How to stay visible and in the loop with your Executive while working from home

We are living in strange times. I know many of you will be working from home, trying to juggle your home life and your work life more than ever – while not leaving your home very much. Staying in the loop with your Executive while working from home is not easy!

It is difficult for everyone to stay connected to work, having the motivation to keep showing up and being seen – especially when you have a million things going on around you that are causing distractions – family, friends, household chores, pets and of course, it doesn’t go without saying the health of all of your loved ones and what the future holds for us.

I have spoken to many Assistants over the years who have really wanted to work from home and have more flexibility in their hours but have been denied that request again and again because ‘they have to be in the office and close to their Executive’ – even if their Executive travels frequently. Now, I think everyone can see that working from home has major benefits, there are distractions, but there is also a lot of flexibility that many Assistants benefit from.

Saying that, since Covid-19 came into our world, and we are all working from home, I have seen Assistants struggle to be seen and heard while exploring this new normal. They don’t quite know how to be visible or how to stay in the loop with their Executive or their team.

They don’t have the natural touchpoints they had when they were working in the office. They don’t have the easy access to their Executive or get a sense of morale or culture they had sitting in close contact with their colleagues.

This is an important aspect of the Assistant role, but as with many things, we need to adapt to this new situation and figure out to stay visible and in the loop while working from home.

I have ten points that I want to share with you.

Before we look at the ten tips, I want to share my thoughts about visibility.

I’ve seen on the networking forums that we have online, some Assistants have said that if their Executive doesn’t want to use them at the moment that is fine, they know where you are. I read Assistants say it is best to keep your head down at the moment because of the uncertainty in the jobs market. I’ve heard Assistants say that they are not feeling motivated, and it is difficult to get any work from anyone in their office. Lastly, I’ve read Assistants say they don’t want to trouble their overly-stressed Executive, while they are in back to back meetings trying to save the organisation from going under.

I get all of those arguments. This is a crazy time, and none of us knows what the right thing to do at the moment is, we are learning as we go. But one thing I will say is this – being invisible at the moment is not going to serve you well. I think we can all expect some form of recession this next year and with that comes redundancies and job losses. I cross my fingers firmly that will not be the case, but we should prepare for it.

To prepare to keep your job, being visible has to be a top priority – you need to take your seat at the table and add value frequently.

Visibility leads to more opportunities.

Don’t sit back and wait for your Executive to give you work that is going to challenge you or lead to more exciting projects. If you are underemployed, now is the time to move into a critical role. We will discuss this in more detail in a bit.

Visibility will boost your reputation as a leader.

Now, more than ever, people are crying out for leadership. This is the time for those who can lead to do so. Assistants are leaders.

Visibility increases connections and your network.

When you are visible, and you are seen, more people want to connect with you. Assistants have a lot of influence and can get things done, in the most difficult of environments.

Visibility leads to more recognition.

Now is the time to get the reward and recognition that you deserve. Be so good that they can’t ignore you!

Increasing your visibility also increases your value.

With so much uncertainty in the world, Assistants need to ensure they add the maximum amount of value to their organisation and show up.

Visibility increases motivation and job satisfaction.

Being visible doesn’t mean you have to take on more work. It means increasing awareness of the good work you already do. Being recognised and thanked for your work leads to greater job satisfaction.

Okay, I hope you can see the benefits of being visible at this time.

Let’s move on to my tips on how to go about staying visible and being in the loop.

Get on the video calls

Staying in the loop with your Executive while working from home

If you are anything like me, one great thing about working from home is not having to see anyone throughout the day! I am an introvert, and I love having peace and quiet, time to reflect and re-energise. My favourite thing is to be at home, on the sofa with my family watching something on the TV or reading a book. It takes something exceptional to get me away from that!

Now that you are settled at home, it can feel like a huge amount of effort to get on the zoom calls, to take part in video meetings and be seen on screen. This may not apply to all of you, but for a lot of you, it feels unnatural and uncomfortable seeing yourself on screen.

But, to stay visible at work now, you have to get on the video calls. You have to make an effort – pick video over audio as much as possible. Literally, make people see you.

Otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

I would also add that it is important to make sure you present yourself well on video. Obviously, get out of your pyjamas but also look professional on camera. Make sure the lighting is good, the sound is good; you have a good background (your actual room or a good digital background).

This is such a good place at add value right now. So many people are struggling working out how to use online conferencing technology that your tips really will add value. So I say, get up to speed really quickly on this technology. Look good on camera – even if that means investing in some good lighting, a microphone and better wifi. It is worth it. I have put together a list of great and affordable equipment you can use to enhance your conference calls and videoing.

You can leverage video in another way by making short recordings of projects your team is working on and sharing them with others. I like the free tool Loom for this. An Assistant in the Practically Perfect PA network used this strategy with great success. She filmed short videos for her tweak explaining how the online filing system worked so that everything could access the documents they needed, she filmed her to set up a zoom call and shared that with her team and a whole load more. It went a long way to raising her visibility and adding value.

You also have to continue to be seen by your Executive. So it would be best if you started scheduling video conference calls, facetime and WhatsApp calls with your Executive. They have to see you, and you have to see them. No matter how busy they are or overwhelmed with zoom calls. You must get that time with them to take a pulse on what is happening and how you can support them and add value. It is more important than ever, so don’t let them make excuses and don’t think you are doing them a favour not bother them or taking up their time.

Define what you do and communicate what you can offer

Now is a very good time to write down everything that you do, within your job description and outside of it. Include all of the skills, both soft and hard skills, that are utilised in your organisation and those skills that you have but are not used to the extent that you would like.

This is for two reasons. Having a document like that will give you confidence and what you can offer and also clarity in where you can add value.

Times have changed and will continue to change so some of the tasks and skills you had before Covid may not be as important as other skills you have.

I have some questions that I want you to answer that will help with this exercise:

  • What are the new priorities for your organisation?
  • For your Executive and yourself?

It is important to remember that your scope might have changed because of your current living situation. For example, my scope has changed enormously since Covid because my children are at home with me. What I can achieve and what has to be prioritised is completely different now. I have to acknowledge that and make changes to how I run Practically Perfect PA. It will be the same for everyone, that is why this exercise is important for you as well as your Executive and your organisation.

  • What tasks have been dropped, and what will replace them?
  • Where can you re-skill?

My example here is travelling planning. For many Assistants, this was a huge part of the role. Although travel is making a comeback, it certainly won’t be as much as pre-Covid so Assistants who used to organise a lot of travel will have the capacity for other tasks. What is going to replace travel, for example, probably conference calling and online events – so where can you upskill here?

When your Executive travels again, how can you help them feel safe and prepared? Using this time to prepare as much as you can for the new normal will add a lot of value.

We’ve talked about re-skilling in terms of video technology, but I’m sure there are lots of other areas you can find that will benefit from you up-skilling.

Lastly, but really importantly

  • What soft skills are more essential in your role?
  • How do you display them in your day to day work?

Certain soft skills are really going to help the workforce during this time, and luckily Assistants have these skills in abundance, here are a few:

  • Adaptability
  • Productivity
  • Leadership skills
  • Communication
  • Relationship building
  • Empathy
  • Creativity and problem-solving.
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Curiosity and a willingness to learn
  • And lastly, calm under pressure.

Think about these skills, and how you can use them in your workplace, how they will make you more visible and where you can be seen to add value.

I want to touch on something that Assistants spend a lot of time doing, and that is scheduling and diary management. For many of you, this is the cornerstone of your role. Not just planning meetings, but managing your executive’s day and where they place their focus and their energy.

This is also the task that helps many of you stay in the loop. You schedule the meetings, but you also have access to all of the supporting documents, you understand why these meetings are taking place, the relevance and where they sit in the broader picture of things.

Managing meetings that are all taking place online is a new ball game, and there are new rules. But firstly it is worth saying that your involvement is more important than ever. And here is why.

Firstly,

  • High standards of output are returning.

