Catching up with your professional association leaders
We’re now more than half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to impact assistants and your careers. Early on in the pandemic, on March 18 and March 19, 2020, I published articles featuring insights from a number of the career’s professional association leaders, as seen below.
- Vania Alessi, founder of Italy’s Secretary.it – The Assistant Community
- Nina Aunula, Chairman of International Management Assistants (IMA)
- Marcela Brito, who lives in Brazil and partners there with many executive assistant associations
- Vicki Faint, National President of AAPNZ, the Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand
- Fiona Kelly, founder of The Executive PA Forum in Ireland
- Juanita Mort (who has since been succeeded as Board Chair by Phiandra Peck), now the Past Chair of International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
- Christine Stewart, National President and Chair, Australian Institute of Office Professionals (AIOP) Board of Directors
- Katherine Vaillancourt, National Director and President of Canada’s Association of Administrative Professionals (AAP)
- Victoria Wratten, founder of the UK’s Executive and Personal Assistants Association Ltd. (EPAA)
Additional voices from Scotland, South Africa and the USA
Since then, I’ve been able to turn again to many of these leaders to talk about adaptability, resilience and more during times such as these. In addition to catching up again with Fiona, Juanita, Katherine, Nina and Vania, I’m delighted to also include perspectives from three other association leaders, below.
- Susan Engelbrecht and Cathy Harris, the co-founders of Platinum Assistant Network South Africa (PANSA)
- Rosemary McLennan, Founder of the Scottish PA Network
- Phiandra Peck, Board Chair of International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
Talking about adaptability and resilience
I asked these leaders what, if anything, has surprised them about how employers and colleagues have adapted to functioning during this pandemic, and followed up with questions about business and business continuity. Here are their thoughts.
Vania: Members have proposed to employers new initiatives that have highlighted the assistants’ professional value
Vania Alessi, Italy: Creativity,commitment, passion and inclusion. We have been working on many different things and I must admit we have worked much more than in a “normal” situation. We have had the chance to let our anxiety out of the room and we have learnd how to collaborate and spread out new ideas.
Shelagh: What business/business continuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Vania: Digitalization has helped us to feel much closer even if distancing. Meeting 3,000 assistants even if on Teams is something that has given a boost to the sense of community.
We asked our members if, during this period, they’ve proposed to their companies new initiatives that have highlighted the assistants’ professional value – and 44% of respondant said yes! They made recommendations including strengthening their company’s website image, managing and purchasing protective devices for all employees, leading task forces to prepare for returns to the office, and sending or buying monitors and ergonomic chairs for colleagues working at home. Members have introduced Slack and Teams, and provided coaching or training for their colleagues. They’ve made “caring” calls/videos for their teams. As well, members have established agreements with companies for alternatives – Jumps, electric scooters – to public transit.
Nina: we need to look ahead, make alternative plans and to try to continue as planned – though differently
Nina Aunula, Finland: How quickly everyone adapted to working remotely and how surprising it is that so much can be done without being in the office/meeting face to face. This is also a bit disconcerting.
Shelagh: What business/business continuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Nina: I fear that businesses will take the resilience their employees have shown during the pandemic as too much of a given, and capitalize on this in order to streamline when the pandemic is over. As well, we need to look ahead, make alternative plans and to try to continue as planned – though differently. We (IMA) need to communicate as much as possible and also involve members and our Full Council more. We are in this together!
Marcela: If your people are engaged, your business will continue
Marcela Brito, Brazil: People are visibly more sensitive about their peers. I am surprised because work engagement increased and employers are more interested in employee’s wellbeing at work.
Shelagh: What business/business continuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Marcela: We have to plan our steps to accomplish our goals. We must think in terms of people before money. If your people – colleagues, customers and partners – are engaged, your business will keep going on. We have to plan for delivry of services and products in real life and virtual life. We are living the future, and the internet is a space where business is being done. We must prepare a Plan B for crisis situations. So, if I could share the greatest insight in this crisis, it’s to learn how to work and share your expertise and knowledge through the internet.
Shelagh: Click here to share your experience at this point in the pandemic
A note from Shelagh Donnelly: This is a September like no other you’ve experienced in your career. While many assistants continue to work remotely, others are preparing to return to office environments, at least on a hybrid basis. I know some assistants who are delighted to have this option, working from home some days and in the office part of each week. There are also assistants now searching for new roles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or awaiting the results of internal consultations before restructuring results in some layoffs.
I’m once again inviting readers to add your voice to one of my pandemic-focused Weekend Polls. Click here and take a couple of minutes to respond to some questions with multiple choice responses, and have your experience included in my next article on what and how assistants are doing at this point in the pandemic.
Susan: Anything is possible! Your instincts are your compass.
Our leadership group had many virtual meetings to plan business continuity, and policies and processes have been put in place. We, as staff members, know exactly what is in place as it was communicated on a weekly basis. Webinars with our top leaderships were run and staff updated. Regular emails were distributed.
