Executive assistants, personal assistants, and office managers are masters of organization, prioritization, and multitasking. We wanted to learn how their roles are changing with new technologies and trends, so we surveyed hundreds of assistants and admins to find out.
Then we hosted an actionable, insightful webinar to share the findings from our survey and get additional tips from EAs with years of hard-earned experience.
On our webinar, our host Angelika Tarasiuk, Account Director for Central and Eastern Europe at TravelPerk who started her career as an executive assistant spoke with our guest panelists.
Meet the wonderful pros on our recent panel:
- Nicky Christmas, Founder & Editor at Practically Perfect PA, an online platform that has a lot of content to help EAs run their role and hosts conferences
- Yvonne Reay-Scott, EA at Mount Anvil, London Ambassador for Maiden-Voyage.com, which promotes travel safety for women business travelers
- and Abigail Jones, EA at GHD, and Founder of Abigail Jones Coaching and Mentoring, where she helps PAs and EAs develop their careers.
With dozens of years’ experience combined, our panelists have learned the tips and strategies that reliably build success, and they keep their finger on the pulse of what’s changing by attending—and even leading—industry events.
In this post, we’re giving you an overview of the high-value tips and insights that our panelists shared in our recent live, virtual event.
The results from TravelPerk’s admin and assistant survey for 2019
We surveyed hundreds of assistants and administrative professionals to understand how they work, and provide a starting point for our in-depth conversation with our panelists.
Here are some statistics on the 376 people we surveyed in advance of our live webinar.
- 22% were office managers
- 66% were executive or personal assistants
- 39% of them work at companies with over 1000 employees
- 51% of them have over 12 years’ of experience.
How to further your career as a PA or EA
One of the first topics addressed during the live webinar was how EAs and PAs can further their career. Yvonne Reay-Scott suggests that you build your blackbook of suppliers and contacts by attending events hosted by local PA networks. It’s so important to build up your local connections! That way when you need a resource, you have it ready to go.
Yvonne had another important tip to share as well. A big part of being an EA is helping other people to do their jobs better than before. “Share your knowledge and inspire your peers so they can excel in their roles,” she said.
As the founder of Practically Perfect PA, Nicky Christmas shared the two factors that enabled her to start a business while also succeeding in her job: passion and dedication. Initially, she built the Practically Perfect PA working a couple hours a day after her full time job. Then she took a part time job (and a pay cut) so she could devote more working hours to Practically Perfect PA. It was her passion and her consistent dedication that made this possible.
“Prioritize first what’s important to the business. Secondly deal with what’s important to the person you report to. Thirdly deal with everything else when you’ve got the time.” – Yvonne Reay-Scott, EA at Mount Anvil, London Ambassador for Maiden-Voyage.com
How to prioritize your workload
As an EA or PA, you manage a lot of different tasks.
According to our survey, these are your top responsibilities:
- Administrational tasks (managing calendar, taking calls)
- Booking and managing travel
- Planning for events
- Requests from employees
- Onboarding new employees
- Procuring office supplies
- Managing budgets
Or, as Abigail Jones put it “EAs and PAs are like octopuses… that are always multitasking.”
“When I started off as a young PA I didn’t have the courage to push back, or say no, or suggest alternatives.” – Abigail Jones, EA at GHD, and Founder of Abigail Jones Coaching and Mentoring
So how do you manage your workload? Abigail says it’s very important to categorize income tasks. These are the categories she uses for every new incoming task:
- Not important
That way, she can immediately sort what needs to get done immediately, soon and later. This also ensures that new tasks don’t constantly interrupt or trump more important things that she’s already working on.
“The most realistic piece of advice is to be very calm,” says Abigail. “No one gets anything done running around stressed. You’re only going to be as good as you allow yourself to be. Be calm about conflicting priorities. Be confident that you can prioritize. Push back if you need to push back. This is something I’ve had to learn over time. When I started off as a young PA I didn’t have the courage to push back, or say no, or suggest alternatives.” Learning to do so can have an enormous impact on your work. When you have boundaries, you can be more successful in your role and have a bigger impact on the business.
Yvonne also has some great insights into prioritizing. “Prioritize first what’s important to the business,” she says. “Secondly deal with what’s important to the person you report to. Thirdly deal with everything else when you’ve got the time.”
Yvonne brings up another important point as well. Managing different communication styles is critical. “Use assertive communication to manage boundaries,” she says. “Being clear in your communication can help you do all of the wonderful things that you do every day.”
Don’t have time to read all these amazing tips and strategies right now?
Travel management trends and changes to make
For the EAs, PAs and office managers we surveyed, travel management was their second most frequent responsibility.
