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The term ‘Virtual Assistant’ might seem relatively new to you but the Virtual Assistant industry actually started earlier than some might think. In fact, it’s quite an interesting story.

Virtual Assistants In The 1970s 

It is unclear exactly when the first secretaries started working remotely from home.  However, an excerpt from a book called The Home-Grown Secretary by Kathie M Thomas, on the history of the VA industry references the fact that a lady was recorded as working from home using a typewriter as far back as the 1970s. However, despite being portable, typewriters were not the tool that launched a generation of remote working Virtual Assistants.

Although around in a very basic form in the 1960s, by the late 1970s, word processor systems had developed enough to enable secretaries and admin assistants to work more productively and faster.  This allowed them to edit, format and print documents rather than having to use correction fluid or retype a whole letter when a mistake was made.  It also enabled people in general the have the freedom to produce professional documents at home. However, as with the typewriter, the rise of the word processor was not responsible for the launch of the VA industry.

The 1980s – Communication Became More Mobile

In the 80s, fax machines became all the rage for sending communications at speed around the world.  Secretaries could work from a different office to that of their boss, so, a form of virtual working was starting to emerge at this time.

Mobile telephones that allowed users to be contactable whilst on the move were becoming more frequently available. Being able to handle calls remotely enabled business professionals to stay connected and work closely with a range of clients and their secretaries.  However, most of the time, the secretaries worked from offices whilst the boss travelled from client to client with their new technology, rather than the other way around.

The Introduction of the Internet

The real game-changer was the introduction of the internet. This medium made it possible for businesses to do more and utilise the skills of ‘work-at-home secretaries’ as they were initially known.

It is thought that the term Virtual Assistant actually originated from a lady called Anastasia Brice who started working as a work-at-home secretary from 1992.  Brice began using the internet to offer her services which included administrative support, travel planning and personal assistance. It is said that one of her clients used the phrase “Virtual Assistant” whilst talking about her services in 1996, and from this moment on, the term Virtual Assistant became widely used.

Brice was invited to be interviewed for a piece in a magazine talking about her virtual work, and it was this story that sparked widespread attention culminating in Brice founding the company AssistU.  Assistu, even to this day, mentors Virtual Assistants and is credited with professionalising the industry.

Another story attributes the origin of the term to Christine Durst, who wrote the book “The 2 Second Commute” in 1995.  Durst worked from home as an administrative manager for several global businesses and in 1999, she founded the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVSA) with Michael Haaren.

Whomever coined the term first, the Virtual Assistant profession had well and truly launched by the late 1990s, and with technology evolving at a rapid rate, the ability to truly work remotely was born.

Further Virtual Assistant associations have been established since, including the Society of Virtual Assistants, which I am a member of.  These all serve to further professionalise the industry, which is now used by small and large organisations across the world to run their administrative duties remotely.

Having worked as an Executive Assistant for 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes in the PA/VA industry. However, it wasn’t until the pandemic lockdowns last year, and seeing how effectively I could work for small businesses remotely from home, that I decided to launch my Virtual Assistant Business, qVirtual…. and, I am proud to say, the rest is history!




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qVirtual – Virtual Assistant Solutions