I think at the start of the pandemic, understandably work was not a priority for many of us as we tried to understand what this new reality looked like. For many of us, this grace period is still very much in place because there are so many factors in play at the moment, kids aren’t back at school, the virus hasn’t disappeared, and many people are still sick and suffering the loss of loved ones. It is a devastating time. But, we also know that we those running businesses are under a lot of pressure to ensure the organisation survives now and whatever is coming next. High standards of output are returning, and there will be a lot of pressure on your Executive’s time.

How you manage their schedule remotely is going to be incredibly important, and you have to work together to get it right.

  • No one wants more meetings, but…

It is important to over-communicate while working remotely. It is important to Schedule regular touchpoints with your Executive and your team and other departments. I’m going to talk about this in more detail, but you have to over-communicate and work collaboratively with those in your organisation.

  • Give your Executive more time.

This could be attending meetings in their place or ensuring that everyone joining the meeting is extra prepared so that the meeting is effective. Where can you reduce the pressure on their schedules? Where are their pain points during the day, and what can you do to alleviate that?

  • Getting personal with their schedule.

Now that we are all working from home, we have other priorities that we did not have at the office. Managing your Executive’s time now must include an understanding of their personal lives and pressures. They might be working with partners, parents and children in the house. They will certainly have more personal pressures that they didn’t have in the office so again, how can you arrange their schedule to ensure they have enough balance in their life to show up in the different areas that they need to?

  • Fragmented vs focused time.

If you thought it was bad pre-Covid, the time spent in meetings has increased dramatically since Covid-19. This means that the time between meetings is where most people are getting their work done. As we know, using the time in between meetings is bad news. Using this fragmented time, as it is called, makes it really hard to get anything done. It is not productive.

So again, it would be best if you worked with your Executive to find time in their schedule in which they can really focus. That could be using time blocking techniques or understanding where their energy is during the day and planning accordingly (for example, if they are a morning person can they get up before the rest of the house, so they have a quiet hour or two to spend on strategy and focused reading?)

However you set it up they need to have time to focus when not in meetings, and it shouldn’t be in between another meeting.

And this brings me on to my last point.

  • Energy Management.

Along with time management, it is equally important that Assistants manage their Executive’s energy.

Check-in with them, now that they have been working remotely for a few months and ask when they have the most energy and plan their time and activities around that energy.

Here are two great articles to get you started on energy management:

Manage your energy not your time
Energy Management – An Introduction

Speak up for your achievements and for yourself

Staying in the loop with your Executive while working from home

Now I know for many of us it is an achievement to get out of bed at the moment. I hear you, I feel you, I am you! I am struggling at the moment to be the best version of myself and achievements, that I actually want to share with people, feel very far away.

But, it is essential to toot your own horn at the moment and let people know what you are doing.

There are two points to this one:

  • Make it goal specific.

So firstly, you have to know what goals and objectives are at play right now for your organisation. So you have to keep up to date with what is going on. For your work and how you go about championing yourself keep the emphasis on the effort, you have put in and connect it to the goals of the organisation. Where are your efforts and your work adding to the organisation’s goals and bottom line?

  • Again I’m going to mention the work over-communicate.

You must over-communicate to make up for the lack of interaction and to have your work stay present in the minds of your Executive and colleagues. If you solved a problem for yourself, say setting up your home office, that other people are struggling with, share how you did it. If there are tips from this session or the course that other people are also struggling with – share it!

Sharing what you are doing doesn’t make you full of yourself or a braggart; it positions you as someone who is performing during this crisis. That will hold you in good stead, no matter what happens further down the road.

Make yourself indispensable

I want you to think strategically about this one. Because it can be pretty hard work being indispensable and the person that is forever being asked everything. But, in times like this it is important that you are seen as a business critical person in your organisation.

I want you to ask yourself – Where are the skill gaps and pressure points in your organisation?

Managing projects remotely? Technology? Creating routines and working productively? What can you become the subject-matter expert on? How do you quickly learn about the areas that are lacking experts in your organisation?

Where do people go to get the answers they need? How can you help connect the dots and facilitate the flow of information? I’ve found that if you can help people get the answers they need, they don’t care if you are down the hall or a thousand miles away and they certainly don’t care what your job title is – they will be so thankful that they know where to come to get answers they need quickly.

Keep delivering.

