The pandemic’s impacts on assistants around the globe

More of Shelagh’s conversations with professional association leaders around the globe

In yesterday’s post, I brought you opening thoughts from leaders of international and domestic professional associations. Today, we’re looking at the pandemic’s impacts on assistants and others, whether you’re working from home (WFH) or in the office.

People are adjusting daily, and by the hour

The pandemic situation continues to evolve, and people everywhere are adjusting daily, and by the hour. Situations that are only anticipated or emerging in one country may have been the status quo in others for days or weeks now.

With that in mind, here are the latest insights from Christine in Australia, Fiona in Ireland, Juanita in the USA, Katherine in Canada, Marcela in Brazil, Nina in Finland, Vania in Italy, Vicki in New Zealand, and Victoria in the UK. 

juanita_mortIAAP– international: Juanita Mort, CAP, OM, PM, MOSM is the Chair of the International Association of Administrative Professionals’ (IAAP’s) Board of Directors. Juanita lives in the USA. She notes that, while IAAP is international, the majority of members reside in North America, primarily in the United States and Canada.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Juanita: In North America and the United States specifically, it is common for businesses to have remote working capabilities already in place. So, for those companies, the transition has been quite easy. Other companies and businesses that were not well equipped with remote working capabilities prior to the virus are working very hard to create those opportunities for as many workers as possible, which includes the administrative workforce. 

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Juanita:  In cases we are aware of, businesses are providing the appropriate equipment, or are making plans to do so, for anyone required to work from home. The largest challenge facing employers is ensuring employees have the necessary internet bandwidth to conduct business from home. 

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Juanita: In this digital age, the most important item in the United States is the equipment admins will use to connect to digital files, software specific to their company, email, etc. Additionally, many other assistants decide to bring certain “hard” items home to make their transition to remote work easier – things they have readily available at/on their desks now.  These physical items makes the transition a little easier as they often recreate their office workspace in their remote location.

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that members have found helpful. Juanita: Most organizations already have a video conferencing solution in place that can be easily used in a remote work situation.  Some of the most popular are Zoom, Skype, Webex, GoToMeeting, Teams and Jabber.

Aunula-Nina-IMAIMA– international: Nina Aunula is Executive Chairman, International Management Assistants (IMA). She lives in Finland, which is one of some 30 countries in which IMA is represented. IMA has National Groups in 25+ countries as well as individual members who are based in countries that do not have a registered IMA group at this point in time.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Nina: The case is often reversed, if you will. It’s often the manager who is out of office or based in another country, and the interaction and cooperation have to be seamless anyhow. I believe that, in many cases, assistants are already well versed in being physically in another location than their manager or team but if not, the knowledge of how to make it work in practice is intuitively there. We are often used to working on our phones/tablets/home connections – and so, taking it to the “next level” today is therefore doable in many cases.

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Nina: As of yet, I have not had the opportunity to get feedback from our members but I do know that working remotely is something many businesses and companies have facilitated. There are of course sectors and areas in which such operations  can not be handled remotely.

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Nina: Ensure you have secure access to electronically stored network folders, and utilize OneDrive/MS Teams to access your files from any device and any location. You can also help your manager and team to set up such working practices which will most likely benefit you all in the future as well.

Now is the time to make cumbersome manual tasks more fluid where possible. It is not as difficult to adapt to the change now as it can be during “normal” circumstances. I also urge everyone to think ahead, to make concrete proposals and present solutions to the problems the management is facing, be that a mundane issue or an imperative one. Our main task is to assist and support and we have a built-in knowledge of how to change situations from impossible to possible.

As for tools: Skype, MS Teams and a head set or hands-free access are a must for many. It’s important to ensure that VPN connections work and that the access to your manager’s email and calendar is in place on the device on which you work from home.

 

Katherine VaillancourtAAP– Canada: Katherine Vaillancourt is the National Director and President of the Association of Administrative Professionals (AAP) in Canada.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Katherine: Ensure that you have the technology to enable you to succeed. Prior to leaving the office, make sure that your VPN works and that you have your files backed up in case you can’t connect via VPN.

Use technology as a way to stay in communication with your teams and peers – this will allow you to have the social connection that us as humans need. It is in our nature to be social in some sense and, with all the online meeting tools available, you can still have that interaction through a social or meeting network.

