Solveig Kristensen is the Administrative Coordinator & Secretary to a group of leaders in Oslo, Norway. Here’s a look at her world.
I usually have a hard time getting up in the morning, so “snoozing” for a while is the way my day normally starts. Finally getting up, I check social media and jump into the shower at 6:00 – 6:30 a.m. at the latest. After showering I feed my cat and eat a quick breakfast, always standing up and always the same: two boiled eggs, a glass of orange juice and my daily vitamins. Every other week my morning routines include making breakfast and lunch for my two wonderful kids, and helping them get up to get ready for school. Then I rush off to work.
My commute into Oslo is about 40-50 minutes from door to door. I rely on public transport, and a short walk takes me to either a train or bus station in the area where I live. Public transportation is frequent and good in Oslo, and while commuting I enjoy listening to music or an audio book, while scrolling through my feed, emails and news of the day.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I am an addict to Spotify’s playlists “by mood”. Whatever mood I am in, I choose a suitable playlist, normally something that boosts my energy, such as “smile” or “today’s hits”. I also love listening to new and upcoming Norwegian artists. One of my favourites is a great northern Norwegian artist called Sondre Justad. His music makes me happy and ready for a new day at work however tired I am!
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I am responsible for office management for 10 business leaders in a co-office space. They are former executives now holding various board positions and/or working as consultants and mentors. During a single day, I shift between several different types of work roles and I absolutely love this about my job. I do not only classical secretarial tasks like calendar and email management, meeting coordination, meeting minutes and lunch preparation but am also a front desk face. In addition, I do accounting, IT responsibilities, pay bills, coordinate, order and manage supplies, create PowerPoint presentations and coordinate all practicalities for a mentor and leadership program run by my leaders. No day is the same as another.
Morning Routines: A typical work day starts with me prepping the office for my leaders. This includes going to the post office, and a visit to the local bakery to buy fresh bread for lunch. We drink a lot of coffee in Norway, so prepping the coffee machine is also a must do. Then, I sit down at my desk with a nice cup of coffee while going through my inbox and all calendars. I create a to do list and work my way through it. My leaders normally come in a bit later than me, and this gives me the necessary room to get administrative to-do tasks done before other ad hoc tasks take over my day.
Visualize what it is you want to do
How long is your work day? I have flexible working hours, but normally work in the office between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. Some days involve less hours in the office followed up by work from home, or errands of different kinds. Some Fridays, I work from home.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? Honestly, sitting still too much is not a problem for me and I am very grateful for this. My work day is so varied that I seldom sit still long enough to suffer from it. I am sure I am not alone when I say that I am often interrupted during the day. As irritating as that may be in general, it can actually be quite good to be forced to look up from your screen once in a while and/or to get up to assist someone. It forces me to take little breaks during the day – breaks that I normally wouldn’t take myself.
What might be a typical lunch? Oha, I am terrible when it comes to lunch. I hardly ever get away from my desk and I always eat the same: nuts, raisins, a banana and a cup of green tea. I love working while eating. I have tried to change this, but it doesn’t work well. I have a tendency to talk all the way through my lunch and end up forgetting to eat, so when my colleagues are way done with their lunch I have hardly started on mine … So, you see, I end up finishing my lunch alone and for that very reason I prefer being productive instead. But, once in a while I go out for lunch and enjoy this when I do.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? When projects like office moves or office parties come up, I am always involved.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? It is challenging working for a group of 10 leaders, trying to assist all as best you can while taking care of all the administrative tasks. Jumping between roles from a classical secretary to tasks where I am more of a leader to my leaders is also challenging. In my environment, I am the only woman as well as the only person from “my generation”. All my 10 leaders are men from a different generation and this challenges me in different ways.
All my fellow colleagues at IMA, in Norway and around the globe, have inspired me in many different ways
What do you most enjoy about your career? The chance to work with top leaders – the way they are able to help lead and/or inspire other leaders really inspires me! Through my work I get to meet many interesting people and grow my network in a way I could never dream of. I also love being in a position where my day is so varied. I get to use many different sides of myself through my various tasks, often having to step outside my comfort zone.
On Saying “No”
I seldom say “no” to my leaders. If I am busy I say, “yes, but hang on a sec” meaning yes, I can help you, but you need to wait while I finish something else first. They can be demanding, but they all (and always) understand and respect me if I say this.