Be agile in your work and anticipate the needs of your colleagues and Executive. Offer viable solutions to move forward on tasks that have shifted course.

This last point is not easy, because so many of us are struggling to understand what is happening with projects and where people are with their work. I will share some tips on staying in the loop a bit later, but it is worth noting that you will probably have to go hunting for a lot of this information.

Your Executive, your colleagues, they are not going to call you up and update you on what is happening with their work. They are snowed under, so it is up to you to be responsive and get the answers that you need.

I want to touch on how you go about being responsive, and I also want to talk a little bit about your boundaries and mental health during this period.

I know that many of you will be worried about your job security. I think we are all concerned about what comes next in this pandemic and how it will affect the different economies around the world. When faced with job insecurities, it can be easy for you to feel like you have to work really hard, do longer hours, demonstrate your worth by being online more than anyone else or answering emails in the middle of the night.

That isn’t sustainable, and it certainly isn’t achievable for people who are also juggling a home life in a way they haven’t had to before.

Don’t prove your worth by working more. Be strategic in how you broadcast your work, for maximum impact.

You might find that you have more time than you used to when you were in the office, so find those tasks that will get you maximum exposure and create the most impact. What is really going to help people at the moment?

But if you have less time.

Let your Executive and your colleagues know that you are available and reacting to what they need, be available to sit on impromptu meetings and calls when you can. Make them feel like they can count on you but don’t neglect your boundaries.

Your boundaries might have changed over the last few months and in some areas you are happy to shift your priorities but please don’t push yourself to the point of burn out. The one thing that is clear in this moment, is your health is more important than ever.

You should also lead with compassion

These are strange and stressful times. In the first few months of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time watching the news and scrolling through social media, and once I had finished, it took a long time to get my focus back into really anything. I think this is probably playing out all over the world.

So, although it can feel frustrating not to be as visible as you once were in the office and your Executive is leaving you out of meetings and not responding to your emails, please lead with compassion and empathy. Now is not the time for a tough-love approach. They aren’t going to appreciate that at all.

Taking this approach will also help you stay visible and in the loop.

What does it actually mean to lead with compassion?

It means checking in with people, asking how they are feeling, what help can you offer, where are their pressure points?

They are going to give you answers.

And in turn, those answers are going to fuel your awareness of what is happening in your workplace and keeping in touch with your colleagues. Anything that comes up that your Executive should be aware of, you can then feedback to them.

Meet the teams you support where they do their work

If you have been putting off really engaging with your colleagues and understanding what they do. Now is the time to learn.

You should be familiar with the tools they use to communicate, collaborate and share their tasks and milestones. That means using, getting comfortable with and contributing to the platforms they use be it Slack, Salesforce, Jira, Smartsheets, Trello, Ariba – whatever it is. It would help if you were on there too because it gives you visibility into the information that will help you do your job better and keep you in the loop on what is going on.

This is even more important if your Executive works on these platforms. You’ve got to embrace the technology and systems they use to do their work.

This next tip will again help you increase your visibility and stay in the loop.

Bridge the communication gap and step in when your Executive can’t be there.

Make the most of the fact that most meetings are taking place online. Your Executive won’t be able to attend every meeting (and shouldn’t be attending every meeting) when they can’t be there – suggest you attend in their place. You can take notes, make suggestions and interact with everyone on the call. The more time you can give back to your Executive and help keep them in the loop, the more that will benefit you too.

You can also volunteer for work that you know will raise your profile and put you in contact with people outside of your normal circle.

You have to make your Executive your ally

You have to make your Executive your ally because you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

This is something that I have always said. You have every right to expect your Executive to proactively manage you and take your career progression seriously.

If you feel like you are losing touch with your Executive, you don’t know what is going on, and you feel invisible. You have to do something about it, and that starts with making your Executive aware that you are putting steps in place to ensure you are not out of the loop.

Please don’t complain to them about this. Explicitly tell them that you are not comfortable with how things are progressing since you’ve been working from home and you need their buy-in to change the situation.

Come to them with solutions to this problem. But, you do need their support, and you need them as your ally.

Don’t ever shy away from asking for what you need.