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’re off to Manchester, England to visit with Marc Taylor-Allan.
A Commuting Minimalist
My typical day starts with getting my two young boys ready for nursery and making sure that they and my husband get out of the house on time! I then take our Jack Russell, Heidi, out for a long walk and finally return for a shower before I log on to my laptop to start the working day.
I am very lucky in saying that, for four days of the week, I don’t have a commute – so I usually start work around 7:45 a.m. On the one day I do travel to the Manchester PwC office, I travel by tram which takes around 10 minutes to the city centre. On my office day, I like to leave the house with everyone else so that I can get an early start in the office as we always have a full schedule as a team.
My role is so diverse in terms of responsibilities
When you do commute that one day a week, who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? Great question, and I’m a huge music fan! My playlist can vary a lot as I have quite an eclectic taste in music. Currently at home and on my commute into the office, I have been listening to a mixture of Mahelia Jackson, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Sarah Vaughan.
At the Office
Morning Routines: The very first thing I do, every day, is change my daily greeting on my work iPhone and the internal system. I then log on to check my emails. I quickly move on to checking all of my Partners’ and Directors’ emails and calendar as I like to ensure I know exactly where they are that day. I always check to see if I can be one step ahead to ensure their day runs as smoothly as possible. Once this is done, it’s around that time that I get my first coffee and some light breakfast.
Always striving to be one step ahead
Primary Responsibilities: My role is so diverse in terms of responsibilities. However, diary, meeting and event management are part of every day, as are client relationships, travel and communication management and ad hoc administration.
Start-of-day routines aside, what does a typical day (if there is such a thing) look like? I actually tried for a long time to answer this question but found it very difficult as there really isn’t a typical day! To give you an idea: On Thursday last week I was involved in a meeting discussing the pain points of booking a meeting room on behalf of one of my Directors and how we can further improve this experience going forward. Then, on Friday I was researching themes for a summer ball for one of our offices in the East Midlands.
Being a PA isn’t just about diary management anymore
How long is your work day? My working day is typically eight hours, but can sometimes go over here and there. The best thing about being virtual is that I can flex my hours to the needs of the business. If my Partners or Directors need me at 7:00 a.m., I am able to adjust the time I finish to accommodate that.
We are strongly encouraged to take regular breaks from our desks and to exercise to help our well-being
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? This is actually something that is firmly on my radar as I’m currently very conscious that, unsurprisingly, my daily activity has reduced. We are strongly encouraged by PwC to take regular breaks from our desks and to exercise to help our well-being at work. Therefore, I try to take a walk every day and also continue to monitor steps throughout the day. Other than that, I take three classes a week at a local gym.
What might be a typical lunch? I actually don’t eat a lot during the day. I try to have slow oats for breakfast and this will normally see me until around 2:00-ish, when I try to have some fruit and a sandwich.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Again, this all depends on the needs of my Partners and Directors but the Virtual Assistant role at PwC allows me to be flexible with my hours to suit their needs.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am a very proud GLEE (Gay, Lesbian and Everyone Else) committee member; this committee support all things diversity and inclusion across the firm. PwC are sponsoring the London Pride event this year, so I am currently involved in assisting in the design of the internal and external communications to promote this huge event.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? For me, it is very much about being able to switch off – I have always been a workaholic and always work to the best of my abilities, so I have been known to be checking and responding to emails before I go to bed. In the past (not with PwC), I often took the boys into the work on a Saturday to get ahead of the game.
At PwC, I am trusted to make key decisions and my thoughts really count
What do you most enjoy about your career? Being a PA isn’t just about diary management anymore. In my role as a VA at PwC, I am trusted to make key decisions and my thoughts really count. I am made to feel that I am part of a family who invest in talent and want to push you forward to be your best.
On Saying “No”
I don’t believe in saying “no”. First and foremost, I listen and I’ll then explain that it may not be possible to do what someone is asking within the time frame they are expecting. I often try to find a compromise that suits both parties but I try not to say “no”.
