now. I read about this from the book, Virtual Careers by Jomar Hilario.

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