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.
Pamela Govender is EA to her organisation’s CEO. Here’s a look at her world.
What a commute
I am up as early as 4:30 a.m., being a wife and mum with the normal morning rush. After the kids and my husband have left to work and school, I then get to fit in some yoga steps for 10-15 minutes before having a bottle of diluted cranberry juice and a peanut butter toast – ready to get going!
I normally prefer to be at work 30 minutes to an hour early, so that helps me to avoid any rush hour stress. I have work transport fetching me and it takes me at least six minutes to get to work. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I enjoy Kenny G instrumentals; they keep me calm. I also like Hillsong.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My role has just changed. In my previous role, my primary responsibility was to assist the Head of Investor Relations in researching, collecting and preparing reports. I did this alongside other administrative functions such as maintaining the HOD’s (Head of Department’s) day to day schedule.
Morning Routines: Upon arrival at work, I like to enjoy a cup of green tea whilst reading through and responding to emails. I spend a maximum of 15 to 20 minutes on email and then move on to any pending work with deadlines. I try as much as possible to give myself an advance deadline for any tasks assigned to me, so that I can meet the original deadline and have enough time to discuss with my HOD prior to submitting final piece of work.
How long is your work day? I start between 7:00 and 7:30 each morning, and work until 5:00 p.m. Sometimes I work through my lunch hour if I have deadlines to meet. I prefer to leave no later than 5:30, so I have time to go home to mummy duties.
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 have discussed this many times at work. As scary as it sounds, in the past I have not stepped out my office at all on a given day. However, I’ve now decided to take breaks to walk to the ladies’ rooms on other floors of our offices, and at lunch time I go to the nearest mall just to get away from the office and stretch my legs.
What might be a typical lunch? Depending on the situation, if I must have lunch at my desk, I enjoy a cup of green tea with whatever is on the menu. Recently, I have tried to take lunch breaks to stretch my legs and get away from my desk.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I have done this more often in the past. With my latest job, though, I try to work around business hours and still be ahead of my deadlines. If the need arises, however, I work during my off hours.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? That would be working with different time zones to set up Skype meetings or conference call, and trying to fit in four to five different delegates on such calls; it’s a real challenge for me.
I sometimes find myself muti-tasking because I have taken on a new task I should have said no to
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the point of contact for everything. It makes me feel I am in control.
On Saying “No”
I must admit I am working on that. I cannot say “no”. It’s a huge weakness, I would think, as I sometimes find myself muti-tasking because I have taken on a new task that I should have said no to. That creates added stress.
I was born in South Africa and now work and live in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE (United Arab Emirates). At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I prefer a surbuban lifestyle, which I currently have. This is great for family life.
How long have you been an admin. professional? It’s been more than 20 years now. What was your first such role? I was a front line receptionist and assisted Bank Relationship managers with ad hoc administrative work.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I prefer to spend time with my kids – I help my young adult daughter with her teaching assignments, and my younger son with his school work, speeches and projects. I enjoy that. If not, we just enjoy time spent together baking or experimenting on recipes. It calms me down and my kids enjoy this time spent together.
I try as much as possible to give myself an advance deadline for any tasks assigned to me
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I like to take walks around my village, and prefer a nice hot long bath. I also like reading inspiring real life stories.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? My perfect holiday would be on an island with just my family and no distractions, no hustle and bustle of everyday life. No rush and no fuss. This is a dream because it is something I cannot do right now. I am naturally a busy person.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have a Computer science qualification, which doesn’t really relate to my current career. However, my interest in technology still continues as I am tech savvy and try to troubleshoot technical situations if I can. It excites me to know how technology works.
I am tech savvy and try to troubleshoot technical situations
Peer and Professional Associations: I subscribe to the Executive Secretary group, and am a member of Gaucho PA Club. How have these networks or associations helped you? I have been able to meet like-mind individuals from different parts of the world.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? We generally communicate via email, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook
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 maintain our LinkedIn page. Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? I monitor LinkedIn for the latest news and happenings in the business world.
What are your preferred forms of social media? I use LinkedIn as a professional platform, and Facebook for news feeds and as a social platform.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Evernote, Dropbox, Docsend, Google maps, Pinterest, GlobalMeet and Skype
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I need to get my hands on a minute taker app.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. I’ve been headhunted a few times via LinkedIn.
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? I have put together an Office Manager training guide to streamline processes such as onboarding, and provide a training guide for internal systems.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. 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 to be accessible 24/7 for emails and calls and, due to time zone differences, I also need to respond timeously to emails.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital or paper-based? They’re mostly digital. Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? Yes; we made the shift recently. Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? We introduced this recently, and it’s been a success since April.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. It’s fast and furious, I would think. Efficiency is being automated. I find it’s a fast paced adaptation, with the new generations embracing the most advanced technology – and it’s become the next best thing. I am happy with digital innovation as it does interest me personally.
