Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 21 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today, we make our first stop in New Zealand.
Rebeka Adamson is the Personal Assistant to the Operations Director at Enable New Zealand. Here’s a look at her world.
My day starts at 6:00 a.m., and my “must have” before heading to work is something I organise the night before – preparing my outfit for the day. I need to be ready as quickly as possible in the mornings because I have a leisurely three-year-old who takes a lot of encouragement to get ready!
I drive to work each day, and drop my son off at daycare on my way. On a fast morning, I can be at work within 20 minutes of leaving the house, but this largely depends on how quickly my son settles at daycare before I leave. If my husband takes our son to daycare, my drive to work takes only seven minutes. Who or what is on your commuting playlist / podcast? Normally the radio is playing quietly in the background so that my son and I can talk. However, my son quite likes songs with a fast beat to make the drive feel exciting, so I try to have something ready to go in the CD player if he’s in that mood.
At the Office
Morning Routines: My first priority when arriving at work is making a cup of tea on my way through the office. Unfortunately, my coffee intake is temporarily restricted by my pregnancy; otherwise I love a caramel latte. I then check my schedule and the schedules of the four managers I support. Once I know what the day is looking like, I check my emails for any last-minute priorities before setting my tasks for the day.
Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibilities include diary and email management, minute-taking, travel arrangements, HR, compliments/complaint handling, and monthly reporting. However, each day is different and keeps me on my toes. How long is your work day? I work eight hours a day, five days a week.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? Being part of a District Health Board (DHB/hospital), we have access to a wide range of health supports. We undertake occupational health assessments to ensure our workspaces are set up correctly, and staff can choose to have a program downloaded on to their computer (“WorkPace Break Reminder” or, alternatively, “Big Stretch Reminder”, which is free) which enforces or encourages micro-breaks.
We have access to reduced price gym memberships and health insurance, and Swiss ball chairs can also be found throughout the office. Some staff already use sit-to-stand desks. Later this year my employer will move to new premises and consideration is being made for every staff member to be allocated sit-to-stand desks.
What might be a typical lunch? I never eat lunch at my desk, because I firmly believe that you can achieve more if you make it a priority to move away and recharge. I try to make the most of my lunch break as I get only half an hour, so quick meals are essential. Leftover dinners make a frequent appearance, and I often purchase lunch on a Friday.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Before my son was born, I would occasionally work earlier or later than my normal hours to complete more work. Now, if I need to meet tight deadlines or if my workload is heavy, I will bring work such as minutes home to complete once my son is asleep.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am part of my organisation’s “Moving Up” group, which is tasked with making decisions regarding the upcoming office move. This involves designing a modern working environment, developing protocols for staff to adapt to the new conditions such as hot desking, and testing furniture and technology options.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Interruptions. I am often approached by colleagues who have minor requests or require technical assistance. I love helping people; however, it is definitely a fine balance meeting everyone’s needs without compromising my workload (or sanity!).
What do you most enjoy about your career? Contradictory to the above response, I love being the “go to”’ person. It’s an empowering feeling knowing that my managers and colleagues trust my skills and opinions, and that I can use my knowledge to make their lives easier.
We undertake occupational health assessments to ensure our workspaces are set up correctly
On Saying “No”
I am terrible at saying “no”! I frequently say “yes”, which can have a negative impact on my workload at times. However, I gain great satisfaction from meeting the needs of others, and the variety of requests keep my day interesting.
I was born in Masterton, New Zealand, and I moved just over an hour away to Palmerston North when I met my husband in my late teens. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I enjoy suburban life; a town that isn’t too small but allows a lot of growth and opportunities for work and family, without being too busy or overwhelming. I enjoy having amenities close by, and can’t imagine living somewhere that takes over an hour to commute to work. I do, however, love visiting larger cities as I find the buzz of the atmosphere exciting.
