Ask any business owner and they will tell you, if there is any silver lining for businesses in these tough times, it is the opportunity to forge closer relationships with clients, customers, and colleagues. Hard times can reveal people’s true character. Working with someone under such conditions can bring you closer, both as people and as professionals.

The clearest example of this dynamic is with virtual assistants. Their jobs often cover a range of tasks, and because they work virtually—rarely or never having in-person interactions with their client—a personal connection can seem harder to achieve. Add changes to “business as usual” and relationships can grow even more strained.

For example, the current pandemic has the potential to redefine what a traditional assistant can accomplish. During times like these, looking at the dynamics between virtual assistants and their clients can reveal what is possible when you think outside the box. Since the relationship is already virtual, the remote work style has a solid foundation from the beginning, making an already broad task list is easier to expand.

To help make this point, let’s look at a recent success story:

Renard Bergstrom owns the business his grandfather started almost 100 years ago, Bergstrom Cars. Renard is not only a proud business owner and a military veteran, but according to his employees, what sets him apart is the way he treats them like family. From the first day COVID-19 warnings were issued, Renard has focused on making his dealership a safe place for both employees and customers.

Renard also takes a personal approach to his business, and it starts with checking in with his team consistently. Every day, he sends out an email that may contain a video of him checking in and sharing new processes or just a quick note telling the team what a great job they are doing.

Rhonda, Renard’s virtual assistant, has pivoted as well. Originally brought on to assist Renard with purely clerical functions, the increased demands on Renard’s time have created opportunities for her to take on more responsibilities to help the business during the pandemic.

Job one, of course, is business continuity. As Renard’s “sidekick,” Rhonda has found herself fielding more communications between the dealerships’ management and new vendors. This demonstrates the trust he has in her and her understanding of the business and—more importantly—the company values. Renard trusts Rhonda so completely, she may even field some email replies as an extension of him.

As Bergstrom takes more of his business online, Rhonda’s grasp of virtual workflows has paid dividends. Beyond the technical skills, Rhonda brings an outsider’s perspective to the online customer experience. The larger lesson to be drawn from this is the power of multiple points of view helping to drive a business forward. Differences in experience and worldviews can produce stronger solutions and avoid unexpected pitfalls.

Interestingly, it can be the little tasks that forge the strongest bonds. For Renard, it’s Rhonda’s automatic booking of routine travel arrangements. The operation has become so natural, its social value could easily go ignored. But Renard makes a point of acknowledging the contribution to his efficiency.

The strongest professional relationships are those that can work as a unit to direct additional resources. Prior to onboarding Rhonda, Renard initiated a formal employee evaluation process. Rhonda assumed this project when she arrived. Understanding both the significance of the project and the nuance it required, she coordinated with Renard on securing an outside resource to finalize it. Renard’s big picture and Rhonda’s attention to detail have come together to move the project forward. That is the definition of teamwork.

Renard and Rhonda, like all of us, look forward to putting the current crisis behind us. Their lessons can easily be applied to any of us… in our work, and in our lives.

If there is any reason for gratitude these days, that might be it.

Tricia Sciortino is the CEO of one of the nation’s leading virtual assistant companies, BELAY. As CEO, Tricia strives to lead and inspire her team to provide extraordinary services while finding great talent along the way. As a leader, she’s passionate about helping her team forge their own paths, careers, and professional development, putting each of the company’s valued employees and contractors in the driver seat to cultivate the balance of work and life that best suits them. @triciasciortino

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