2020: An annus horribilis, or a year of lessons?

It depends on how you choose to view 2020. Thank you to all who participated in my September 2020 Weekend Poll, through which I checked in with readers as to how and what you’re doing more than half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are interesting, so read on.

How assistants are doing

We’re all in the midst of the same pandemic, yet experiences and impacts differ from one person to another – and, sometimes, from one day to another. More than one in four respondents, 26%, reported you’re doing well. This is in contrast to 9% who reported you’re having a difficult time – and I hope these assistants are doing what you can to stay connected with other people as you move forward. The remaining 65% said the pandemic has brought challenges, yet overall you’re doing fine.

Who’s back in the office?

It’s understandable that there are correlations between what and how people are doing. That includes whether you’ve taken on increased responsibilities, or are out of work. Six percent of respondents reported being out work and searching for a new role. 

Who’s in the office? Well, 19% said you’ve been working in the office throughout the pandemic, while another 11% have returned. Another 37% of respondents said you’ve embarked on hybrid work arrangements, working both remotely and in the office. That adds up to 67% of respondents who are currently in traditional work environments some or all of the work week.

That leaves 27%, more than a quarter of all respondents, who continue to work remotely eight months or so into the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen percent of all respondents expect to be back in their offices by December 2020, with another 7% anticipating returning by mid-2021. For 6% of respondents, though, return dates are not yet known.


I know one EA who began 2020 supporting one senior executive in a multinational firm. With significant layoffs across the board impacting a number of EAs, that friend went from supporting one senior executive to three. With this in mind, I asked readers about the pandemic’s impacts on your workloads.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said you’ve not experienced More than a third of all respondents, 37%, reported that your workloads have changed in recent months. Nine percent support more people than they did pre-pandemic. Another 28% said the scope of your roles has changed, resulting in heavier workloads.

Let’s think about those home work environments

I asked readers to describe your home work environments. A fortunate 58% of respondents have a spare/dedicated room specifically for your work. The remaining 42% set up shop at your dining room tables or some other space, with the majority dismantling such in-home workspaces only for weekends or special occasions.

Almost a third of respondents, 32%, said the ergonomic quality of your work from home arrangements is good. Another 53% said that, while imperfect, your situations are workable on an interim basis and you’re making a point of changing position, stretching or walking around every hour or so. Just over half of you are using personal desk chairs that work well, and 22% are relying on employer-provided desk chairs. Another 26% are perched on personal chairs that you consider less than ideal.

Meanwhile, back at the office …

Ninety-two percent of respondents who are now back in the office, or whose returns are imminent, reported that your organisations have established protocols or guidelines for colleagues to observe. I’ve read social media posts from people tasked with coordinating welcome back plans and/or gestures of appreciation to returning colleagues, so I asked readers if you’ve been asked to coordinate or contribute to such activities. One in five said yes; you have been involved in such undertakings.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is part of life for many, and I asked readers who are now back in your offices whether you have responsibilities for sourcing, ordering or distributing PPE. Sixteen percent of respondents source, order and/or serve as your office’s PPE point of contact for people collecting such equipment. Another 23% said a different assistant in your office has such responsibilities, and such responsibilities are not on the radar for 61%.

Ho, ho … hum?

What’s happening to annual Christmas or holiday office celebrations? In past years, I’ve conducted Weekend Polls focused entirely on budgets, corporate and personal responsibilities associated with not driving after drinking, and so on.  Clearly, there’s no need for such a poll in 2020, yet I thought it interesting to see what different organisations are doing. 

With that in mind, I asked readers if your employers are planning to host such holiday celebrations this December – and, if so, the format of such events. Not one respondent reported plans for in person workplace holiday celebrations. A modest 10% said there will be virtual events, and another 34% reported there will be no holiday parties/celebrations this December. At a point in time when restaurant and venue bookings would typically be firmly set in stone for holiday events, I found it unsurprising that 56% of respondents said you don’t yet know if there will be a celebration or holiday event. 

An annus horribilis? Build on it.

This year has brought challenges. Some of you who were around in 1992 may remember Queen Elizabeth referring to that particular year as an “annus horribilis”. That’s Latin for “horrible year”. Others among you may choose to view 2020 in happier (there have been causes for celebration!) or gentler terms. Paraphrasing HRH, you may choose to think of this as “not a year on which you shall look back with undiluted pleasure”.  Of equal importance is what you will learn from 2020, and how you’ll use newly gained knowledge.

As I routinely do, at the close of a webinar presentation last week, I invited participants to ask me questions. I found a couple of them particularly thought provoking. One EA asked for my thoughts on the greatest challenge assistants will face in 2021. My answer was relevance. As workplace cultures continue to shift, and your colleagues find themselves adapting to norms that are still reforming, you need to not only be relevant, but to be seen and recognised as relevant. We’re seeing accelerated rates of reliance on technology, and – for some executives – increases in independence. There are a number of components to relevance. You may choose to begin by contemplating what you’re known for in your work environment, and the impacts you have upon colleagues, your place of employment and other stakeholders. 