How long have you been an admin. professional? Technically 16 years, although my first role was a mixture of administration and advertising. I have held roles with official administrative titles for 13 years. What was your first role as an admin. professional? I started working at a local newspaper when I was 16 and gained work experience in the front office before moving to the production department, where I utilised my typing and technical skills in the classifieds section. My first role with an official administrative title was as a Senior Administrator for a farm machinery firm, when I was 19.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Work takes up a large proportion of my week, so it is important for me to spend quality time with my husband and son – and I love the occasional board game night with my friends. I also enjoy shopping, so I try to indulge every now and again.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? As both my work and home life are busy, whenever I get the opportunity I like to put my feet up and read, or spend some time pampering myself (taking a long bath or painting my nails). I also have a few favourite online shopping apps, so it’s not uncommon for me to find something I absolutely “need”.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love holidaying in the Gold Coast, Australia. It has beautiful beaches, great shopping, and is close to wildlife reserves and theme parks as well as other family attractions. It’s the perfect mix of relaxation and splashing out. However, one of my most memorable holiday destinations was Venice, Italy. I fell in love with Italy – their pizza, their gelato, and of course their Prosecco! I would love to visit again one day.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Education and professional development have been hugely important. I was forced to leave school at 16, so winning a scholarship in 2008 through AAPNZ was the kick-start I needed to forge my career. I achieved my Diploma in Business Administration within two years by studying whilst working full time, and this was instrumental in securing a Personal Assistant role.
Winning a scholarship through AAPNZ was the kick-start I needed to forge my career
Peer and Professional Associations: I belong to the Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand Inc. (AAPNZ). I have been a member for 11 years, and have achieved Certification. I am an Associate member, and last month I became a Fellow.
How have these networks or associations helped you? I would not be where I am professionally today without AAPNZ. Through this association, I have been awarded two scholarships, and each year I have had access to at least five or six guest speakers focusing on professional or personal development. I’ve learnt many necessary workplace skills by volunteering on the Group Management Team, and was the 2015 Administrative Professional Award winner.
Have you held a leadership role in AAPNZ? Yes. I spent many years on the Group Management Team, most recently holding the role of Vice President. Being involved in the running of an association is incredibly valuable. You learn skills such as negotiation and project management, etc., which are immediately transferable to the workplace.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? Members of my local group receive newsletters via email, whilst some updates are made via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I used to maintain the Manawatu AAPNZ Facebook page.
However, I have passed this task on to another volunteer whilst I reduce my responsibilities in preparation for the birth of my next child.
What are your preferred forms of social media? I love Facebook simply because I can keep in touch with family and friends, and also have access to great professional articles that I can save and read at any time. I can often be found reading articles on my work breaks. I also use LinkedIn, which is great for networking and holds a strong professional focus, whilst feeling closer to those administrative giants who are generous with sharing their knowledge. My third social media tool is Twitter, for bite-sized snippets of information.
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? No.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? The Air New Zealand grabaseat app for notification of inexpensuve flights to our frequent travel destinations, the Foreign Exchange app, the World Clock for keeping track of travelling executives, ShowGizmo when at a conference, Tiny Scanner for creating a quick PDF from the camera, LinkedIn and Twitter
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I would love an app or software that automatically takes minutes for meetings and summarises them perfectly. It would save me a lot of time that I could use elsewhere.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media has had little to no impact on my role at Enable New Zealand.
Being involved in the running of an association is incredibly valuable
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? A number of years ago, I assisted in scanning a number of contracts and barcoding them so that there was a digital way of storing and finding copies instead of relying on hard copies. More recently I have worked on digitising paperwork in the office in preparation for our upcoming move.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? No. However, I am often contacted on my personal smartphone by management and travelling colleagues. I use my phone to check dates or other information during meetings, and to email myself reminders if someone makes a work request whilst I am on a break.
Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. I have learnt to put my smartphone on silent during the night, as a colleague once contacted me at 5:00 a.m. to inform me they wouldn’t be at work that day! Being so readily available means that, at times, consideration is not given as to how appropriate the timing (or the form of) communication is being made. However, being able to receive notice that someone’s flight has been delayed means that I have the opportunity to immediately start making alternative arrangements that can have a significant impact on the day’s schedule.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? The meetings I coordinate are primarily digital; I email links to the agendas and minutes, and my management team members have started bringing their laptops to the meetings. Some managers prefer to be paper-based, but are being gently encouraged to step away from this practice due to the organisation making a move to become digitally-focused. I take a laptop with me to type all my minutes, and have quick access to the network for any on-the-go requirements.
Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? Enable New Zealand has started making use of Yammer for focus groups to communicate whilst working together on projects, and this has been instrumental in assisting my team prepare for the upcoming office move. We are also embarking on a Unified Communications project which will support collaboration, using technology in the workplace.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? Enable New Zealand utilses SharePoint and the DHB’s intranet, and has done so for at least 10 years. The Unified Communications project is looking at establishing an integrated suite of communication technology such as email, unified messaging, social media, phones and video bundled together to provide a productivity-boosting, business collaboration package. It is anticipated that this will be adopted in the new office later this year.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. Do you see generational differences? I feel as though there are many innovations being made at a rapid pace, yet access to them within the workplace can be years behind. Protocols and security concerns, whilst valid, can often hinder progress. I have witnessed what I consider to be generational differences in adapting to change, and have supported many who felt threatened or confused by these. I have also seen a person leave a job due to being unable to adapt. I personally welcome new technologies and find it exciting to learn new features and tricks. Bring it on!
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri and OK Google? I welcome any digital resources that will enhance my ability to do my job. I recognise that there is a lot of worldwide conversation regarding whether these tools will eliminate the need for human assistants. However, these digital resources have their limitations and I don’t see their use impacting negatively on my role in the near future.
What do you think of IOT (Internet of Things) devices used for smart lighting, security and air conditioning, etc.? At present, we are investigating the use of smart meeting rooms in our new office. That would provide the technology to be able to cancel a room booking if it remains empty after a certain length of time from the original booking. This would then create the opportunity for others to utilise the room, making much better use of office resources. In the future, I see my workplace evolving through easier tracking of assets; we distribute thousands of items of disability equipment per year. While we currently have asset labels on equipment, this comes with some limitations that will hopefully be minimised or eliminated with new technology.
On cybersecurity: It is critical that we have the right level of protection in place
Your experience and thoughts on cyber security/data security practices? As we hold health information and are moving to cloud-based solutions, it is critical that we have the right level of protection in place to meet government requirements. Unfortunately, IOT will potentially create an additional layer of security issues over health information for organisations like ours. Devices that can collect more information not only require more protection, but they could inadvertently breach New Zealand’s Privacy Act 1993. The Act states that information may be collected only for the purpose intended, is accurate, and be stored only for the duration it is needed. This will be a significant consideration in the future.
New legislation dealing with breaches of data security has been introduced in a number of jurisdictions. Let’s talk about disclosure requirements associated with instances of data security breaches. With current technology, it is already too easy to unintentionally disclose information to the wrong parties. For example, auto-populating of email addresses can cause an email to be sent to the wrong contact, which can have significant implications. Enable New Zealand takes our obligations around personal information seriously, so we take steps to ensure we follow the Privacy Act 1993 at all times.
AI, Digital Assistants and the IOT: Their Impacts on this Career
What impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2020? I believe that, by that time, digital innovation will require administrative professionals to be even more tach savvy than ever, and it will most certainly impact the way we communicate and how projects are managed. It is no longer acceptable to simply wait for our workplaces to decide what technology is incorporated. As admin. professionals, we need to have greater influence over this area, and it begins now. I feel prepared for these advances because not only is professional training readily available; information for businesses to consider is easily accessible online as encouragement. I see admin. professionals being expected to keep track of these new opportunities.
As admin. professionals, we need to have greater influence over what technology is incorporated
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Sign up to any local flight or accommodation website that has regular deals. I receive daily “grabaseat” alerts for Air New Zealand so that I can keep an eye out for inexpensive flights to our most common travel destinations. This allows my managers to plan their visits to our company branches or stakeholders in advance, and do it on a budget. Also take the time to understand travel preferences; I have managers who prefer a window seat vs. aisle, and I even know which aircrafts board from the front of the plane or the back. This helps select seating that will allow my managers to disembark with minimal delay.