Stick to a schedule of some sort – make sure that you take a break away from your computer and try to do all the same things you would do as if you would be going into work. Keep that morning routine going

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Katherine: Some are using personal hardware if remote access is available. Many of us are already equipped with laptops, so it is an easy transition.

Most offices have provided us with the equipment required to work from home effectively and efficiently. Some have even had lists created of things that they use on a daily basis – this ensures that there is a seamless transition in working remotely vs. in the office.

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Katherine: Bring your monitor if you are able. Your eyes will be thankful! Set up your workspace at home similar to the one at the office. Bring home Post-Its, highlighters, calculators – even courier envelopes and slips just in case people need to ship anything anywhere. Remember your headset – don’t forget this if you have a phone line connected directly to your laptop!

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that members have found helpful. Katherine: Google hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Skype for Business, Zoom, Cisco Jabber

 

Faint-Vicki-New-ZealandAAPNZ– New Zealand: Vicki Faint is the National President of AAPNZ, the Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.   Vicki: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of being prepared to work remotely. You should start taking your laptop/mobile devices home with you, to make sure you can connect remotely to your employer’s network and can access the tools and resources you need to carry out critical parts of your role. You should also know how to access tools and resources from your home computer if you don’t have a work device.

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Vicki: Here is a quick checklist of what you may need:

  • access to email
  • access to the files you need
  • access to applications you need
  • contact details for your colleagues
  • ensure you are used to using at least one video conferencing system like Zoom or Teams and have a microphone and camera (most phones have these if you don’t have the individual items)

 

img_7041AIOP– Australia: Christine Stewart, FAIOP, HLM, DipSecStud, is the National President and Chair of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals (AIOP) Board of Directors.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19. Christine: Australia is an isolated island with eight states/territories.  We are in touch with our members on social media but, to this point, AIOP has no idea who is working from home.  

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office, or web conferencing tools? Christine: Some members like me have an office set up at home, and others may bring home their notebook. Most of us use SKYPE, Zoom, and/or Go to Meeting.

 

Fiona Kelly - Corporate 2 (1)APAI – Ireland: Fiona Kelly is the founder of The Executive PA Forum in Ireland.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.   FionaThe most challenging thing we have heard is that many assistants are being contacted asking for updates during this unsettling time. As assistants are also privy to executive-level information and updates in company policy and directives, there is a lot of pressure on assistants to share this information with other colleagues before it may be officially announced. It’s a difficult position to be in at most times, but in a critical situation it amplifies.

Other than that, it can be difficult to get things done when you do not have the same systems and resources in place working from home as you might have at the office.

Some people just find it more challenging to work from home as it’s doesn’t feel like a work environment. But as humans, we are extremely adaptable to our environment and assistants are among the most adaptable professionals in the workplace today, accustomed to managing chaos, thinking on their feet and problem-solving.

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Fiona: Yes, the majority of our network members are using personal laptops. In most cases, last minute announcements were made for people to work from home and not go to the office the next day. So, where it’s been possible, people have taken company resources home with them but in most cases they are using their own equipment. This can also be a challenge as some companies do not allow information to be accessible remotely. It can be difficult to access some information to get your job done. But, as I said, most employers are understanding of this. Some staff that are not considered “business critical” have just been given the time off, and paid- lucky them!

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that members have found helpful. Fiona: Webex and Zoom are great tools.

 

Brito-Marcela-BrazilBrazil: Marcela Brito partners with many executive assistant networks, rather than being part of a formal executive assistant network or association.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Marcela: Right now, discipline, planning and organization make the difference. This is our great opportunity to prove our productivity is beyond the traditional model of work. North America and Europe are more open to the remote work but, in Brazil, we have old legislation on work and it becomes more difficult to move activities out of the office. I expect that one of the consequences of Covid-19 will be to encourage flexible and remote work for Brazilian executive assistants, in both the public and private sectors.

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Marcela: There is no rule to these practices. Some companies provide necessary equipment to their staff who work remotely but, for others, people are working with their personal equipment. As I mentioned before, there is no general regulation for remote work in our Brazilian legislation. For example, I work for a government company and my daughter is at home because their classes were suspended. In this case, I put myself in remote work and I am using my own personal computer and my own mobile phone. This is a way to keep my work in order, despite being out of the office.

