Enjoy today’s Day in the life: Hayley Lawrence, PA Regional General Manager and Administration Assistant to Founders Office – Necker & Moskito Islands, in The British Virgin Islands. I love this interview because it shows how exciting, different, challenging and incredible our profession is!
Day in the life: Hayley Lawrence, PA to Regional General Manager and Administration Assistant to Founders Office – Necker & Moskito Islands, in The British Virgin Islands.
What are the main aspects of your role?
My role is an extremely varied and jam-packed role covering two offices across Moskito and Necker Island.
As Personal Assistant to the Regional General Manager, I deal with diary management across several time zones, inbox management, extensive dictation, producing monthly business reports, travel arrangements and document design and production. I also create and edit a monthly staff newsletter from the office of the Regional General Manager which is shared across the wider Virgin Limited Edition group.
The other side of my role is working within the Founder’s office. I deal with all incoming post and packages received for Richard in both the London office and in the BVI, and I also manage a generic email account. I also provide cover when Richard’s assistant is on leave which sometimes includes accompanying Richard on trips.
I also love sharing a few of my technical skills and how to create order out of chaos. So I have started offering one to one training and coaching sessions for any staff members who wish to expand their knowledge and learn a few practical tips on time management, Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
What is your morning routine before you get into the office?
I wake up at 6.30am and get ready to leave the house at 7.20.
It is a lot quicker getting ready for work these days. Working in ‘paradise’ means I usually throw on a summer dress, flip flops and bit of mascara. Full makeup and straight hair are no longer practical in the heat, sea air and the occasional tropical downpour. It’s then a 15-20 minute bus or car ride to the dock, and then I jump on the boat. It usually takes around 10 minutes by boat to get to one of the islands, and I typically use this time to check emails or read a book.
It’s a lot different from my previous commute of taking the train and the tube in the morning!
What time do you get into the office and what time do you leave?
I usually get into the office for 8 am. The time I leave varies every day depending on what is going on. The only way to get off the island is by boat so that I can catch either the 4pm, 5pm or 6pm boat. So you will usually see me frantically running down to the dock because if you miss the boat, you can’t just call for an uber!
What does an average day look like?
I can’t remember what an average day looks like! I can genuinely say no two days are the same.
I usually start the day by organising the inbox. This means filing any emails that have been read, getting rid of any junk or anything my boss doesn’t need to read so that he only focuses on what is essential. If I know the day is going to be busy and we won’t get a lot of one on one time I will go through and use the categories feature on outlook to categorise items that are awaiting his approval. This way if we can only catch half an hour I can filter the inbox down to the specific category that I want and we work through those items first. This just ensures that nothing gets held up waiting for his approval and also so that we don’t get distracted by other emails in the inbox.
We will also run through the diary every morning to see what we have in for the day ahead and discuss anything that he may need for those meetings. I have also created a rolling ‘to do list’ on excel that we both feed in to so we both have clarity on what each other needs to work on.
I usually then use any ‘downtime’ while he is in a meeting to work on any tasks that have been set for me and also to work through more administrative tasks such as the post, expenses, filing etc.
What do you do for lunch?
We have staff canteens on Moskito and Necker Islands that provide lunches every day. Being on a remote island, we can’t just pop to Pret for a sandwich! On Necker the canteen is called ‘Da Lime’ which is a Caribbean term for ‘hanging out’. There is a pool table, game consoles and there is always music playing which gives it a social atmosphere.
What is the hardest part of your day?
Working across two islands can be difficult. This means I have to have a mobile office in my backpack so I am ready to work wherever we need to go. We are quite fortunate that we have use of a speed boat which means we can dash between the two islands which always sounds a lot more glamorous than it is especially if you get caught in a tropical downpour halfway between the two islands!
Arranging the logistics of meetings can also be challenging. You have to take in to account what island that person might be on (especially external visitors), and you have to be conscious of how they are going to get over to the island.
Every PA/EA will know how difficult it can be to round people up for meetings on time. Working on an island rather than just an office tends to make this ten times more difficult. I do not hesitate to use all resources at my disposal – from asking the front of house team to radio around to see if anyone has seen that person or physically get in a golf buggy and track them down myself. This role has definitely enhanced my tracking skills!
What do you enjoy most about your role?
What I enjoy most is that every day is a new and different experience. I don’t think many people can say that they share their ‘office’ with flamingos and lemurs while surrounded by the most beautiful blue sea.
As Richard says “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It is all living.” and you get a sense of that here. Every single person here works extremely hard, but there is also a sense of fun in what we do.
What has been your career highlight?
It would have to be the moment I got the phone call from Sir Richard Branson offering me the job.
When I saw the job being advertised online and that it had gone viral a friend joked to me that I should apply. Challenge accepted! So I made a short (and pretty cringe-worthy) video and sent it off and didn’t give it a second thought. When I got the email asking me to interview I checked the email a few times to make sure it wasn’t my friend playing a trick.
Never in a million years did I think I would be the one to get the job, mainly when I had found out over 5,000 had applied. One day after I had been through the interview process I got a call from Richard’s assistant advising that he would be calling me shortly as part of the interview process. I couldn’t believe it! I was on a train at Waterloo East at the time, and I remember frantically running around the station trying to find somewhere quiet to take the phone call. After Richard had told me, I got the job, and we said our goodbyes I remember just bursting into tears in the middle of Starbucks and walking around the station in a daze. I knew from that moment my life had changed forever and all the hard work over the years had paid off. It was certainly a moment I will never forget.
What do you do in the evening in your spare time?
I live on a neighbouring island to Necker called Virgin Gorda which has just over 3,000 occupants, which is nice because it means I get to get away from ‘the office’ at the weekend. I am pretty lucky as I get to spend my spare time usually by a pool, beach or bar!
As someone who hasn’t spent much time around boats or the sea, it has been enjoyable getting to island hop around the BVI at weekends and be in the water trying different watersports although I haven’t plucked up the courage to try kite surfing yet which is the most popular on Necker.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other assistants?
Don’t be afraid to bring your personality and ideas to the role. Have confidence in your knowledge and abilities. As assistants, we can often think that our opinions aren’t valid or that they won’t be well received, but we are usually in the lucky position that we have an understanding of how the company operates from the post room to the boardroom and that intel can help your boss be even better at their job. Just because that’s the way something has always been done, doesn’t always mean it is the best or most efficient way.
What would you do if you were not an assistant?
As a kid, I always wanted to be a vet, until someone pointed out to me how you take an animal’s temperature…
What is the one piece of technology, app or website you could not do your job without?
Expensify – This is a great app that lets you scan in receipts as you go and create expense statements from there.
YAAP – It’s a great tool that allows you to create an app in minutes. We use this a lot for events to have certain information easily accessible on a mobile device, for example, itineraries, menus, maps etc. The app can only be downloaded if the link is shared with a user, so it is also really secure when dealing with sensitive information.
ScannerApp – Turns your mobile device into a scanner which is handy when you are on the go.
Zoom – Great platform for video conferencing and makes it easy for people in several locations to work through the same document.
Find My iPhone – I genuinely sometimes have to use this to keep track of my boss between both islands in case he starts to wonder from where he is supposed to be!
Can you recommend any events, books, publications, websites, training programmes for other assistants?
Websites: Vondell – A company which has some great courses. I highly recommend their Time / Self Management Course
Websites/blogs: Miss Jones PA and The Assistant Room
Books: Jewel in the Leader’s Crown – Ruth Mead
To connect with Hayley, you can find her on LinkedIn.