There is no question that these are challenging and unprecedented times, where priority must be placed on protecting your health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of your friends and family. Many people are also understandably concerned about their jobs, and about protecting their financial health and well-being.
In this period of heightened stress and concern, we’ve asked some prominent and respected members of the EA community to provide their pragmatic advice on how our EA partners can remain calm, confident and motivated until this storm inevitably passes. These contributors include:
- Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing, Publisher of Executive Secretary Magazine
- Jeremy Burrows, Creator and Host of The Leader Assistant Podcast
- Bonnie Low-Kramen, founder of Ultimate Assistant Training & Consulting Inc.
- Matthew Want, Award-Winning EA and Organizer of Executive Secretary LIVE
How can EAs remain productive and effective while working remotely?
Lucy: The key is excellent communication. Make sure you touch base throughout the day. Matt (my EA) and I talk on the phone and on WhatsApp all the time to clarify and ask questions. This new “normal” is not normal. We are making it up as we go along. With so many kids being off from school, that is adding a new dimension to working from home as well; but here are some suggestions for making it easier:
- Where possible set up a work station away from everyone else.
- Timebox your day rather than just having a to do list (see this article from Harvard Business Review).
- Stick to a regular schedule—get up, have breaks, have lunch and stop work at the same time every day.
- Use the time you would have used for commuting for learning new skills or researching new technologies so you become the 'go-to' person that recommends ways to make things easier.
I truly believe that this is a time for an assistant to show the world of business what they are made of. Matt (my EA) and I have worked remotely for the last couple of years and it works just as well as it used to when we were together every day. One of the European trainers, Diana Brandl, sent me this huge list of around 60+ technology tools that you can use to manage your virtual team.
Jeremy: Shower each morning and get dressed to get in the "going to work" zone. Do NOT log in to Social Media. Take frequent walks/stand up and stretch breaks. Don't forget to eat lunch. Video chat with a family member or coworker over lunch to remind yourself that you're not alone. Take advantage of the fewer distractions by getting some "deep work" done.
Bonnie: I have been working from home since 2011. I have the 5-Minute Rule. Working remotely has everything to do with being able to access everything you need within five minutes or less. To do this lessens the anxiety and stress by knowing you have the information. That means having a set up that supports you. A laptop, all the software you need, two monitors (these changed my life), a comfortable chair and water to drink in your favorite cup on your desk at all times. If you can, change up your work location. For example, if you need to take a call but don’t need to be at your desk, just take your iPad to the patio or dining room just to move and sit in a different seat; you can even try just walking around while on the call.
This part is especially important if you occupy your home with other people, whether they are adults or children: Have a meeting every Sunday to discuss the week ahead. They need to know when you need quiet because you will be on calls, etc. Everyone gets their assignments, and these get posted in the kitchen or somewhere everyone can see. These skills are what assistants do very well anyway, so they are playing to their organizational strengths!
Matthew: Working remotely can be tough at times, especially if it's not something you're used to doing. I am an EA to a travel-heavy CEO, so I work remotely at least 90% of the time. I've found that working remotely helps me to get more work done; I often find I start earlier in the morning to get a head start on what's to come. With fewer distractions and more focus, I can get my head down and crack on with what needs doing as and when it does. I try and take breaks every so often, even if it's just going to put some washing on or get a snack. I find that setting yourself a schedule for the day, blocking out time for specific tasks helps me to get through what I need and gives me a sense of achievement once they're done.
How can EAs project calmness and confidence to their organizations during a period of uncertainty?
Lucy: This is a time during which our businesses truly need us. Nobody else has the skill sets that you possess; and if you have wanted for a while to step up into a leadership role and show your worth, this is absolutely the time to do it. Focus on problem solving. In the middle of this situation, there is a great need for calm amongst the chaos and that is an area where assistants excel above all others.
The rules of business just changed totally, and there are things that you have expertise in that nobody else in the business does. You are the experts at procedure, at process and at detail. Most executives are ideas people. They aren’t focused on detail or process. Your communication skills and emotional intelligence come to the fore at this point.
So how can you help and make sure you are supporting in the best way possible through his crisis?
First, do you know what your business's strategy is to get through this period? How can you support that? I have been saying for some time that you need to understand your business. It’s very likely that the strategy has completely changed in light of recent events. How can you help communicate this to staff and put process in place to support? It's more important than ever before that your executives are freed up to do what they do best. This gives you opportunity to step up and support at a much higher level by removing things from them that they don't need to do.
What processes and procedures need to be put in place or changed? Do you have new policies on sick leave, holidays, working from home, risk, health and safety? Do you have a disaster plan? How are you keeping your people safe and advising them? How will your staff juggle work and children? What happens if people are let go?
Can you help those working from home to organize themselves better or suggest ways to help them with remote project management, CRM or communications tools and how to use the tech tools available? Research and recommend technologies that might help. Consider sharing tutorials on Microsoft tools or time management.
Take a moment to breathe, step back and look. Then redefine the boundaries of your role. How can you take on more responsibility and add value to your role during this crisis? Communicate the responsibilities you would like to take on to your executives and take control.
Stop being scared to speak up. Your executives need a new perspective in this situation. You know how to manage process changes better than they do. There is real value to being the voice in the room that is calm and understands process. This is not a time to remain in your comfort zone.
This is a time where assistants are assistants' skills are desperately needed at the heart of business. The rules have totally changed. You can, you should and you must lead!
Jeremy: Stay steady but keep a big picture perspective on things. Take things one day at a time. Remind coworkers why the work you're doing matters.
Bonnie: Most EAs are skilled at being ducks—calm on the surface and kicking madly under the surface. Historically, they are the go-to people in times of chaos. Truly, this crisis is something most EAs know how to do after living through 9/11 and the financial crash of 2008. They are the queens and kings of winging it, and of being resilient and adapting to the situation. EAs are honest about the things they know, and EAs are skilled at supporting others by searching for answers to the best of their abilities. They need to read everything related to what is going on so that they have the facts rather than rumors.
Matthew: Staying ahead of the curve and monitoring what is happening as much as you can is a crucial way to help keep people calm and level-headed during a time of uncertainty. With the rate that things are changing during these times, it is essential to keep up to date and to help keep your boss and others around you informed of what is happening. There are several streams out there which will give you access to the information you need. Make sure that you have processes in place for every outcome; because as an EA, you will need to be prepared for any situation that may occur. Keep an eye on what is happening, and if you think it may affect you or those around you, be sure to make them aware. Of course, health comes first, so be sure to do what is right for yourself and others.
Project positivity, confidence and vigilance to those around you.
As Bernice Johnson Reagon once said, “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” So, stay positive, stay focused, stay vigilant and make smart decisions, especially when it comes to protecting yourself and your family. And as always, Savoya is here to help you travel safely—yesterday, today and tomorrow.