Here’s how survey respondents report that travel is managed at their companies:
What is used to manage travel?
- Online business travel management tool (41%)
- We book on consumer travel websites (28%)
- Traditional travel agency (24%)
- Other (15%)
Who manages travel in your company?
- 78% office managers or assistants
- 31% travelers themselves
- 11% travel manager or Agent
Our panelists weighed in on their requirements for partnering with an agency or a platform to help them manage travel, and also on new emerging trends.
“I think that with the way travel is going, you’ve got to use a travel tool to manage it. A platform speeds the process up. I like that you can add your company policy, and there’s not going to be some sort of rogue employee that can book everything first class. There are stop gaps. You can also manage the spend and see how much everyone is spending in the company.” – Nicky Christmas, Founder & Editor at Practically Perfect PA
One of Yvonne’s must-haves is a dashboard where she can see where travelers are at any given time, in case of emergencies. “With the business world, and plans that change on a sixpence, it’s difficult to avoid schedule changes, so the ability to make itinerary changes without incurring significant additional charges is important for me too,” she says.
Abigail prefers to partner with an agency over a platform so that she can get help managing visas for travelers. “Travel organizing is a huge part of my role, but I try to spend as little time on as possible, because I need confidence that the agency is doing it right.” she says. “A lot of my role is checking that there’s no mistakes with what they agency has done.”
Ready for another fun survey stat?
38% of OMs and EAs think that travelers booking for themselves is the most exciting travel management trend.
Nicky was unsurprised that EAs and PAs would be excited by that trend. Assistants are often bombarded with travel requests from colleagues and being able to direct them to a tool where they can book for themselves within policy can save everyone a lot of time and back and forth. “I can’t imagine that there are many executives and senior directors booking their own travel,” says Nicky. Her prediction is that this trend will take the burden off of EAs when it comes to booking for employees, but that senior executives will still want travel handled for them.
As for managing travel, Nicky prefers to use a platform over an agency. “I think that with the way travel is going, you’ve got to use a travel tool to manage it. A platform speeds the process up. I like that you can add your company policy, and there’s not going to be some sort of rogue employee that can book everything first class. There are stop gaps. You can also manage the spend and see how much everyone is spending in the company.”
For more resources on creating a travel policy that works and on tracking travel spend, visit our Travel Management Library.
How to manage events without losing your sanity
According to our survey, the top two challenges with events management are finding a venue and deciding on activities during the event. And our panelists had great tips for handling both of these challenges.
For Abigail, finding a venue is her least favorite task of all to do. For her company, it makes more sense to outsource it, so whenever possible she hands off the job to an events management company. When she does have to take charge with procuring an event, she likes to get as much lead time as possible. It also helps to know what she can compromise on. It’s usually not possible to fit the wish list and the budget, so when researching and touring it’s essential to know where you can compromise.
Nicky agrees. “Outsource, outsource, outsource,” she says. “I’ve worked with brilliant events management companies who find the venue for you and negotiate on your behalf. Even if you outsource, make sure you go on the show around. Don’t fit the venue into your event. Sort your event out first and then go to the venues so you know what you want from the venues.”
Nicky also pays attention to the behavior and attitude of the venue staff member giving the tour. If they are not helpful and excited when selling the venue to you, that’s a red flag that the other staff members may not be helpful either. And having great staff is essential, because you rely on them during the event. Super smart tip!
“For deciding on activities,” says Nicky. “I’ve organized so many team building events, and there’s been times that I’ve organized team building activities that people couldn’t do it, or they weren’t comfortable and it didn’t quite work. So once you’ve thought of those, throw it back to everyone and get their feedback and make sure they’re okay with the activities before the event.”
Email or task management tools? Managing employee requests and tasks
Do you get bombarded with incoming emails? You’re not alone.
71% of our survey respondents still use email for employee requests.
Yvonne doesn’t see that as a bad thing. “When people ask me things in my inbox, it helps me prioritize and it’s a useful record of what I’ve been asked to do,” she says. Though of course she’s also a fan of collaboration tools. She loves using Teams by Sharepoint to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and schedules with her chief executive. “I can keep him on track with his to-do list and meetings and schedules.”
“Trello has changed my life,” admits Nicky. “I’m a huge Trello advocate. I’m a huge collaboration tool advocate, whichever one it happens to be.” She recommends that when trying a new collaboration tool, give it a long go before switching. Sometimes it takes people a while to get accustomed to it, so switching often can be very counterproductive for the team.
Nicky also recommends taking stock of any employee requests coming in via email. Maybe you can find commonalities amongst them. “If you’re being asked the same thing all the time, put together a FAQ. It can be a physical document or a constant ‘out of office’ email notification.”