Shelagh: Based on Brasilian assistants’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Marcela: Depending on how long someone is working remotely, it would be good to use a notebook, a smartphone from the company and, in some cases, reports, electronic files and important documents.

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that your counterparts have found helpful. Marcela: I believe many meetings could be conducted by email or web conferences, so these hard times can prove this to us. I will share some ID web conferences I really like to use, and which some friends also enjoy to support their work meetings:

 

Photo©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy® www.theheadshotguy.co.uk 07768 401009EPAA – UK: Victoria Wratten is the Founder of Executive and Personal Assistants Association Ltd., known as EPAA UK.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Victoria: As I mentioned, it’s been very fast paced, so a lot of talk has been around using Microsoft Teams, Zoom and software like this.  I don’t know if members are using personal hardware; many have company laptops, but some won’t. 

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what would assistants want to have at hand? Victoria: I often work remotely and can work with as little as a laptop and notepad.  Much of what assistants will need to do, will be done using various systems online.  It will be a case of making do and getting by, as people may have to self-isolate at home and have to use what they have at home.

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that members have found helpful. Victoria: Members have been largely working from Microsoft Teams, Zoom and applications like that. We use GoTo at EPAA to run our training and development online, and for online meetings with our board of directors.

 

Alessi, Vania - Secretary.itSecretary.it – Italy: Vania Alessi the founder of Italy’s Secretary.it – the assistant community.

Shelagh: Please offer any insights you have on assistants working remotely/from home as a result of COVID-19.  Vania: Within our community, we have chosen to launch a new form of knowledge sharing and training. With our video “column”, #CASASECRETARY – SMART EDITION,  we are collecting all our members’ stories and creating a place of collaboration. Each of us is bringing our reflections,  useful advice and a smile as, together, we face the positive aspects of home working. Some members, for example, have set up morning “mindfulness sessions” with their colleagues, while others are sharing tips with Google platforms and web apps.

I would also say that it is not only a matter of digital/tech supplies. Some companies can’t do without receptionists and 24-hour office assistance. Now. members who hold such roles need permits and special leave, and babysitter vouchers.

Shelagh: In terms of equipment and supplies for working from home, what are you hearing from members? Vania: The most digitalized companies already have office laptops, so many members can bring theirs home. We need to respect employers’ policies and ensure cybersecurity compliance – for example, with VPN connections.

I believe that some members may not have equipment provided by their offices. As a consequence, it is possible that they are home working on their personal laptops but are tutored for cybersecurity compliance as well. It is an emergency situation which has been dramatically changing day by day. We are navigating site by site.

For admins who can’t work remotely, their companies must observe severe restrictions and health measures. They have to wear masks, and offices must be equipped with sanitizers. People are asked to measure their body temperature every morning at the entrance (and this is also an issue of privacy compliance). If a person’s temperature is above 37 °C, they are invited to go home.

EAs working in HR, corporate communication, HSE, SI or special task forces are doing  a very difficult job every day! I believe you can all imagine what  pressures they’re under. We also need to mention the factories and production sites: people must strictly respect the new healthy & safety rules (one meter/three feet apart) – and now, of course, there is a lack of masks, gloves, special protections and coveralls.

Many TLS are offering internet bandwidth: this is another issue. Hospitals, companies and families are in need of upgraded band levels to facilitate the traffic. Even for an average four-person family, the problem is how many devices are available for each of them for working, studying, and relying at the same time on their internet connection. How can life and work space be organized in a small flat (apartment/condo)? It is a digital and physical issue, which will affect us for a long time.

Shelagh: Based on members’ experiences, do you have suggestions on what assistants may want to bring home from the office? Vania: One of the advantages of digitalisation and working from home is that we are paper-free. There is no need to have stationery. We are digital. We can take notes on our laptops and we use email, or we use our precious notebooks or planners.

Shelagh: Please feel free to ID web conferencing/remote communications providers or services, screen sharing apps, etc. that members have found helpful. Vania: Many EAs are already familiar with and used to running meetings with web conference providers. Major players, from IBM to Cisco, from Tim to Vodafone, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, etc.,  have decided to join the platform launched by the Ministry of Innovation, by making certain services available free of charge. The objective is to reduce the social and economic impacts of coronavirus through innovative solutions and services.