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources? There will be a continued decrease in the need for administrative staff. However, I still think that the need for human interaction is essential.
I am happy with digital innovation
What do you think of IOT (Internet of Things) devices used for smart lighting, security and air conditioning, etc.? The idea of smart devices that can reduce human labour to nil is a scary thought. However, these devices will bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds.
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 the need for cloud security, organisations need to adopt strong privacy practices to limit intrusions.
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? Given the power & capability of AI and IOT, and the impact they will have on businesses, there’s no doubt that tasks that would take a human weeks or months to complete can be actionable in minutes or seconds. I would still embrace this era; however, it will pose many challenges for companies in all sectors as they must adapt to their changed environment and focus on staff skill sets, etc.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? I have created a travel itinerary which I use regularly. Once I have worked on flights, accommodation, ground transport and any appointments, I add everything to the schedule with directions and a map for my executive. It has everything she will require for her travel, from e-tickets to vouchers and more.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? We use Google Trips, Airbnb and Hotels.com. We still use Excel to track expenses.
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Black pants matched with any brighter coloured, collared top or coat
What might we find in your desk drawer? Makeup; I always like to touch up before a meeting
Inspirational reads? Ditch.Dare.Do! – 3D Personal Branding for Executives; I found this book very inspiring
Mentor Johnny Bryan: “The sky is not the limit; your mind is”
Role models or mentors? My former boss, Johnny Bryan. He helped me step out of my shell and comfort zone, and stretched my limits with challenging tasks I never thought I had the potential to deliver. He had enormous faith in me, mentored and inspired me with his personal life stumbles (after losing an arm) and his capacity to accomplish all that he has to date. He is full of energy, empathy and compassion – a driven individual who believes, “The sky is not the limit; your mind is”.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Working in a company with diverse cultures is quiet challenging. Opening communication lines amongst colleagues and turning the morale to a more flexible interactive environment, which I am known to have done, make me feel like I have accomplished something.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I look out for challenging tasks. I keep my mind stimulated with ideas all the time.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? Nothing right now, but I would like to create an in-house assistant networking program. My company is still new to a lot of these practices.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Working for a Family Office (Ruling Family), I hope to be the Office Manager at the Palace – well, at least that’s my goal.
Talking to Executives
Imagine that a cohort of executives invited discussion of the business case for working with (or without) an executive assistant. How do you make the case? Being an EA is like having a “second brain”. A professional EA can ease the pressure of administration, freeing the executive’s time from distraction on non-essentials and relieving stress levels so the executive can focus on the bigger, more challenging stuff. They are gatekeepers of the executive’s time.
An EA is a brand ambassador for the executive and lives up to the company’s core values
An EA should be considered a business partner than just an assistant. They have the executive’s end goal in mind and work towards ensuring they meet that goal. An EA is a brand ambassador for the executive and lives up to the core values of the company. An EA is also great at keeping abreast of all the latest technology/systems updates and proves to be tech savvy, enabling you to streamline processes.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. I try to research the company prior to an interview. I also like to send an email immediately after the interview to thank the interviewer for their time. I believe it does make an impression, and perhaps they will remember you.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Serendipitously, I stumbled over a saying a while back which always reminds me of my personal goal everyday: “When you are young in a workplace, don’t act as a novice. If you are smart and competent, step up and do whatever you are capable of doing in a mature diplomatic way. Likewise, if you are older don’t act like it, approach each day with a youthful energy”.
Inspired by a quote: “If you are smart and competent, step up and do whatever you are capable of doing”
I never had the courageous, confident nature when I was younger, but now at 40 my goal is to keep my youthful nature intact and pump up the energy every day, and keep on keeping on! People say that, at 40, it’s cycling downhill, but for me now it’s my challenge to cycle uphill to keep the momentum going. I enjoy the busy nature of my job and embrace the challenge of stressful environments as it keeps me stimulated, energetic and focused.
Your most effective time management strategy? I try to avoid distractions and keep focused on deadlines and high end tasks.
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? Don’t be overwhelmed as to where to start. Take a break and get in tune with changes that occurred during your time away.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? I would prefer to initially get some direction from my new boss on how s/he likes to operate and communicate. Also, I would prefer to ask my boss upfront to give me continuous feedback on my performance, so it doesn’t get to a point where we are not on the same page. I must add that this has been a winning point for me over the years.
I try to avoid distractions and keep focused on deadlines and high end tasks
For those interested in promotion: Continue your professional development to upskill yourself, and ensure you keep well informed on all the changes/happenings in the industry. This way, you are always aware of growth opportunities.
- Executive Secretary Magazine
- Executive Secretrary LIVE conferences
- Platinum PA Club – Dubai
- Arruda, William and Dib, Deb: Ditch. Dare. Do! – 3D Personal Branding for Executives
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Pamela mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
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.