High-Profile Personal Assistants Just as the responsibilities of senior business leaders will differ significantly from the junior staff in their organisation, personal assistants will face different expectations based on the…
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The ‘new normal, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ may in fact imply different ‘normals’ depending on the industry. The changes employees have faced range from drastic to miniscule, and we were particularly interested in finding out what this looks like for executive assistants, as Tiger has been recruiting EAs since 2001.
In May 2022, Tiger hosted a roundtable with a group of EA managers to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has created for EAs. These EA managers work in a variety of industries we recruit for, including finance, health, law and tech. We hope that their thoughts will help spark further ideas on how to maximise the potential of the EA role in a changing world.
All of the attendees we spoke to are now working in a hybrid arrangement, split between days in the office and days at home. Many of the remote-working skills they picked up during the pandemic have been integrated into their usual work as they return to the office, creating something of a mixed VA/EA role.
But, can this arrangement hold up for a role that requires so much close communication?
Video calls prove a vital lifeline
Most attendees agreed that an important aspect of the executive assistant’s job description was lost in the move away from offices — the “finger on the pulse” that is gained from hearing “all those snippets of conversation that aren’t necessarily directed at you”.
These precious “small nuggets of information” allow EAs to keep tabs on their executives’ shifting priorities, schedule and mood — so their loss has meant a significant blow to productivity.
However, the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom helped to overcome the lack of body language EAs find so useful.
Another interesting benefit to hybrid working and video conferencing was its levelling effect on EAs with disabilities or introverted personality types. There was much agreement among attendees that “looking at alternative ways of communication can only be a good thing”, as it opens the door to a career as an EA for many more people.
The discrepancy among industries reveals itself here though, as another attendee working in finance noted that their company does not permit Teams or Zoom, believing the services aren’t secure enough for their highly sensitive work. Time will tell whether better online security will allay these fears and allow for remote working across all industries.
Fad or future? Opinions differ on the longevity of hybrid working
The pros and cons of hybrid working for EAs prompted much debate among our attendees, with opinions differing along industry lines. For a team manager in financial services, the outlook wasn’t favourable: “I think this will perhaps blow over, come a year or so’s time… I think in a way it’s a fad.”
This attendee stressed the importance of physical presence in the office for tasks such as document printing and signing, client meetings, and presentations. Another agreed that “I feel there are so many conversations that I can have better in person”.
However, working in the office relies on an individual’s willingness to do so, with one team manager noting: “you actually have to come forward and make the decision and say, ‘I’m not going to work from home, it’s better that I’m in the office tomorrow’. But that’s where I’m struggling, because not a lot of the assistants will do that”.
Conversely, another attendee from the tech industry declared that the global tech company for which they work “very much believes that you’re an adult so you are in charge”, with employees allowed to work their contracted hours at any time within 24 hours.
While this setup may remain unique to emerging industries, it’s worth remembering that attitudes to work are dramatically changing among millennials and Gen Z. So as these younger employees move into senior positions, will we see a change in expectations for EAs across all industries?
The majority of attendees felt this could be true to a degree, telling us hybrid working “is something that has to stay in some way”, due to the current emphasis on employee mental wellbeing and inclusivity. That said, they agreed that the role demands a physical presence more than most: “it is still hugely important that EAs are in the office for at least three days, if not all week”.
Order Tiger Recruitment’s hybrid working report.
Executive Assistant Responsibilities
While certain EA tasks, such as travel and accommodation booking, fell away during lockdown, the unprecedented situation saw other responsibilities take their place.
Despite all colleagues being equally unprepared for a global health crisis, many looked to EAs for guidance, seeing them as the link to senior management: “as an EA, you are that go-to person…that centre point that holds different teams together.” This has resulted in additional pressure on EAs that continues today.
Part of the problem is the leeway that flexi-working offers to employees, with some putting in less time in the office than others, leaving assistants to pick up the slack. One attendee remarked that management are even “gaming the system” by working from home more than necessary, leaving EAs in the office to steer the ship and act as a proxy for office leadership.
This extra pressure may ease off as hybrid working arrangements are formalised, but one core prediction is that “tech will get more and more important.”
One attendee observed “I now find I’m taking on a lot more IT support” due to the generational difference of their executive, who struggles with even basic technology.
We are also seeing assistant team numbers increasing in growing industries. Finance, in particular, is growing at such a rate that more assistants are being hired to take on specific tasks, such as expense management, due to increased travel bookings that are back to pre-pandemic levels.
Salary & Benefits
The pandemic caused a re-evaluation of work-life balance, and many workers are now demanding more of their employers. Hybrid working is the most sought-after benefit but, as we’ve seen, many EA managers still consider it crucial that EAs work from the office as much as possible.
So, how can they convince EAs to come into the office?
Various in-office perks have been initiated in recent years. For our attendees’ companies, these include office canteens, fruit bowls and subsidised lunches. In the progressive world of tech, however, these range from free bars to massages and gyms.
Of course, not all companies can afford such elaborate benefits to lure EAs back into the office, but those who aren’t offering similar incentives, particularly in this candidate-driven market, risk falling behind.
EA salaries have risen by as much as 12% in the last 6-12 months, and — though one roundtable attendee put it down to inflation — it’s clear that a competitive salary, along with a benefits package that adequately reflects a hybrid-working arrangement, is increasingly the norm — not the exception.
Order Tiger Recruitment’s Salary Review.
The shift to virtual onboarding
An EA manager working for a large tech company witnessed the effects of the Great Resignation first hand, sharing that her employer “recruited 70% more in 2020 than we ever have before”. This posed huge challenges to the interview and selection hiring process and, as a result, they had to “completely overhaul our onboarding[…] We had to create instructional videos and do buddying online”.
With more companies offering remote working as part of their benefits package, we are seeing virtual training and onboarding becoming increasingly commonplace.
While the COVID-19 pandemic paved the way for a major shake-up of business norms, the major forces driving these have been generational and technological — and the extent to which they have changed the face of the EA role has depended on the industry.
A standout discussion point was that, for certain lines of work, security is of paramount importance. In industries such as finance, taking sensitive documents off-site or discussing client information on an unsecured network is risky business. Since EAs are privy to some of the highest-level discussions, it follows that they would be one of the first to be expected to return to the office full-time.
In emerging industries, however, they are much more immersed in the world of online work — unsurprisingly, the employee demographics are overwhelmingly young, from graduates through to CEOs. EAs in these industries are using several of the many cloud-based collaborative tools, all the while being easily contactable via phones, tablets, and laptops anywhere in the world.
For others in the middle ground though, these clashes in generational attitudes towards new ways of working could well play out between an executive and their assistant, considering the typical age gap: “more senior [age] colleagues and also more senior management will definitely put more value on physical presence in the office…and Gen Z and Gen Y are totally different”.
Whatever changes do play out in this evolving role, the EA position doesn’t look to be disappearing any time soon. Questions around the necessity of an EA at the time of the pandemic have since died down as businesses spring back to life with renewed vigour. With industries growing rapidly and business travel returning, companies are finding executive assistants more critical to business’ success. We expect to see this trend continuing well into the future.
For more information about hiring an executive assistant, please get in touch