Digital Disruption: Off-Site Hardware Expedites Business

… particularly for duo from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

John D. Shaw is Executive Assistant to Sue Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

John and I were in touch last week about my upcoming Ed Talk at IAAP Summit 2017 for  the International Association of Administrative Professionals. I’d asked John about a visual aid for my presentation on why admin. professionals should care about cybersecurity, and he was (as usual) generous in responding. John also shared the photo below, and the story behind it demonstrates the positive impact that wisely used technology can have on our professional lives.

Sheer relief and happiness: Executive Assistant John D. Shaw and Sue Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

John and Dr. Desmond-Hellmann are based in Seattle, Washington and recently travelled to Europe. As John put it, “This picture shows nothing but sheer relief and happiness” at the end of their trip.

The pair had just arrived at the Brussels airport for the first leg of their flight home to Seattle when all the airport electricity went out. John told me, “Needless to say, we knew after waiting for an hour and a half that we were going to miss our connecting flight.” A good EA knows when and how to be proactive, and that’s just what John did.

As he put it, “I knew that if we could get on the one train that was going to depart from Brussels to London (which is a two and a half hour train ride), we could make the next connecting flight from London to Seattle.” The kicker? “We were 35 minutes from the train station, with 40 minutes before the train departed.”

What did John do? “I started dialing for dollars … I hailed a cab,  booked the plane and train tickets in the cab and we arrived at the train station with 10 minutes to spare. Needless to say, we made it back to Seattle that day, but – as you can see from the looks on our faces – the relief of actually sitting down in the train and knowing we would make it with time to spare was priceless.”


Imagine yourself in John’s position without having a smartphone in hand – and whether, with those same time constraints, you’d have been able to get yourself and your CEO across the Channel and onto the flight you needed.

As part of this series, I asked our panelists – Sofie Koark, MistiLynn Lokken, Janice Parker, Helen Rees and Julia Schmidt – to talk about their use of employer-provided hardware away from the office.

Three of the five have corporate smartphones and laptops to accomplish work outside the office, as do I. Janice was similarly equipped in her previous EA roles, and currently uses her personal smartphone to access business emails. When there’s the occasional need, she uses her personal laptop to connect to office systems via remote desktop. Helen doesn’t have or need such hardware.

The impact of 24:7 availability on quality of life

It enables me to be effective wherever I may be

Sofie (Stockholm, Sweden): With a smartphone, I can easily stay in the loop, respond and solve problems quickly. It is hard to understand how I used to work before. I don’t have my notifications on for work email during the evenings and weekends, but I do check in.

I am not expected to always respond or work around the clock. If there is something urgent, someone will typically call or text me. I think it is more a personal lifestyle choice (and benefits from) discussion with your executive of how to find a balance that is right for you.

It is hard to understand how I used to work before

MistiLynn (Seattle, USA): I think that 24/7 availability is more related to the job position than technology capabilities. I support a senior executive who is constantly available, and thus I need to be as well.

The impact of the technology is that it enables me to be effective wherever I may be, rather than considering running into the office on nights or weekends. If something comes up, I can use my phone or cloud desktop to have the same full capabilities that I would at the office. Having the discipline to not check email every few minutes while at home is the biggest challenge.

24/7 availability is more related to the job than to technology capabilities

Helen (Hampshire, England): I like to be able to keep in touch (I can access email on my phone, for example), but I am absolutely not required to be contactable outside of office hours. It is my choice.

It is my choice

Janice (London, England; originally from Australia): There haven’t been any big impacts on my life, as I haven’t really known life without a smartphone since I entered university and then the corporate world. Smartphones gained popularity just after I finished high school. As this technology has been ingrained into my life for quite a few years now, and as it was a gradual progression, it has been a natural adjustment to being available outside business hours.

In saying this, whether it has been through setting my own boundaries or also having fabulous bosses, there haven’t been many times when I have been expected to assist outside work hours without flexibility given to me in return.

I haven’t really known life without a smartphone since I entered university

Julia (Oslo, Norway; originally from Brazil): I also read emails on weekends and after work hours. I bring work home when necessary. I see it as a positive impact.  It allows more flexibility. 

 I see it as a positive impact; it allows more flexibility
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