Cathy: BCP (business continuity planning) is among our compliance requirements; with the current circumstance, there has been an opportunity to put new and more robust initiatives in place for the future
Cathy Harris, South Africa: Our organization’s executives have shown true leadership and compassion. They meticulously, and with military precision, put working from home initiatives into place within a very short period of official (notice of) lockdown. Within 24 hours, we were working from home! They have also communicated with us regularly both company-wide and within our business units.
Discovery Group has delivered par excellence to its staff and clients alike, and it has been business as “un-usual”. Our executives have taken 30% pay cuts and provided free Covid-19 testing to our members, and continue provide support nationally where needed.
Shelagh: What business/business continuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Cathy: Our organization has always had BCP in place, it’s part of our compliance requirements, and with the current circumstance, there has been an opportunity to put new and more robust initiatives in place for the future. Teamwork and communication are key. Stay focused on the goal.
Fiona: no matter what challenges you face, you need to maintain a clear vision, update your goals, review how you will reach them, and most importantly then – get cracking on implementation
Fiona Kelly, Ireland: I think security risk is a big issue for a lot of organisations and in particular matters around GDPR and people accessing sensitive information from home. However, the majority of employers have put systems in place so that their staff could continue their work. It’s amazing how quickly people have adapted to new working environments – as humans we are inherently adaptable and resourceful.
I’ve been surprised at a lot of people who thought they would hate working from home who have actually come around to realizing they love it and not rushing back to the office! For those that are struggling though, it’s great to stay connected. We have never been better prepared to deal with this and remain connected via broadband – internet/social media/video conferencing – all these tools we have available to us today. If this had happened 20 years ago, we would have had a completely different experience.
Shelagh: What business/business continuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Fiona: Well, people are changing how they do business, how they shop, live, learn and grow – we’ve enabled our courses and the 2020 Executive PA Forum to be accessible online. I’ve realized that no matter what challenges you face, you need to maintain a clear vision, update your goals, review how you will reach them, and most importantly then – get cracking on implementation!
Rosemary: There is always a way forward, and what may seem like a diversion just now may well become your new streamlined path for the future
Rosemary McLennan, Scotland: The Great British spirit is has well and truly come to the fore during the pandemic. Employers and colleagues have refused to be daunted by physical and emotional challenges, and team spirit is stronger than ever before. Great British traditions encapsulate community, tradition, history, and entrepreneurial spirit.
Shelagh: What business/business contintuity insights have you gained as a result of this pandemic? Rosemary: Having a deep insight in to technologies available to support us at this time of remote working is key to keeping the business operating. There is always a way forward, and what may seem like a diversion just now may well become your new streamlined path for the future.
We have become far more proficient at using technology that enables us to connect remotely. We’ve also been able to enjoy working from home in a far more productive way.
Juanita: we need to think bigger, more abstractly, so we can position ourselves to be proactive instead of reactive
Juanita Mort, USA: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the compassion being show by employers in our area.My colleagues haven’t surprised me at all. I knew they would rise to the occasion – we are all focused on our students and making sure they can access their education.
Shelagh: What business continuity/business continuity planning (BCP) lessons have you and/or your members gained as a result of this pandemic?
Juanita: The biggest takeaway for me both with my employer and at IAAP is that we need to think bigger, more abstractly so we can position ourselves to be proactive instead of reactive.
Phiandra: The awakening to employers that admins do not have to be placed within view or outside the office door to get the work done has been transformational.
Phiandra Peck, USA: The awakening to employers that admins do not have to be placed within view or outside of the office door to get the work done has been transformational.
Many admin professionals have stepped up and demonstrated that we belong at the table in order to make our business partners and teams be more productive.
Katherine: Safety is the number one priority and by learning from our issues, new processes can be built
Katherine Vaillancourt, Canada: I think people are generally accepting and accommodating due to the nature of this pandemic. It is wonderful to see that leaders lead and continuously keep the communication lines open. Teamwork has been evident, and it is amazing to see how teams can work together to achieve their goals. It is also wonderful to see potential leaders rise to the occasion and showcase their potential during times of crisis.
Shelagh: What business continuity/business continuity planning (BCP) lessons have you and/or your members gained as a result of this pandemic? Katherine: Communication is key. People are generally kind and want the greater good. Safety is the number one priority and by learning from our issues, new processes can be built. It is also wonderful to see people rise to become leaders during these difficult times.
Learning that being crisis prepared is crucial as part of our business continuity program. We have also learned at AAP that we need to develop a crisis policy and guidelines to ensure that we are in the same level throughout our branches in Canada.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned through these processes is that safety should always be one of the top priorities for any business. At the end of the day, we will never know if we did too much, but we will definitely know if we didn’t do enough.