I was born in Darlington in the North East of the UK, and I now live in Manchester in the North West. Although I originate from a small town, I am most definitely a city mouse! I like a bit of noise and the choices of things to do . . .
How long have you been an admin. professional? I have been working in this profession for around a decade. I started as an admin. assistant for a small, family-run mortgage company and moved into a role supporting the Head of Operations as their PA.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? With my family, generally outdoors or with my head in a good book (when I’m not looking after my boys).
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A hot bath and glass of Malbec . . .
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I’m a huge fan of Cyprus and have visited many times. Palm Springs is another favourite destination, and that is somewhere where we are looking to retire in the future.
Strive to be the best, but also support others as you go along
Education and Professional Development
Education: Oddly, I don’t have any professional qualifications related to being an assistant. However, I am a trained Primary School teacher and qualified with First Class Honours.
Peer and Professional Associations: I recently became a member of EPAA (The Executive and Personal Assistants Association) and proud to be raising awareness with them through the #NotJustAGirlsJob campaign. I am also a huge supporter of the Manchester PA Network. How have these networks or associations helped you? They have given me the opportunity to network with other assistants and have given me the confidence to be proud of my career.
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace. I love classic brogues and a clean, pressed suit with a block colour tie; this always instills me with confidence.
What are your preferred forms of social media? I am a prolific tweeter and my aim is to be using LinkedIn a lot more going forward.
What might we find in your desk drawer? I’ve just opened it to look – a bank card reader, some chewing gum, Post-its and a mini keyboard.
Inspirational reads? I am a huge book worm so I have many, many books that have inspired me. That said, “Million Little Pieces” by James Frey is an incredible book which inspired me to keep going when I’ve found things tough.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Simply being a working parent is a career accomplishment in itself and I actively support all working parents. Other than that, progressing my career to work for PwC is a significant accomplishment for me personally and I am eternally grateful to them for giving me this opportunity.
I would like to continue to support EPAA’s campaign in raising awareness of men in this role
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? In a professional capacity, the next year is about going further in-depth to understand my stakeholders’ client base, aligning their social media platforms with our in-house CRM (Customer Relationship Management), to ultimately assist in bringing business into the firm.
I would also really like to build on my blog writing skills and use this to share my experiences as an assistant. Finally, I would like to continue to support EPAA’s campaign in raising awareness of men in this role.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be honest! But above all, be prepared! If you’re prepared, you will feel confident. Know the company like you’ve already worked there.
Your most effective time management strategy? Have a dynamic task list. Capture the tasks and activities you must do on a list and update it regularly during the day. Revisit this list frequently and add new items as soon as they appear. Make sure your list gives you a quick overview of everything that’s urgent and important, and remember to include strategic and relationship-building activities as well as operational tasks.
Have a dynamic task list that includes strategic and relationship-building activities as well as operational tasks
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? It’s a tough time. You’re excited to be going back to work but you’re also racked with guilt at leaving your children, but never fear because going back to work doesn’t suck as much as think it will. Your little cherub becomes a social butterfly and relishes the early morning catch with “Jack” over a crumpet! Don’t try to do too much at once, and always remember: you’re now running two full time jobs!
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Personally, I wouldn’t overcomplicate matters. Try your best to find some common ground and, at this stage, it’s going to be about work. Perhaps find out what their support looked like previously and what their expectations are going forward. It could even be as simple as going through their diary for the next month and discussing their priorities. Don’t try to force something that isn’t there yet, your relationship with your executive will come as long as you’re being yourself.
Promotion and career development come with being the master of your craft
For those interested in promotion: Build a personal brand, and build that brand around who you work for. Strive to be the best, but also support others as you go along. I always think that promotion and career development come with being the master of your craft, so be a sponge and absorb everything.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Marc mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- EPAA – The Executive and Personal Assistants Association
- Manchester PA Network
- Marc on social media: Twitter, Linked In