Small businesses do not have the same resources to invest in technology as large enterprises. Often, there are higher priorities for spending resources than upgrading legacy accounting systems or deploying state-of-the-art servers to host your data. So, when some small businesses consider outsourcing administrative or marketing projects to virtual assistants, the question of how a virtual assistant will access their data gives them pause.

Fortunately, there are numerous convenient and secure ways to give your virtual assistant remote access to your data. These include cloud-based storage, VPN connections, and software such as LogMeIn.

  • Cloud-Based Storage: Using cloud software, either through desktop or mobile devices, is a fast and simple way to share files and other digital information with your virtual assistant. Many of these services offer basic plans for free. The data stored in these repositories can be selectively shared with your virtual assistant. Most of these services allow users to “lock” files and specify which users have access. You can share access to files by providing your virtual assistant with a download link or specifying her by email address. Another strategy is creating a folder that you share with your virtual assistant, while maintaining data you do not wish to share elsewhere on the repository. When you are dealing with documents that contain information subject to legal protections – such as customer social security information or personal health information – take care in selecting your online repository. You’ll want to review the service’s privacy policy to see who can access information that you share and take a closer look at the service’s encryption schemes.
  • LogMeIn: LogMeIn is widely used by administrators, IT departments, and customer service providers to access software stored on a remote device. The software, which can be provided via web portal or application, works by cryptographically securing a connection between the accessing computer and the remote desktop. This provides secure, safe, and reliable remote access. LogMeIn is useful in instances where you’d like your virtual assistant to tap into your laptop at home or work when you are unable to. This allows them to work more autonomously, and not have to wait for you to share files with them via email or dropping them into a cloud server.Just keep in mind that you’ll have to wait for your VA to finish work on your computer before you can access it.
  • VPN Connections: A VPN, or a virtual private network, allows users to create and utilize secure connections between networks over the internet. In layman’s terms, VPNs work by connecting your computer, smartphone, or tablet as if they were on the same local network as what you are accessing. While some users employ VPNs as a tool to access geo-blocked websites, they can be utilized over a public network to provide a much more secure connection back to a server.For example, if you are using public Wi-Fi and are worried about the safety of your access, a VPN would allow you to create a secure connection to your business’ server.Communications made via VPN are much less likely to be compromised than communications made directly over the WiFi network.

Among the options mentioned above, there are also a plethora of other applications and software choices to remotely communicate and collaborate with your virtual assistant. These include video conferencing and screen sharing applications as well as chat, scheduling, and project management software. They can make for effective starting points or act as ongoing collaboration tools betweenyou, your virtual assistant, or your entire virtual team.

  • Chat Applications: For faster, shorter, or less formal communications; chat applications are a great way to go. They offer efficient, straight-to-the-point options for quickly communicating ideas or asking questions of someone, especially if they are known for infrequently checking their inbox.
  • Video Conferencing and Screen Sharing: Whether you are setting up a conference call among your remote team or need to show your screen to a virtual employee to instruct them on how to do a project, applications like Google Hangouts, Skype, Join.Me, and ClickMeeting offer free solutions for both.
  • Project Management: Encouraging team collaboration or tracking your colleague’s progress can be difficult if you are located across the globe. Instead of constantly hounding them with emails asking what they are working on, project management apps like Trello and iDoneThis offer easily accessible tracking tools so ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Scheduling: Trying to find free time among five team members in three time zones using four different calendar applications can feel a lot like trying to herd mice into a trap. Instead of spending weeks going back and forth, there are scheduling apps like Doodle and Fantastical that can do that for you.

In addition to worrying about the security of your virtual assistant remotely accessing your information and data, it is important to think about the safety of your communications with them. For example, many people prefer to share confidential documents via online repository rather than emailing them back and forth as document-storing clouds, services, and software frequently include additional security measures that many email applications do not. Considering which chat applications you use to share sensitive information is also important. Facebook Chat, for example, is commonly used by individuals for communication, but does not offer encryption—which ensures only you and the person you are sending information to (not even the company providing the application!) can look at and read what is sent—like WhatsApp or Slack. While all chat applications have their uses and strengths, it is crucial to be aware of how you are sharing valuable information, even if it just during a casual conversation via instant messenger.