Real Careers: Keely Barr

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.

Keely Barr is Executive Assistant to her organisation’s Chief Executive and Finance Director. Here’s a look at her world.

Hydration Counts

My alarm goes off at 5:55 a.m. and I head straight to the kitchen for a glass of water before I do anything. This is something I have done for longer than I can remember and I cannot recommend it enough; it really gets you started for the day. I then always make sure my water bottle is full before I leave and make sure I keep hydrated on my commute.  I have a 40-minute drive to the office.

Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I try to keep my driving playlist up to date with my current favourites from the charts, but it’s quite eclectic – there’s everything on there from Ed Sheeran to Dolly Parton!

At the Office

Morning Routines: Every night before I leave, I write a to do list for the next so that as soon as I arrive at the office I can get going. Typically, I’ll start up my computer and take (another!) look at the diary to remind me of what’s going, have a quick scan through my inbox and then theirs to see if anything urgent has come in, before making a round of drinks for the team.

Primary Responsibilities: I provide executive support, and make decisions and act on behalf of the Chief Executive and Finance Director within agreed parameters whilst supervising and supporting other members of the administration team.

Typically, I am based in our Operations Centre in Witney, and sit amongst the Directors and other assistants. My work varies, but my day typically consists of managing and maintaining diaries and appointments, organising emails and responding on behalf of my executives. I prepare any required correspondence, arrange travel and ensure that I maintain high levels of communication throughout the working day. My team and I are also responsible for the smooth operation of our office.

Our intranet: a great communication tool and “one point of truth”

How long is your work day? My working hours are 8:30 to 5:00; however, I am typically in the office from 8:00 a.m. until around 6:30 p.m.

Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? We are totally committed to ensuring people get the right number of breaks and encourage people to regularly take breaks from their desks. I purchased a Fitbit to monitor my activity and it alerts me if I haven’t moved enough, which I find motivating to get up and walk around – even if it’s just to the kitchen and back.

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch?  I try to plan my dinners to be meals with leftovers that I can bring for lunch, so typically lunch would be leftovers from my evening meal the night before. We are lucky with our office location being only five minutes from the town centre, so I’m never short of options if I fancy something a bit different! Typically, I eat lunch at my desk but I do try to take a walk into town if I can.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours? Yes, quite often. Sometimes it is necessary to put in extra hours to achieve a deadline or get something closed off, but also it tends to be quieter with less distractions so I find it to be quite productive. I am conscious of not doing it too often, though, as a healthy work/life balance is important.

I always keep my work mobile with me and check emails during the evenings and weekends. If there is a project I am working on or an urgent deadline, I will bring my laptop home if necessary.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Something I have always found a frustration in my role is the attitude some people have towards assistants. People have said things like, “With the greatest of respect, you only field his calls” or, “Do you just make tea?” Anyone with half a decent attitude towards assistants will know this is not in the slightest bit true. Some of the best EAs and PAs I’ve had the pleasure of working with are so much more than assistants; they’re project managers and decision makers, which is totally inspiring to me. I think it’s important to establish yourself, give opinions appropriately and feel that you can offer your views.

I love the variety that comes with being an Executive Assistant

What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety that comes with being an Executive Assistant – no two days are ever the same and, whilst at times this can be quite overwhelming, it always keeps things interesting. I also enjoy the interaction that comes with my role; on a day to day basis, I get to speak to so many different people from all areas of our business.

On Saying “No”

Saying “no” to people is something I have really had to work on throughout my career, as it’s not something that comes naturally to me. I’m quite a helpful person and will often put others’ needs before mine; however, I have had to learn to push back when I’ve had heavy workloads of my own. My biggest tip would be to try to offer an alternative option or some guidance so that they still get the help rather than just refusing altogether. People will always respect honesty, so I try to ensure they understand my reasons when I’m unable to help.

Keely’s World

Map of worldMy father was in the army, and so I was born in Cyprus before moving to Bicester when I was four years old; I am still there. I now live with my husband right near the outlet village, which is far too tempting (for his liking)!  At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? One of the main reasons I haven’t left Bicester, other than the shopping, is how accessible it is; I can be in London or Birmingham within an hour but get to come back. I love the hustle and bustle of the cities, but the comfort of our quiet little town is always much more appealing to me.

How long have you been an admin. professional? The best part of a decade  What was your first role as an admin. professional? I started as a Receptionist for a transport company when I was 17 and was very fortunate to be given opportunities to learn and develop in other areas. When I left the company 18 months later, I was working as a transport clerk.

What might we find in your desk drawer? A whole load of stationery, a few of my favourite fruit teabags and a spare pair of tights – you never know!

How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I have a slight obsession with Lush Cosmetics so, if I’m not out spending time with my husband and/or friends, you’ll probably find me in the bath with a good book.

After a tough day: I just try to balance it out with positivity

How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I just always try to balance it out with positivity. Spending time with those closest to me is always a big stress reliever, and often talking it out with someone who isn’t necessarily “involved” can put a different perspective on things.

It’s important to establish yourself, give opinions appropriately and feel that you can offer your views

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? My husband and I recently backpacked across Vietnam and Thailand, which was just the most wonderful experience and something I would recommend in a heartbeat. I loved the thrill of not knowing where we were going from one day to the next, staying where we enjoyed and leaving those places we didn’t enjoy as much. I guess that, because my day to day life is very structured, it’s nice to let go. This is my ideal way to travel.


The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role

imageWhat are your preferred forms of social media? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities?   I am responsible for publishing to our intranet, and for keeping it up to date.

Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes, I’ve got a Samsung.

Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? We are still paper-based and our team are responsible for collating, printing and binding any necessary meeting packs .

Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? We launched our intranet and Sharepoint around six months ago, and have found it to be a great communication tool and “one point of truth”.

On saying “no”: Try to offer an alternative option or some guidance


Travel Planning

Travel or travel planning recommendations? Always plan for every eventuality. If your route planner advises it will take an hour, allow for an hour and a half to two hours, just in case. I always try to take recommendations from others for hotel bookings and restaurants; if my CE is travelling and needs to stay overnight somewhere, it’s always good to get local knowledge.

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