All things considered, and notwithstanding the loss of an elderly family member, 2020 has been really good to me. I count myself fortunate on a number of fronts, including the many individuals and clients who continue to entrust me with your professional development. As my way of saying thanks, and to help position career-focused assistants for progress in 2021, I’ve create a special year-end webinar event, Moving Forward: 2020’s Lessons on How to Add Value, and Preparing to Make an Impact in 2021

This is a live, three-hour webinar conducted in two 90-minute segments over the space of two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, December 1 and 2, 2020. This represents the equivalent of three of my webinars for less than the price of two, and quality as well as value. You’ll see the key learning objectives just below, and full details – including access to the webinar recordings through to February 28, 2021 – and registration on my Eventbrite page, or by clicking here.


  1. Business continuity and resilience
  2. The pandemic’s macro and micro impacts
  3. Prioritising personal resilience over perfection


  1. Setting and achieving goals
  2. Honing influence
  3. Negotiation skills

Read on for a look at all the data from this Weekend Poll.

The data

1. How are you doing at this point in time?

  • I’m having a difficult time: 9% of respondents 
  • The pandemic has brought challenges, but overall I’m doing fine: 65% of respondents
  • I’m doing well: 26% of respondents

2. Which of the following best describes your current career situation?

  • I’m out of work and searching for a new role: 6% of respondents 
  • I’ve been at the office throughout the pandemic: 19% of respondents
  • I’m back to working in the office: 11% of respondents
  • Hybrid – I can work both remotely and in the office: 37% of respondents
  • I’m working remotely; expect to be working in the office again by Dec 2020: 14% of respondents
  • I’m working remotely; expect to be in office again in Q1 2021: 0% of respondents
  • I’m working remotely; expect to be in office again by mid-2021: 7% of respondents
  • I’m working remotely; expect to be in office again by end of 2021: 0% of respondents
  • I’m working remotely; no return date: 6% of respondents

3. Have there been pandemic-driven job losses/reductions in force (RIF) for assistants at your workplace?

  • Yes:  16% of respondents 
  • No:  68% of respondents 
  • Not to this point, though some are anticipated:  16% of respondents 


  • No:  39% of respondents 
  • Yes; I now support more people than pre-pandemic:  9% of respondents 
  • Yes; the scope of my role has changed, resulting in a heavier workload:  28% of respondents 
  • No, though I expect my workload will increase if reductions/layoffs occur and I retain my role:  24% of respondents 

5. If you’re continuing to work from home, which of the following best describes your home work environment?

  • I have a spare/dedicated room for work:  58% of respondents 
  • I have no dedicated room; I set up shop at my dining room table or some other space that I set up and clear away each day when my work is done:  12% of respondents 
  • I have no dedicated room; I set up shop at my dining room table or some other space and “live” around it, dismantling it only for weekends or special occasions:  30% of respondents  

6. If you’ve been working from home, how would you rate the ergonomic quality of your arrangement?

  • It’s poor and would not be considered acceptable in an office environment:  15% of respondents 
  • It’s imperfect but workable on an interim basis, and I’m making a point of ensuring I change position/stretch or walk around every hour or so:  53% of respondents 
  • It’s good 32% of respondents 

7. If you’ve been working from home, are you/have you been using a personal chair or one provided by your employer?

  • personal chair – a desk chair that I find works well:  52% of respondents 
  • personal chair – a table chair or other chair that’s less than ideal:  26% of respondents 
  • desk chair provided by employer22% of respondents 

8. If you had your choice once things settle down, what kind of work environment would you prefer?

  • back in an office environment with colleagues:  12% of respondents 
  • working from home/remotely:  6% of respondents 
  • a hybrid arrangement, in which I can work from home as well as in an office environment with colleagues:  82% of respondents 

9. If you’re currently in your office with colleagues, or about to return, have you been tasked with any responsibilities for personal protective equipment (PPE)?

  • Yes – I source and/or order our PPE:  8% of respondents 
  • Yes; I’m the point person for people to collect their PPE:  5% of respondents 
  • Yes; I source/order it and am the point person for people to collect their PPE:  3% of respondents 
  • No, though another assistant does have these responsililities: 23% of respondents
  • No:  61% of respondents 

10. If you’re back in the office, or if returns are imminent, has the organisation established protocols or guidelines for colleagues to observe?

  • Yes:  92% of respondents 
  • No:  8% of respondents 

11. If you’re back in the office, or if returns are imminent, have you been asked to coordinate or contribute to “Welcome back” plans and/or gestures of appreciation?

  • Yes:  20% of respondents 
  • No:  80% of respondents 

12. Is your employer/organisation planning to host Christmas/holiday celebrations this December?

  • Yes – in person:  0% of respondents 
  • Yes – a virtual event:  10% of respondents 
  • No: 34% of respondents 
  • We don’t know yet: 56% of respondents 

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