Other apps are already used: WhatsApp, Google, Teams, Zoom, Skype, Slack, Telegram. It depends on the IT restrictions established by each company. If the situation is going to last for a longer time, restrictions may cause some inefficiencies, so there will be calls for more “open systems” to facilitate collaboration, meetings and more.

We need to do everything … with everything. Another important issue is training: this situation will for sure facilitate the increase of webinar and remote training. That’s because, now more than ever, it is important to keep groups motivated and feeling connected.  People need to meet and to feel engaged. An even stronger spirit of belonging despite remote communications is developing! Some companies are introducing a special support consisting of remote medical examinations (general or specialist) as well as psychiatric consultations. Now more than ever, it is the right time to use technology to connect people.

Caribbean-Aerial-201909-7470-Copyright-Shelagh-Donnelly

Closing thoughts (for now) from around the globe

I asked these people for any additional thoughts they may wish to offer assistants around the world. Here’s what they had to say.

Vania Alessi: Besides having specific roles in our companies and in our Italian community, we Italian assistants are pleased for this opportunity to share such important information in order to sensitize as many people as possible.

I think that we need to stay focused on our main responsibilities. Stay strong, stay positive and most of all #stayathome. In Italy, a huge campaign is spreading through tv, media influencers, news anchors and singers. All together, we will stand out, stronger than ever.

We are entering a new era where nothing will be like it was before. If we have been running our lives fast, or very fast (100 km per hour), now it is time to ALL reduce our speed.

Nina Aunula:  If you do not have access to a printer, use “print to PDF” and save documents for printing later. In the case of home wireless systems not working, you can set up a mobile hotspot from your phone. And: do all that you can ahead of time, so you are not burdened by those tasks when the urgent situations arise.

Marcela Brita: Actually, I would like to share a deep thought with you, my peers around the world. I am concluding my Master’s degree in professional and technology education. I have researched the world of work and how we can maintain our work relationships in a healthy and conscious way. This period is important to make us figure out another way to be productive and deliver better results, regardless of the place you are working from.

We must consider that remote work is possible, more flexible and the symbol of the future of work. In hard times like these, it is urgent to think about what is really sustainable, reasonable and humanitarian. We are not robots, we still are human beings and we have total capacity to become better and develop ideas to keep society, economy and work running. Would you be available to join me in this initiative?

Fiona Kelly: I would just like to say a phrase we have in the Irish language (Gaeilge): “Ní neart go cur le chéile”. It means, “There is no strength without unity.”

Juanita Mort: Our recommendation to all members and admins is to follow the recommendations of the CDC, WHO and government agencies. As an association, our first priority is the health and safety of our members and consumers, so we take all official recommendations seriously and encourage everyone else to do the same.

Christine Stewart: Australia is a large island continent, and every state of Australia is impacted differently.  Guidelines are changing daily.

Katherine Vaillancourt: Many of us have had the opportunity to work from home here and there – it is just getting used to the idea of having to do this for a longer period of time. Make sure you stay active in your communications with your team and colleagues – it helps to know that you have a support system. Technology is important –  as we go through these new office protocols, we have realized the importance of technology in the continuity of business. 

For administrative professionals, it is about knowing how to use the tools and technology available to ensure an ease of transition when moving towards working remotely. We realize that safety and wellness are top priorities and want to do what we can to stop the spread of the virus, but also want our teams to do the same. Companies have plans in place to ensure that their employees are safe. Many of us are part of the teams that create those plans and are valued contributors.

Victoria Wratten: We are running a free one-day virtual conference for members shortly, to help them keep up with learning and development and supporting them as much as we can during this time.

More in Shelagh’s series on assistants in the time of COVID-19

2 Comments on “The pandemic’s impacts on assistants around the globe

  1. An excellent representation of the professionalism and resilience of EWarm across the globe. I am excited to know that this profession continues to grow from strength to strength.

    • Thanks, Catherine. There are good leaders, in this article and elsewhere around the globe, supporting their counterparts. Agreed; here’s to continued growth and recognition of this career.

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