Pandemic insights from professional association leaders

A global check in

I live in Vancouver, Canada and published an article yesterday, May you live in interesting times, providing a look at some of the pandemic’s impacts where I live. That post also included a link to a timely video reminder from the one and only Mel Brooks and his son Max.

I believe, though, that it helps to look beyond our immediate environments. To that end, I consider myself fortunate to have been able to call on people who lead domestic or international professional associations around this globe, to see how the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic is impacting your counterparts and their respective communities.

Leading with thanks

Wanting to give readers timely insights, I decided to reach out to those who lead some country-specific professional associations or networks, and to those leading IAAP and IMA, two international bodies.  The speed and depth with which these individuals responded, even while the majority of them are carrying out their own demanding workloads, is telling. Thank you to each of these individuals you’ll hear from below.

What I asked

I asked a limited number of questions of this group, intending to include their responses in a single post. People were so generous with their insights, though, that I decided to break this down into a series of articles.

This series

In my next post, I’ll bring you more from these individuals on members working remotely, and on work from home (WFH) practices and resources.

Today, we’ll focus on who you’re hearing from and their respective associations, and how this pandemic has impacted their respective members and geographic regions.

The situation is changing day by day, and sometimes more frequently. Here’s a snapshot reflecting very recent insights from leaders based in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.

Today: how the pandemic is impacting regions and members

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.

Juanita: Countries all over the world have imposed travel restrictions hoping to help curb the spread of the virus.  

In the United States, government and local government agencies have declared states of emergencies and are requesting large gatherings and events be cancelled or postponed. Social distancing is being encouraged for all citizens and self-quarantines are being recommended for anyone with symptoms or exposure to someone with symptoms or confirmed illness. We expect restrictions may become required in some areas experiencing high rates of confirmed cases.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? We have been forced to cancel or postpone many in-person events. IAAP takes the health and safety of our members and consumers very seriously, so we are constantly monitoring public health agency recommendations and are making decisions as needed to ensure we’re following all recommendations.


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.

Nina: The virus has indeed led to unprecedented measures and IMA as a network and a members’ association has felt the effects as well.

One concrete action has been to postpone our International Training Day, scheduled for late April, to the end of June. Still, additional dire measures might need to be taken and the situation is monitored daily on a global level. National Groups again have rescheduled meetings to on-line events or postponed certain events to later.

The Executive Committee convenes on a regular basis in order to gauge and proactively react to the ever-changing situation.  Our primary concern is the wellbeing of our members and it is a responsibility which we do not take lightly.

Note from Shelagh: Nina subsequently sent me the following communication that she and fellow IMA Executive Committee members have shared with members.

Dear colleagues and friends, please know that in these dire times none of you will be left on your own. We will support you in any way we can, be that on a practical and professional level or a personal one! Please never hesitate to reach out to anyone of us, especially not now. Let’s collaborate, share best practices and stay in contact with each other. Many of our fellow associations and groups also have good forums which are worthwhile visiting, Exceptional EA, Executive Secretary Magazine and IAAP to name a few. #WeAreInThisTogether! #IMAisYourNetwork #staysafe Nina, Chantal, Karin, Sabrina and Vaida

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? I think that, at the moment, the increased workload across all sectors is the most significant impact. That, combined with the fact that a global crisis of this magnitude has not been encountered during our professional careers, means many decisions have to be taken for the first time and in a state of insecurity. When the situation started to escalate, one was literally “hitting the ground running”.

All of the above have translated into the rescheduling and cancellation of travel, meetings and events, of having to facilitate a plan B or C and thinking ahead. Management support professionals are indeed often faced with situations requiring immediate changes to existing plans. We need to stay calm, cool and collected in the face of change and adversity, and think on one’s feet. In these disturbing times, said skill is a very valuable benefit, as is emotional intelligence.