I recommend signing up to national airline, rental car, and accommodation newsletters to take advantage of special deals. I personally endeavour to keep a list of annual events that impact on my organisation, so that I can regularly check when event dates are finalised. This helps me to recommend travel dates for my managers well in advance, so that costs can be reduced and flight/car/accommodation availability are not restricted. I also like keep track of any major events (agricultural field days, concerts, sporting events, etc.) happening in our common travel destinations, so that my managers can either avoid travelling during these dates or book their requirements early in order to avoid being negatively affected.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? My managers use the Air New Zealand app to check in for flights, and grabaseat to take advantage of inexpensive fares. Tracking of expenses is still a very manual process, with no apps or programs currently being used.
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I absolutely love smart dresses paired with high heels. Showing femininity is empowering and makes me feel confident. I also enjoy taking people off guard with the height of my tallest platofrm heels, and have started to form a collection of them.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Snacks (nut bars, chocolate etc), travel-sized hair spray, spare stockings, moisturizer, and a measuring tape. You’d be surprised how many times the measuring tape has been useful in the office.
Inspirational reads? I really enjoyed reading Dr. Monica Seeley’s The Executive Secretary Guide to Taking Control of Your Inbox. Her writing style kept me engaged, and I didn’t feel as though I was reading an instruction manual. The content was easy to digest and inspired a number of changes to my own methods.
On mentor Janine Hawthorne: If I had a quarter of her knowledge, I would be unstoppable
Role models or mentors? A fellow AAPNZ Manawatu member, Janine Hawthorne, has been a significant mentor to me over the last few years. Janine’s knowledge of the profession is exceptional. Her ethos is one to be admired, and she is incredibly well respected by everyone she meets. If I had a quarter of her knowledge, I would be unstoppable.
Role models: Eth Lloyd, Wendy Rapana, Lucy Brazier, Vickie Sokol-Evans
I also have a number of role models. Eth Lloyd and Wendy Rapana have been instrumental in forging the success of AAPNZ in New Zealand. Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing (Executive Secretary Magazine), generously imparted a lot of advice when I met her in 2015 and ignited my interest in pursuing achievements on an international scale. Vickie Sokol-Evans is my tech crush! She is a master Microsoft guru and I strive to absorb that level of technological knowledge.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? In 2015, I was presented the AAPNZ Administrative Professional Award; all New Zealand administrative professionals may apply for, or be nominated for this award. The process involved undergoing a number of technical tests, an interview with a panel of judges, and a speech to a room full of delegates at a conference before I was chosen as the winner. The winner of this award is expected to be an ambassador for the administrative profession by being a guest speaker at conference events and speaking with local and national groups the year of their win.
I was also fortunate enough to judge the 2017 finalists during the AAPNZ AGM and Professional Development Forum in Auckland this July. The award presentation and judging went exceptionally well, and I was also surprised and honoured to receive the 2017 National President’s Award. This award is not presented every year. It is presented only when the Association believes there is a worthy candidate, and this year AAPNZ felt that my contributions to the association were worth the accolade. Criteria for this award include being the only member to have achieved every educational opportunity and professional designation that AAPNZ offers.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I am immensely proud of winning the AAPNZ (Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand Inc.) Administrative Professional Award in 2015. This award acknowledged my contribution to administration in New Zealand, and allowed me the opportunity to be a guest speaker at a number of events around the country.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I like to imagine what roles I would like to hold in the future, and from there I start investigating any knowledge gaps that I need to address. This helps identify whether the goal is realistic and, if so, I create a plan on how to reach that destination. I also reflect on the parts of my life (whether in my professional or personal life) that I find most enjoyable. From there, I determine whether there are any opportunities to do more in that area. I basically look for ideas or opportunities that will provide the inspiration and motivation I need to take a leap of faith.