I was born up north in northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle in a beautiful valley called Saltdal. Since then, I have lived in Trondheim (Norway), Essen (Germany), Mo i Rana (Norway), and now live just outside Oslo, the capital of Norway.
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I am definitely a country mouse, but this mouse needs to be able to run into a city whenever she feels like it. Living in the Oslo area, this is very much possible to do!
How long have you been in this career? For almost six years What was your first such role? This is my first and only administrative role so far, and I love it! How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? Through a recruiter
What might we find in your desk drawer? My business card, office supplies, shoe shine, hairspray and a nail file
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Every other week I have my kids with me. Those weeks are all about being a supportive mother, following up with their school work and afternoon activities as well as doing things we like together. I am an active person and, during the weeks without kids, I fill my days with exercise, hiking, horseback riding, working, spending time with my IMA network and being social with friends, etc. To unwind, I love to knit or watch a series on Netflix and HBO Nordic.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I love to spend time with my kids or friends, eat good food and watch a movie together, or go for a hike in the woods. Nothing relaxes me more than that.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? I love variety. An ideal holiday for me can very well be a trip up to northern Norway, walking the mountains – or a luxurious cruise to the Caribbean.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have a varied educational background, having studied the German language at the University of Essen/Germany, as well as two years of study in Travel and Communications at NRH. This is a travel school in Norway. I’ve also taken the first step of a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Administration from BI, a Business School in Norway.
Combined, working 12 years within the travel industry and my education gave me the perfect, broad and varied background for my current position. However, I am constantly seeking to upgrade my knowledge base and educate myself by reading articles, attending different conferences, workshops and seminars, mainly through IMA – International Management Assistants.
Peer and Professional Associations: I have been an active member of IMA since 2014. How has your IMA membership helped you? By participating in network meetings, workshops and seminars, and through communicating with fellow assistants, I have learned to appreciate what a resourceful group of employees assistants are. It has made me proud of being an assistant, proud of being a part of such a group.
I have become more confident and proud of being an assistant. I believe it shows through what I do or how I do things every day. Other clearly positive benefits include having made many new friends worldwide. By being part of a large network, I am simply more content at work.
I believe that getting more digitized will broaden our job opportunities
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role within IMA? I joined the board of IMA Norway as National PR Officer in 2017. What impact has this had on your career? I have increased my network drastically through this role, I have received several job offers and have grown personally by learning to serve at a Board.
What are the primary means of communication within your network? In addition to meetings, we communicate via email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I would say my broad background, because my role is so varied. For example, I need to be able to handle finances, as well as travel or event arrangements, coordinate meetings and communicate with my 10 different top leaders at the same time.
Role models or mentors? All my fellow colleagues at IMA, in Norway and around the globe, have inspired me in many different ways. Some examples: conversations in which members tell me about their own challenges and the way they choose to solve them, reading articles they have written or shared, and watching IMA webinars. I feel it has helped me in one way or another.
My leaders inspire me by always staying positive and active, taking the time to laugh or do something that you like every day, in order to find balance in life. If you do not find balance, you will not be fully content in life.
Do not be afraid to ask for help! But, be willing to also offer to help.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. When I took on this role, it was completely new to me. The tasks were not new, but working as an assistant in an environment with a large group of top leaders – this was new to me. Their mindset was different from my way of thinking; their way of communicating was different from my way of communicating.
I struggled to become confident being alone in my role in my office, and it took time, but I am on my sixth year now. I am proud of having stayed put and of building confidence and a solid knowledge base step by step. I have learned how to assist a large group and to communicate with a group of leaders from a different generation. As a result of my eagerness to learn, improve and stay put, they all call me their “boss” today – the one who is really in charge of things and the one they could not do without. This, I am proud of and constantly working to improve!
Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I am very structured and try to create some sort of strategic plan, step by step, as to how I should solve the “challenge”. Then I picture it. By visualizing, I reduce the level of fear for all the things that could go wrong.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I will focus on improving my presentation skills and on communicating better with my leaders.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am content in my current position and have no specific career plan. I want to continue to improve what I do, and work on being open to face any challenge that may come. I believe this may very well lead you to the next stage in your career.
