COVID-19: A special series, beginning with Italy

Regular readers know how significant I believe our networks are to assistants. With COVID-19/the coronavirus dominating our lives of late, I consider myself fortunate to have been able to reach out over the past couple of days to some impressive people in my own network: the leaders of some of this career’s professional associations. 

Perspectives from around the globe

Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing insights from the leaders of AAP, AAPNZ, EPAA, IAAP, IMA and Secretary.IT. In challenging times such as these, it’s good to gain broad perspectives and understand how assistants are impacted – and managing – elsewhere.

I asked Katherine, Vicki, Victoria, Juanita, Nina and Vania to share insights on COIVID-19’s impacts, and on how their members who are working remotely are managing.


Some of you may be continuing to work in your typical office environments, either some or all of the work week. Others are part of organisations where working remotely, from home, is being done on a trial basis.

Knowing that it can be helpful to learn from others’ experiences, I also invited these leaders to discuss some of the resources, traditional and electronic, to which their members are turning.

People needn’t be in formal leadership positions to step up to the plate and help others. We all know assistants and other people who so without even being asked, and EPAA (Executive and Personal Assistants Association) member Mary Johnson is one of them. She’s identified and also developed resources on how to use MS TEAMs, and I’ll be publishing some of that material as well. Kudos to Mary, who began sharing her resources through her UK network, and who readily agreed that I could share that information this week.

Let’s begin with a look at Italy’s experience

Vania Alessi is a former EA/Project Manager, and the founder of Italy’s – the assistant community. Secretary.IT has 10,000 members. Vania lives in northern Italy, in the Milano (Milan) area which has been so deeply touched by the pandemic.

Anyone who’s been following the news will be well aware that Italy was among the earliest countries to be impacted by COVID-19, and significantly so. I’ve been in touch with Vania and other Italian friends such as Carla, Corinna, Daniela and Michela of late. I had some appreciation of the heavy workloads that assistants in Italy have been managing, and the resilience and creativity they’ve demonstrated. I learned even more during my conversations with Vania. Here’s just some of our conversation, with more to follow.

Vania, please tell us how COVID-19 has impacted Italy. Alessi, Vania - Secretary.itAs the world knows from media coverage, the virus started affecting Italy in mid-February. The affected area extended to several small cities 30 km/18.5 miles south of Milano. The Italian public health system and treatments are among the highest performing, and – this is very important – these services are extended to the entire population. Italy’s public health system guarantees free treatment to anyone in need of heath care, even in extreme cases such as COVID-19.

Pulmonologists (who deal with respiratory tract diseases), virologists and scientists promptly activated a huge task force to isolate the patient n.0, studying effects and developing consistent statistic data of this epidemic before it was declared a pandemic.

Millions of workers commute in northern regions; Orange Zone travel restrictions

Lombardy (of which Milano is the capital) and the nearby Emilia Romagna/Veneto regions and cities that have been affected draw on highly populated areas for their workforces. There are many “moving people” working in small- to medium- and large-sized enterprises and commercial exchanges. Every day, millions of workers travel to and among these regions. The spread was easy. The “Orange Zone” zone was declared only a few weeks ago.

The Lombardy region represents >35% of Italy’s GDP

It’s worth noting that the Lombardy region alone counts for more than 35% of the GDP of the whole nation.

We are the country that immediately conducted thousands of swabs (without any cost to individuals) to anyone who had the suspected symptoms of COVID-19. We became, day by day, a country “under observation” by the entire world.

The very first measures that regional and other authorities instituted in Lombardy were adopted in order to restrict and control “social contacts” in cities where thousands of commuters, tourists and others travel and live.

February 24th: “Smart working”

The first recommendations for “smart working” within companies were activated by risk management and IT/HR task forces starting from February 24th.

On the same date, a legislative decree required all kinds of schools and universities in the Orange Zone to close. This was closely followed by the closure of shops, museums, restaurants and amusement and sports activities.

Since then, day by day, all EAs and their office teams have been invited, little by little, to work safely from home. I would say that only one percent to 15% of EAs/Admins are still commuting and physically working in their offices. People involved in production/logistics and services are also working.

March 9th:  PM orders people to stay home, seek permission for essential travel

On March 9th, our Prime Minister issued a decree imposing the most severe restrictions we have ever faced. The whole country is a “Red” or “protected” area, and we are obliged to STAY HOME.

People can move about for only three purposes: for health reasons, for work, or for food/health supplies.

Any other activity is forbidden. That includes travelling to other cities; you can do so only if you need to get back to your domicile.

So, my first clear message to any of you is this: Please do not think that your activity will not be touched. It is just a matter of time.

The good news

Many readers will have seen videos this weekend of Italian neighbours singing folk songs together from their balconies, or of a musician delighting his entire neighbourhood with his uplifting music. Vania also reflected on the Italian spirit: “But the good news is that Italians are very resilient, adaptive and creative!”

More to follow

… as I share more of my interviews with Vania and other leaders