As an Executive Assistant Virtual Assistant (EA VA) who has worked remotely for over five years, I’ve been watching the way COVID-19 has affected companies in the United States. Almost all corporate offices have moved to working from home during the pandemic, with some re-evaluating if they even want to go back to the office full-time when they feel safe to do so.
I’ve also been watching my fellow Executive Assistants closely as the pandemic hit. The Virtual Assistant industry has seen a surge of interest as corporate assistants begin to realize they can do their work from home. Unfortunately, my profession has also seen an uptick because assistants in offices have been laid off, so they are beginning to look for other opportunities while the job market stalls.
As I read into the future of remote work, it’s articles like this one from Forbes, that have me wondering what all these changes will mean for Executive Assistants. One point caught my attention:
- Determining promotions and merit increase will become data centric
How will you track Assistant roles if it becomes “data centric”?
I passionately believe that as an EA, our role consists of 60% skills and 40% relationship building. Of the skills that we have, I would say half of the 60% are soft skills: friendliness, professional tone of emails, phone rapport, and smoothly turning away people who want to always get on your executive’s calendar are good examples. The other half are hard skills: keeping your executive’s calendar organized, making sure their travel plans are booked correctly, correct grammar in writing emails, consolidating expense reports, managing other assistants, formatting excel reports, creating presentations, etc.
The relationship building is something that seems so minor, but it is the difference between an Executive Assistant that passes through your life, and the one that you still want to meet with for lunch after you retire (holler to the CEO I used to support). This is the EA who knows how to push your buttons just enough, the one that remembers your family member’s names and birthdays, sends a happy birthday card in the mail for your significant other, picks up random gifts for you when they travel, and in general, knows intuitively what they need to do to make your life slightly easier.
This is hard to do remotely. All the above is also something that is not always easily tracked. Only 30% of an EA’s job comes down to making sure there are no double bookings, rescheduling meetings without being told to, and making sure your travel plans are flawless. That is a small part of their job, despite that people think it is all of it. To me, it is the bare minimum needed to call yourself an EA.
So, how do EAs shift their role remotely? How do my corporate counterparts adapt and grow with this shift?
From my six years as a successful EA VA, I can tell you that a big part of the puzzle lies in how well you communicate, how proactive you are, and how well you can be an online chameleon.
For reviews, one thing to keep in mind is how often your EA keeps you updated on their progress of assignments.
I over-communicate. Rarely have my clients found it annoying. By over-communicating, it shows that I am on the job, I’m their front line, and I understand what they need. In an office, it was easy for the executive to come out, tell you what they needed, and know that it will get done. There was proof that they talked to you. When there is no timely response to an email, the nagging fear comes in of, “Did they get my request? Are they working?”. I have found that when clients/executives do not get some sort of recognition, they become a micro-manager. There should be regular check-ins via phone to make sure everyone is on the same page, along with occasional chatter over the internal company messaging system to try and keep the relationship stable.
How often does your EA ask to take on more work? Help other departments? Organize virtual team building events?
Since starting my VA business, I have had to become more proactive. In an office, it felt like the work piled on without me having to do anything. A lot of that had to do with people coming by my desk, asking questions, trying to see the CEO, etc. When that is taken out of the equation, sometimes out of sight is out of mind. Therefore, it was up to me to be self-motivated. I am looking at my client’s calendar’s more now than when I was in-office. I am thinking of how I can help with reports, presentations, and anything that may be out of the box. I check their workday every morning, so I understand what is on their radar, and mine as well. If I can support another person in the company, I let them know. This is a double effect – by supporting another person, I am becoming more entrenched in the company and more indispensable, while also clearing up time and lightening their load.
Your EA should be able to adapt online and pick up on subtle cues while remote.
This is harder to track, but it is something that an executive can keep tabs on. This is when a manager would watch that the EA can pick up on online subtleties, understand likes and dislikes without meeting in person very often, and adapt to feedback. I would say this is one of the driving factors in whether an EA can work remotely successfully. When face-to-face conversation is taken out of the picture, and you are emailing, it is not pleasant to receive emails without personality. EAs still need to have the friendly demeanor, the upbeat attention, and fun attitude over email. They need to familiarize themselves with how their executive writes emails, as they need to become an extension of them. Is their executive casual in their emails? Are they straight business? Are they polite and start each email with “Hello x,” and end with “All the best”? Reflecting them in online conversations shows a heightened sense of awareness. Different aspects of my personality come out with each client. They all get a different side of me, and rarely does one get all of me. That is because I mirror what they want to see and hear. It’s not being fake; it’s just toning down some aspects of my personality and amplifying others. In that way, I become the EA VA best suited for their role.
The role of the assistant has endured as the workforce has changed, and my hope is that EAs and Office Assistants can adapt quickly and go on to have stable careers as we move into remote work. Time will tell, but I hope that HR managers realize that not everything can be tracked by data when it comes to performance of assistants.
Kiri Mohan is the COO of the Association of Virtual Assistants and runs her successful Virtual Assistant company, DependableVA. Kiri believes that assistants are the secret behind every great executive/entrepreneur and while the world can be slow to pick up on that, she’ll continue to advocate for the profession.