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? Not through my professional role, but I do through my Board position as National PR Officer at IMA Norway. I also monitor and publish to social media for IMA Norway.
What are your preferred forms of social media? Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and SnapChat
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Tripletex (accounting), Verisure (office alarm), Mail (reading mail on iPhone), Calendar (reading your leaders’ calendar on iPads or Mac), Webex Teams (chat, video conferences, etc.), DropBox (file sharing) and Google docs
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media has made it possible to communicate on different levels, spreading messages, inspiration and information more easily – and, through this, reaching a broader audience.
I want to continue to improve what I do, and work on being open to face any challenge that may come
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? Yes. In my job, I have moved our accounting processes from a manual system to a digital process, via an online accounting system called Tripletex. The impact: this has simplified the work for me and streamlines it. I avoid manual errors and this makes it possible for me to do the work outside the office.
In my Board position: Using an online system called Lyyti to create events and invite members to meetings has simplified the work and made it much easier to handle and track history.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes, an iPhone that I use both professionally and private. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphone may have had on your quality of life. The positive impacts are that I am able to read emails and access our server externally – and this means I can do much of my job externally if needed. The negative impact is that I am “always” available.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? They’re digital.
Digital Innovation and Disruption: Their Impacts on this Career
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. The pace of change is fast, as we have top leaders within technology. Necessary changes get a high priority if needed. However, the urgency of change may vary depending on what it is we need to change or upgrade. I take care of some leaders’ software upgrades, while others prefer to do so themselves.
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri and OK Google and more? I do not see that my group of leaders would prefer to work solely with a virtual assistant. I believe they will still prefer to have a person performing the necessary digital tasks for them, and/or through a combination of traditional and virtual assistance.
On moving beyond one’s comfort zone: I am very structured and try to create some sort of strategic plan, step by step
It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects across a range of occupations. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? Focus on two things: 1) Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments; know what is going on and do not fall behind by thinking this is too complicated for me or not interesting at all. 2) Work on your social skills. This is what will separate us humans from all the AI in the future, and this is what will be our one and only asset that the AI can not take from us.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? I believe that our work days will be more flexible than today and that we will be able to increasingly perform our jobs externally, outside the office.
I believe that we will be more efficient by working even more with digitalized apps, web pages and online programs. This will reduce the manual work and make us better able to monitor and track many of our tasks.
I believe that getting more digitized will broaden our job opportunities, meaning you may be able to get a job in a company situated in a country or area further from where you live.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Use your network for all it is worth; ask others for experiences and advice.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. I would recommend three things: 1) Update your LinkedIn profile. 2) Update your CV and include a new photo. 3) Visualize what it is you want to do, what type of job you search. Do not hesitate to think out of the box to get the position you really want!
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. “Visualize and practice”. Visualize how the interview will unfold. Practice how to present yourself, and how you will convince your new potential employer to hire you. If this is a job you really want, you need to spend time investigating the company. Use your network to find out more about the position. Also, don’t forget to make eye contact during the interview!
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Be patient. It takes time to build confidence in your role, and an open and honest work relationship with your leader(s).
My leaders inspire me by always staying positive and active
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Be open, honest and be yourself. If you are a very extroverted person, it will not hurt to hold back a bit in the beginning. Get to know your leaders and colleagues first before you fire your guns, so to peak. If you are an introvert, try to step out of your comfort zone and open up to someone – for example, during lunch. This will help you make friends and grow your network more quickly.
Your most effective time management strategy? Do not put up more than three main tasks on your daily to do list.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? When your child gets sick for the “x’th” time and you need help to get your tasks done because you need to leave the office to take care of your child – do not be afraid to ask for help! But, be willing to also offer to help. Colleagues without kids also need favours or help finishing tasks sometimes.
If you do not find balance, you will not be fully content in life
For those interested in promotion: Be aware that promotion does not only mean moving into a different position or role. You can grow by taking on new tasks in your current role, as well as by moving into a different role. Be clear about what it is you want and communicate it with your leader.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Solveig mentioned may be interested in checking the following.
- IMA – International Management Assistants – Norway IMA Norway web page: https://no.ima-network.org
- IMA Norway Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/imanorway/
- IMA Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/ima.norway/
- IMA Norway LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ima-norway-international-management-assistants/
- IMA Norway on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IMANorway
To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.
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 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.