Up Close: Difference Between a Virtual and Personal Assistant

Looking for your next PA hire? Here's a closer view of the difference between a virtual and personal assistant on three important fronts, to help you decide.

Congratulations! You’re finally taking the next step to working with a personal assistant — smart move.

Alas, as you move along toward the initial phase of the hiring process, you’re deliberating whether to hire a personal assistant or a virtual personal assistant.

Is there even a difference? Or is it just a matter of job title semantics?

Nevertheless, if you’re undecided about the matter, we’re going to help you decide the best option for you and your business.

Let’s get a closer view of the main difference between a virtual and personal assistant; the cost, working environment and the work.

Virtual Personal Assistant vs Personal Assistant: Is There a Difference?

Like how business owners contemplate whether they’re better off hiring a virtual assistant or an executive assistant, the debate on virtual versus personal assistant also continues.

But is it really necessary to battle it all out? What difference does it make if you decide to hire one over the other?

To help you assess the situation, let’s break down each job title.

What Does a Personal Assistant Do?

A personal assistant is an on-site personal aide to an executive, helping them resolve the repetitive administrative tasks that they don’t have the time to personally attend.

Daily menial activities such as answering phone calls, replying to emails, setting schedules, making reports and filing documents are all within the grasp of a PA.

Simply put, personal assistants act as the first point of communication. They organize the calendar of the boss and importantly, be the link between staff and clients.

  • The Benefits

    The best thing about a personal assistant is that they’re with you in the workplace, literally.

    You can see and communicate with them in real-time. Having that level of proximity allows you to build a strong bond and working relationship with them.
    When they’re in the office, your on-call PA will do everything that you ask, without communication boundaries and having to wait for hours to connect with them.

    A personal assistant can be likened to a panic button that can summon instant help during an emergency — one press and they come careening, ready to aid you.

What Does a Virtual Personal Assistant Do?

Conversely, a virtual personal assistant plays the role of an administrative assistant, remotely. Virtual personal assistant jobs include taking calls, organizing emails, booking appointments and filing reports.

But, unlike a personal assistant that’s naturally present, a VPA is not an on-call PA. They’re mostly located on the opposite side of the world.

Since these remote workers operate in different time zones, they communicate through online collaboration and communication tools such as Basecamp, Trello, Skype and WhatsApp.

  • Is a VA a Virtual Assistant?

    A VA is a virtual assistant. In fact, VA is the abbreviation of a virtual assistant who is generally referred to as a self-employed professional who works remotely.

  • The Benefits

    Virtual personal assistants can work from anywhere. This means you don’t have to set up an office space for them, furnished with equipment and paid rent.

    VAs also work their own schedule. You might never interact with them in real-time and may have to go your way to communicate on set hours. However, they more than make up for it by being productive on those hours that you paid for.

    Additionally, hiring a virtual personal assistant is so much easier, faster and if we may add, cheaper. You can seek them out on virtual assistant agencies or freelance marketplaces. Once you get them hired,they can start right away, without training drama.

    You also have to understand that these virtual workers are certified in their chosen field, so juggling tasks, up and down the operation system, is nothing new to them.

    Just picture going to a laundry shop, where you can leave your clothes and pick them up when they’re done. It’s the same thing when you’re dropping off projects to a virtual personal assistant.

What’s the Biggest Difference Between a Virtual and Personal Assistant?

After learning what a virtual personal assistant and personal assistant can do, you realize how much their responsibilities are alike.

So, to make the comparison vivid, we’ll get into more details based on three important points: Work setup, employment situation and the cost.

  • The Work Setup

    A personal assistant goes to a physical office where they have a workstation, usually adjacent to their boss, and follows a set business hours.

    On the other hand, a virtual personal assistant works typically from the comforts of their home, with a more flexible working schedule. They can even choose to work full-time, part-time or freelance.

    In terms of communication with their boss and coworkers, it is pretty limited. Plus, they rarely travel, as everything is mostly done online.

  • The Employment Situation

    Technically speaking, virtual personal assistants are not employees. They are contractual self-employed workers who are hired to do a specific task. So, once the job is completed, the contract also ends.

    This type of arrangement implies that they’re not under the company’s payroll or enjoy compensation benefits.

    On the contrary, personal assistants are full-time employees who work directly for the company. This means that they receive compensation benefits aside from their salaries, such as paid leave and health insurance.

    Termination of contract is also on an at-will basis, meaning either an employee or employer can end the employment for any reason, except an illicit one.

  • The Costs

    When you hire a new in-house assistant, there are recruiting costs, training costs, HR costs, insurance, compensation benefits and other overhead costs.

    If you add all that up, the cost of a personal assistant can be really expensive. And you can only hope, they’ll stay long enough for you to reap the benefits.

    Working with a virtual assistant, however, will only cost you a fraction of that. As mentioned, not being an employee means no added financial burden. You get to save as much as 78% in operating costs alone.

    Further reading: Human virtual assistant vs AI

Do I Need a Personal Assistant?


If you’re already bending into a pretzel covering all the tasks that need accomplishing, then sure, you badly need a personal assistant.

Here are the 3 key reasons why you absolutely need one.

  • Keep You on Schedule

    Of course, you can manage, until you have to take 10 calls and attend 5 appointments in a row. Now, can you still handle it yourself?

    If you work with a PA, you have someone polishing your daily schedule and constantly reminding you, so you don’t ever miss important opportunities.

  • Maintain Work-life Balance

    It’s hard to maintain a life outside your office when you’re doing everything on your own, down to the smallest detail.

    Having a personal assistant means having time for the things that you love doing. Even better, you can grow personal relationships and do activities that excite you without compromising the growth of your business.

  • More Resources to Grow Your Business

    Think about all those hours that you threw away doing everything by yourself. And what about the opportunities that could’ve turned to partnerships, but didn’t see the light of the day, just because you missed an appointment due to your packed schedule?

    Those are wasted resources that cost you possible revenue. If only you had a PA then, you could’ve saved time, money and effort that are best spent on more important tasks like growing your brand.

What Type of Personal Assistant Is Right for Your Business?

By now, you’ve probably weighed the difference between a virtual and personal assistant and what that would mean for your business growth.

But, to understand better which person is the right one for the job, you can start asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I need an on-call support?
  • Can I afford to hire an in-house personal assistant?
  • Can I collaborate effectively with my PA using virtual tools? Or do I require a face-to-face meeting for the role?
  • Can a virtual personal assistant handle all my tasks from a remote location?
  • What’s my standard deadline for the task? Is it short notice? Or does it extend for a couple of days?

In a nutshell, while PAs can assist you in all your administrative tasks, they need more investment.

On the other side, embracing virtual assistant services doesn’t cost much. VPAs are trained professionals who can jump on board instantly. You can hire and replace them easily without the burden of training or recruitment costs.

At the end of the day though, you still have to look at the direction you’re going to and picture it in a broader way — which one between a personal assistant and a virtual personal assistant gets you there?