I don’t believe it is essential to “be prepared” before accepting opportunities. Some of my best opportunities have arisen from diving head first in to an idea and seeing where or how I land. Taking risks can be exhilarating, so consider saying “yes” more often when you are presented with opportunities that make you feel nervous or uncomfortable.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I would like to undertake leadership training or understanding Governance Group requirements. However, I am in my third trimester of pregnancy and so next year will be spent focusing on getting back in to the workforce with two young children.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am a member of the Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand Inc (AAPNZ), and I plan to be Group President of my local group within the next five years. I was very close to achieving this goal as I recently held the role of Vice President. However, I chose to step down from the Group Management Team this year so that I could focus on my health and family.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Do your research on the organisation, and don’t be afraid to show your personality. By doing these two things, you learn whether the organisation may be a good fit for you; your personality will determine whether the hiring panel see you as a good fit for the existing team. It’s not all about your skill level.
Don’t be afraid to show your personality
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Listen more and talk less. I had an ego in my early working life, and was not prepared to listen to experienced colleagues. I was opinionated and closed-minded; I think I burned a few bridges by behaving this way. Looking back, I had access to fantastic mentors who could have made a much bigger impact on my career if I’d let them. Thankfully, I have learnt my lesson and have grown from adopting a much humbler approach; I strive to be a good role model for others beginning their careers.
Fit is important; it’s not all about your skill level
Your most effective time management strategy? I am a huge fan of to do lists. I have my list categorised by manager/department, and after catch-ups with my management team I list all of the new tasks that need to be completed. I highlight the critical tasks that absolutely must be completed that day, so that my eye is drawn only to those priorities. Once they have been crossed off, I then seek out the next priority on my list and highlight it. At the end of each day I remove the crossed-off items and add any that may have come up through my emails or verbal requests. This way, I start each day with a clean to do list and a clear idea of what needs to be done and when. This also saves time when I’m preparing for my next catch-up with a manager, because I can easily identify tasks on my list that relate solely to that manager’s department.
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? Breathe. If you are returning to an existing role after taking parental leave, meet with your manager before your return date to discuss anything that may have changed during your absence and come up with a plan of action to re-integrate in to your role.
Be prepared that, depending on your childcare options, you may need to make extensive use of your sick leave during your first year back, so have an honest discussion with your manager about this possibility so they are aware of what supports (or lack thereof) you have in place. Having all of your cards on the table early should make it easier to handle any issues if they come up.
If you are returning to the workforce after being a stay-at-home parent for an extended period of time, take the opportunity to research any technological advances or legislation changes that affect your profession, and if you need to, learn the skills necessary to get yourself up to date. This will help you feel more comfortable once you are back in the working environment. Also review what your role or profession can expect in remuneration, so that you don’t negotiate too low a compensation package. Lastly, whether you are returning to work because you have to financially, or need to mentally, don’t waste your time feeling guilty. You are doing what you need to do for the wellbeing of your family and yourself, and that’s all that matters.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? It’s critical to find out the working style of a new executive. Are they tech savvy, or do they work best with paper? Are they strong delegators, or do they require prompts and suggestions? One of the ways I attempt to find the answers to these questions is by telling the executive what assistance I can provide. By describing my own strengths and how I can help them, I can gauge through their responses how comfortable they are with my suggestions. I know I am on the winning track if they look relieved!
Seeking promotion? Review job descriptions, ID areas for growth and develop a plan
For those interested in promotion: Obtain copies of job descriptions for the role you want; secure them either from your employer or by reviewing job vacancies. Read through these carefully and make a point to identify the areas in which you need experience or training. This will help you to develop a plan towards your goal. Next, highlight the skills you already have; these will become your selling points. It should now be clear where your skills lie; if you meet most of the competencies for the next step in your career, then schedule a discussion with your manager. A large proportion of your focus should be on how the organisation will benefit from your promotion, and you should also be prepared to explain how you will overcome any skill deficits.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Rebeka mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- AAPNZ – Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand Inc.
- Seeley, Monica – The Executive Secretary Guide to Taking Control of Your Inbox