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Moving from the well-oiled corporate environment of personal assistants and friction-free expense accounts to arranging my own travel and doing my own accounts was jarring; I’ve long toyed with the idea of engaging a virtual or remote executive assistant to help with administrative tasks. However, the pioneers in this field — Indian companies such as Brickwork, YourManInIndia and Get Friday — all seemed a little too expensive, requiring a commitment to buying large regular blocks of time. Essentially, what I needed was a virtual assistant provider with pay-as-you-go billing rather than subscription plans — which is why I was interested to see the offering from TimeSvr.
TimeSvr allows you to purchase the time of a dedicated “aide” for $85-350 (ten to fifty hours) or a flat rate of $69/month for a shared aide.
To create a task, you simply pull up the “dashboard view” and describe what you need in a few sentences; clicking “Do It” sets the task in motion with your TimeSvr aide.
I spent an hour or so queuing up a trio of tasks for the TimeSvr aides to work though on my behalf. The company CEO, Zaki Mahomed, was CC’d on my tasks, without the aides knowing that their work was under review. Here’s how they did.
Task 1: “Could you identify the best venues to hold a 2-day, 200 delegate conference in the city of Leeds (UK)”
TimeSvr aide Irfan found the city’s official bureau for conference venues and suggested Hillside and Weetwood Hall as candidate locations. The task was completed quickly, but the suggestions lacked range and depth. This could perhaps have been mitigated by a little back-and-forth conversation between myself and Irfan to narrow down my requirements.
Task 2: “What would be the total cost of flights, hotels & registration for me to attend this year’s SxSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. The festival takes place March 12-16 and I’ll be traveling from Manchester, UK, and I’ll also need accommodation near the Austin Convention Centre”
Ammar provided me with a pretty comprehensive a range of flight options from $600-700, along with a table of all SxSW registration packages and details for three hotels. Sadly, the hotels all seem to be quite far out and seemingly not drawn from the festival’s own hotel finder. What I was really looking for was a ballpark figure, so I could make a decision about attending; perhaps something I should have been more explicit about.
Task 3: “Other than Knight Foundation, are there any other funding bodies for journalism ventures in the United Kingdom or overseas?”
Ammar also picked up this task and did well to identify three organisations, one of which appears to be a great lead.
On the whole, I was impressed with the clean user experience and task submission interface, which felt almost Twitter-esque in its simplicity. Where I was specific and detailed with a request (as in Task 2) I got satisfactory results; where I wasn’t as specific, the responses were less useful.
Responses are delivered via email, but strangely aren’t displayed next to the “Previous Tasks” view in the application interface, making it difficult to gauge how long a task took and to keep tasks connected with their outcomes. Tasks are also flagged as completed by the aide, rather than the requester, so the opportunity to create an ongoing conversation or dialogue around a request is limited. Completed tasks do have “feedback” and “response” options, but they seems to be articulated with an assumption that a task is closed, rather than being an ongoing dialogue.
Overall, I certainly got the feeling of being looked after and that the aides themselves communicated well. They’re fast, but perhaps taking a little more time with a task would give better outcomes. I’d really liked to have seen a little more initiative from the aides, and perhaps a preamble conversation before they attempted to tackle the tasks.
A great assistant can take initiative, anticipating their employer’s needs; such initiative perhaps only comes with time as aides and employers build a rapport and learn to read each other. With that in mind, my experience with my aides Ammar and Irfan was pretty good, and I’m sold on experimenting further with a personal plan.
Have you used TimeSvr, or a similar service? How did it work out for you?