How the role of a PA/EA has changed due to COVID-19

The long-term impact of the pandemic on our work life is an enduring conversation. Right now, however, it’s clear that employers’ expectations of executive assistants (EAs) and personal assistants (PAs) are changing. 

Some of the tasks that have traditionally been priorities for an executive assistant – such as coordinating and booking travel – have diminished in priority. Other tasks, meanwhile – such as organising digital events – have become bigger priorities.

Here, we look at how executive assistant roles are changing and the implications that EAs and PAs should be aware of to continue to succeed and thrive in their chosen career.

A wider set of tasks

In 2017, McKinsey Global Institute forecast that up to 375 million workers – or 14% of the global workforce – would need to change jobs or develop new skills by 2030, as a result of advances in automation and artificial intelligence.

That, however, was before the pandemic. 

Since its onset – and its disruption to jobs – it has become a more urgent priority for executives and CEOs to match their workers to new roles and activities.

Based on our conversations with business leaders and executives, we know that they now expect their executive assistant to take responsibility for a wider set of tasks, including reception and administrative support. Employers are also rolling multiple roles into one, following redundancies.

As a result, it is especially timely for executive assistants to consider upskilling. In an upskilling survey of ours, we found that 77% of employers view qualified job candidates who upskill regularly as more appealing candidates.

In addition, a 2020 PwC report highlights that the pandemic is driving a more complex and urgent need for upskilling. As jobs change, the executive assistant workforce needs to adapt to new responsibilities and extend its capabilities.

How EAs and PAs can upskill

There are several ways you can upskill in your job. Or, you can also upskill outside the office

Either way, making upskilling a priority and widening your skill base is essential today to ensure your ongoing career success. 

Connect when working from home

Remote work settings add another layer of complexity to professional relationships and the task of being a personal assistant during COVID-19.

As we highlighted in our report, What it takes to be an EA, a top-performing assistant need to keep communication channels open with their executive, CEO and team, and maintain communication with people throughout all levels of an organisation.

This is an especially significant challenge today, as EAs and PAs adapt their communication practices to support and align with increases in remote work.

We talk with hundreds of EAs and PAs every week and based on these conversations it’s clear that many are experiencing new challenges connecting with stakeholders who are out of the office.  

Yet communication remains a highly in-demand soft skill. Employers are counting on their executive assistant staff to successfully build relationships internally and externally. They also expect staff to collaborate and communicate to address new challenges and problems.

How to improve communication

If you want to improve your communication practices in remote work settings, consider setting up regular check in meetings with your colleagues, clarify communication expectations with your team, respond quickly to miscommunications and communication lulls, and ensure you are responsive and available when others reach out to you for support. Rather than solely responding via email, pick up the phone or make video calls as much as possible.

As you engage in more remote and virtual work, it’s also important to exercise strong judgement on the most appropriate times to communicate with executives and colleagues over text, the phone and face-to-face.

Get digitally fit

EAs and PAs today are performing less travel and bookings work, and are instead spending more time coordinating digital training, virtual onboarding and virtual meeting scheduling. They are also overseeing IT set up and fixing hardware.

Tech savvy EAs and PAs are in the best position to succeed in these scenarios. In fact, we now regularly have employers coming to us requesting executive assistant candidates with exceptional digital and technology skills to support in these areas. 

Technology to focus on

If you feel like technology is getting away from you, some of the key technologies to skill up on include task management tools, event and meeting planning tech, schedule planning tools, project management tools, and collaboration tools.

Keep in mind that instructions on how to use different software applications abound online, so upskilling doesn’t need to involve expensive or formal courses. Also remember it’s a good idea to actively keep up with emerging technologies that you can adopt to improve how you work. In fact, staying on top of the emerging trends will help you stand out from others who are late adopters.  

Hardware deployment for remote employees

Research undertaken by United States app design organisation Fluxon found that 50 per cent of 1005 employees who had transitioned to remote work in 2020 had identified technology issues as problematic during their time working from home.

Some employees in executive assistant roles are now allocating an increasing amount of time to ensuring their organisations have remote hardware for new staff and that new hybrid working arrangements operate flawlessly.

EAs and PAs who assume responsibility for hardware deployment – including mice, screens, laptops, keyboards, printers and office chairs – have a major support role to play in ensuring employees’ home offices are productive when they work from home.

Typical hardware deployment responsibilities

Responsibilities include matching hardware requirements to employees’ job functions, establishing oversight of which devices employees are using outside the office, logging where employees are working, and identifying any common troubleshooting issues remote employees are reporting.

As an executive assistant, it is a big advantage to have strong relationships with your IT team or support service provider to handle this challenge successfully. 

Make sure you note your hardware deployment experience on your CV, too, so potential employers can see you have proven expertise in this area.  

Cost management

Executive assistants who excel at managing the office budget can add a lot of value to their organisation, particularly as employers return to growth.

If you have a strong eye for saving money on expenses, such as office supplies, furniture, domestic travel, building repairs, events and catering, you can be a big asset to a business.

Our What it takes to be an EA report also identified “accountancy knowledge” as one of the main skills top executive assistants possess. Again, if you need to, upskill in this area.

Health and safety management

As more employees return to the office, executive assistant staff have a bigger role to play in ensuring workplaces are COVID-safe.

Your job responsibilities might include directing physical distancing protocols, promoting good hygiene, keeping records of employee health, taking action if employees become unwell, and creating workforce bubbles.

There is a range of educational information and free courses you can view online to upskill on COVID-19 safety practices in your workplace. 

Supporting executives during hybrid working 

Most businesses today offer a hybrid working model. One of the challenges as an executive assistant is making judgements about which aspects of your job are best performed at home and which are best performed in the office.

Research from McKinsey Global Institute found that tasks with higher work-from-home potential include updating knowledge, information gathering and processing, communicating with others, coding data and performing administrative and organisational activities.

It may take trial and error, but it’s important to exercise good judgement about the best work to perform at home and in the office to optimise your time in both settings.

Embrace change management

We are hearing that some PAs and EAs are assuming greater responsibility for change management in their business. As executives make changes to pre-pandemic processes and procedures – such as signing in upon entry, for example – you might assume responsibility for introducing these changes, communicating them, supporting staff to adjust to the changes and reporting on progress to your executive.

If you have capabilities in problem-solving, stakeholder engagement, communication and decision-making, you can be a positive force in the business as your colleagues and team navigate these new ways of working.

COVID-19 has changed the EA and PA job

To sum up, being a personal assistant during the last year has brought many challenges. With greater and more varied job responsibilities, more streams of communication to keep open, and a hybrid working model to navigate, EAs and PAs need to invest in their own upskilling to remain relevant. 

By being proactive and adapting to the new ways to add value, you’ll remain a strong job candidate and your career will continue to thrive.  

Search our current EA and PA jobs today. 

About this author

Adam Shapley, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand and Hays IT Australia & New Zealand, began working at Hays in 2001 and during this time has held significant leadership roles across the business including responsibility for multiple specialisms in various locations across Australia & New Zealand.

In 2018, he was appointed to Hays ANZ Management Board and made Managing Director for Hays New Zealand.

Adam is also responsible for the strategic direction of the Hays Information Technology business across Australia & New Zealand including driving growth across Digital Technology, Projects & Business Change and IT Operations & Support.

Follow Adam on LinkedIn

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