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

Katherine: As all of our branches are in major hubs, our members have been impacted in both a personal and professional sense. Many of us are able to work remotely and have been able to continue providing support to our executives as things progress.

Organizations have not necessarily shut down, but have moved their employees to remote working spaces – for example, one organization has enabled 90% of their workforce to work remotely. Some of our members have had experience with similar emergencies and their organizations have fluid business continuity plans, but others have not had this experience yet and are working towards finalizing such plans.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? Members need to have the ability to work remotely, and they need the technology  in order  to do so. For the safety and wellness of our members, we are postponing training and monthly meetings. We are looking at online training modules to roll out over the next two months, to provide our members with some training and participate in meetings online.


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

Vicki: To date, New Zealand has only eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. With continued vigilance, the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low.

That said, we are coming into our winter, which apparently will make us more vulnerable. My anticipated scenario is that we may become an infected part of the world around the time many other countries are coming out of it. However, this gives us time to prepare for the worst case scenario. 

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? Currently, the most significant impact on AAPNZ members is the uncertainty as to whether to continue with planning and attending our monthly meetings and upcoming events.  

There is a very strong likelihood that the University where I’m employed will close for a period of time, and we will all need to be working from home. Based on the University Business Continuity plan, I’ve attached a checklist that’s been given to all staff for preparing to work from home. This resource may be of help to you all.

Note from Shelagh: Vicki sent a screenshot of her university’s checklist, and I used that as the basis of a Preparing to Work from Home checklist I published yesterday. Click here to access that article and the checklist.


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.

Christine: Currently, the risk of transmission in Australia remains low, but the situation is still evolving. At this stage, AIOP Divisions are planning to continue going ahead with scheduled events.

It’s a day by day situation and business as usual until such time as the federal government informs us otherwise. A March 18th update: There is a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 people or more. Australians are still advised to stay away from non-essential outdoor gatherings of 500 or more.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? Events may be cancelled.


Fiona Kelly - Corporate 2 (1)APAI – Ireland: Fiona Kelly is the founder of The Executive PA Forum in Ireland. I’d reached out to Natalie Egan, who is Chair of Ireland’s Association of Professional Administrators in Ireland (APAI) and, given multiple demands APAI members are facing in light of the pandemic, Natalie kindly suggested that Fiona offer insights on behalf of the Irish. The Executive PA Forum functions in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Fiona: The Irish government has closed all schools and universities and directed social distancing measures. They have also directed pubs and restaurants to close until at least the end of the month. They have set up drive-through testing centres for people with symptoms, to help alleviate the strain on the health system. Employees are working from home. They have also offered social welfare support for those who need it.

In relation to our network, we have our annual Executive PA Forum event coming up in Dublin in May. It’s a two-day event full of training, networking and learning. It’s the only annual event of its kind in Ireland, and we are currently speaking with the venue about back-up plans should the country still be in some form of lock-down mode in May.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? I would say there are concerns first and foremost about protecting family and friends, social distancing, and trying to stop the virus. Health concerns are the number one priority. We need to be making sure vulnerable friends and family have all the basic requirements to get by.

After that, people are concerned about how their daily working, social and personal lives are impacted. If they have children, the schools are all shut and childcare is not available, so working from home is tricky for parents. Many grandparents are carers of grandchildren but, with elderly people at high risk if they get the virus, this is no longer an option. So there is a high degree of reassurance required from employers that, if productivity and efficiency are not at normal levels, there is a genuine reason for that. Our country has never faced anything like this before, so we are depending on everyone coming together to do the right thing for our community until things get back to normal.

With regards to our upcoming Executive PA Forum in May, we have reassured delegates that we are taking their safety and the safety of the delegation as absolute priorities. We are keeping up to date with WHO, with Department of Health and Government guidelines, we are in constant contact with the venue, and we have contingency plans in place for every eventuality. This has given our delegates and speakers reassurance. As this is the only event of its kind in Ireland, we know how important this event is for the professional and personal development of Ireland’s PAs, EAs and administrative professionals – and we will do everything we can to make the right decisions with this in mind.


