Following the ongoing COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak and the government’s recent advice to stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel, Executive Assistants across the UK and beyond are being asked to work from home. Many of these EAs, not used to working remotely, will be facing certain anxieties and insecurities for the first time.
Ellena Ingles, an EA with the rare privilege of being in a full-time remote working role, verbalises these concerns: “Often, bosses do not know how to deal with remote assistants so don't hand over work properly, if at all, leading EAs to worry that their role is going to become defunct. Motivation to complete tasks can be a challenge,” continues Ellena, “and it is easy to blend into the background if you aren't doing the things that bring real worth to your role.”
But, as we found out when we spoke with Ellena, these insecurities can be sidestepped and working from home as an Executive Assistant isn’t just possible - it can be a highly rewarding, healthy and successful experience.
For those PAs, EAs and other support staff currently facing remote working for the first time, Ellena offers her advice on making the best of the situation.
Hi, Ellena. Could you tell us a bit about how your current working situation came about?
“I’d been working as a PA for a large investment advisory firm in London for a couple of years when I fell pregnant with my daughter. The balance of work, commuting and childcare just wasn’t stacking up well when I decided to return 3 months postpartum, so I thought I’d have a look and see what else was out there. I found a cryptocurrency platform who were looking for an EA to support the CEO 100% remotely and thought it was too good to be true, but I tried my luck – 5 days later I was in PC World panic buying a laptop ready to start the next day!”
We know that a big part of being an Executive Assistant is adapting to changing priorities, but could you tell us what a day in the life of a remote working EA might entail?
“My day starts any time between 5am GMT to 8am GMT – I’m a real morning person and love to feel ahead of everyone. I’ll pop out to the gym at around 9am after getting through my emails and making plans, this gives me a great boost for the rest of the day. As you know, an EA’s tasks change daily, and you’ll find that being remote, responsibilities are less paperwork and scheduling based. I spend a lot of my time researching, recruiting, dealing with financial matters and creating company initiatives, as well as your usual EA duties.”
How do you ensure that you stay motivated while working from home?
“Exercise helps hugely; if you’re not into anything high intensity then yoga is awesome, you can find loads of videos on YouTube to do it from the comfort of your home. Become passionate about a project you’ve been set to work on, go beyond just completing your tasks - research alternatives, explore the need and want beyond the job on hand. You have more time, so use it to fall in love with what you do, because when you do, staying motivated is easy.”
A major anxiety for EAs working from home surrounds the idea of their role becoming defunct. How have you kept the EA role alive and vital in your company while working remotely?
“The best advice I can give is to become proactive not reactive. It can be difficult getting into the mindset as most EA roles are reactive by nature, but once you have, you’ll see the change in your measured performance straight away. Going above and beyond is something all good EA’s think they do – but how you do this has to now change.”
“You’ve got a real chance here, as remote work will be new to most of your colleagues too. Look for time saving platforms, research tech that would benefit the team whilst you’re remote and when you’re back in the office – draft proposals (don’t spend long on each idea!) and build projects. When you’re remote, you’ve got to find other ways to bring value – so pitch ideas with a solid plan to execute and most importantly highlight clearly where the need comes from. Become more than just an EA, your horizons need to widen, for now at least.”
Good, healthy relationships with bosses and colleagues can influence the happiness and success of an Executive Assistant. How do you cultivate good working relationships with your boss and others while working from home?
“Taking away the ease of walking over to a desk can make you feel like your relationships with your boss and other colleagues are slipping away, so you need a new way to maintain them. Set up a morning call with your boss at the same time each day, where you can run through your plans and progress. It keeps you on track while making sure your interactions are still personal.”
“You’re going to have more time on your hands – use some of this to build relationships with other staff members. That person you say hello to every morning? Send them a funny topical meme, you can be a bit more informal and fun outside the office environment, so use it to your advantage.”
What was the toughest challenge you faced when transitioning from an office-based EA to a remote member of staff?
“We all have off days – even in an office some days your motivation just isn’t there like others. These days hit even harder when you’re remote as it is so easy to just move to the sofa, switch on the TV and stare blankly at your screen waiting for the hours to tick by. Knowing how to overcome these days can be tough: there aren’t people around you to kickstart your motivation, so you’ve got to do it for yourself. Take a break, do some exercise, get your brain moving again and then when you come back throw yourself into the most intense piece of work you have whilst your heartrate is high. I find that kicks my lull to the curb.”
What would you say are the main advantages of being a remote EA?
“Cutting out your commute saves so much time over the week and having the opportunity to reinvest this into my life is brilliant. Some weeks I find it is used clocking extra hours, but there’s no resentment around this, as other weeks it is spent doing things I love and wouldn’t have time to do if it wasn’t for remote working. The change in my mindset has been hugely beneficial too, not only have I become more confident and proactive in my work, I’ve seen it affect my life choices and reactions as well.”
What do you like most about working from home?
No one judging the amount of coffee I drink! No, in all seriousness, the flexibility is incredible. To start with I felt nervous utilising it, but don’t! Have that extra hour in bed, stop to cook yourself that awesome meal for lunch you’ve wanted to try for weeks, take your dog for a walk mid-morning.
Do you have any final tips or advice for the EAs and PAs in our audience currently working from home amid the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic?
It can be hard to turn off sometimes when your work is in your home. If you find that work is still heavy during this time then it can become difficult to separate life and work when they’re blended together. Don’t become a slave to your laptop. Stay safe, think big and good luck!
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