Brito-Marcela-BrazilBrazil: Marcela Brito partners with many executive assistant networks, rather than being part of a formal executive assistant network or association. She lives in Brazil and co-founded the Committee for Executive Assistants of Federal District, in Brasília, which inspired the formation of other EA committees in her country.

Marcela: Although the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Brazil last week,  the government noticed cases in São Paulo since the end of carnival holidays. Last week, after our presidential entourage travelled from the United States, we had new cases in District Federal, the government headquarters. I work in a government company, so there is fear and despair in Brazil in this moment.

The government issued a decree with preventive measures to contain the progress of the virus. Examples of these measures include the reduction of working hours in some public departments, remote working, and anticipation of school holidays until July. In addition, major events and concerts have been cancelled.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon assistants in Brazil? As far as I am concerned, all companies are trying to comply with the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the federal government in Brazil, so this is a great moment to figure out new ways of working and productivity. For example, for executive assistants, the technology plays a key role because it will be possible to keep the work up to date and deliver the results as much as possible.


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

I think most folk have seen the news for the UK by now, as we from the UK are watching it all unfold around the world.  It is changing every day and every hour and is now following much the same pattern as Italy and Spain. 

It has been a very unsettling time for everyone around the world, it is fair to say many Brits are anxious and scared.  We are looking to our government for a firm plan of action.  EPAA will be watching this carefully from not only the perspective of the health of our members, but from an economic viewpoint too.  We are in uncharted waters and some tough times are ahead.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? It is still fairly early days – Boris Johnson announced the suggested 12-week work from home period only last night, so not all were working from home until today.  I spoke today to some members who are still expected to be in the office, but on a Rota system through this period.


Alessi, Vania - – Italy: Vania Alessi is a former EA/Project Manager, and the founder of Italy’s – the assistant community.

Vania lives in northern Italy, in the Milano (Milan) area which has been so deeply touched by the pandemic, and you can click here to see Vania’s comments on how the virus has impacted Italy.

What have been the most significant impacts of COVID-19 upon your members? At the beginning,  the most important impact was the scheduling and rescheduling of meetings, cancelling travel and appointments, and simply understanding what was going on.

In Milano alone, where the Exhibition Hall welcomes very important international fairs, many appointments scheduled for the second quarter have been postponed. Since the last Decree, we are all living in a completely unique and new situation. We find ourselves confronted daily with our fragilities, as well as with our ability to adapt.

We are reorganizing our days and rhythms of life/work for our partners, children, parents and relatives; we are “tutoring” those who need us. We are all (schools, workers and families) applying our creativity and determination, and experiencing a new condition that drives us towards growth and change. We’re finding out how to manage ourselves, and how to keep the motivation of our team and colleagues, whether they work alongside us or remotely, high. 

Today, March 15th, the alert is at a peak and we have a clear sense that this situation is going to last for the weeks, if not months, to come. We need to think long term.

The situation can vary, depending on the organisations  – whether they are public or private, a small, medium or large company, and the sector. The meeting/conference industry, tourism, leisure, fashion and advertising are the most impacted. The latest Decree, on March 14th, has guaranteed immediate social safety nets and support for Italian companies that are facing this situation. There are layoffs. This will mean, for example, that admins are called on for 10 hours of compulsory leave per week. We need to rethink work due to the fact that this situation will last for months.

Social contacts for these association and networks

AAP – Canada

  • Website:
  • Twitter:  @canada_aaa (AAP Canada)
  • Facebook:  @association.administrative.professionals (Association of Administrative Professionals)
  • LinkedIn:  Groups – Association of Administrative Professionals
  • Instagram:  administrative.professional

AAPNZ – New Zealand

AIOP – Australia

APAI – Ireland

Brasilian organisations


IAAP – international

IMA – international

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