You and Your Mindset / Guide to Building influence in the Assistant role / Working collaboratively with other Assistants

Chapter Five

Working collaboratively with other Assistants

Working collaboratively with other Assistants in your organisation will help build your influence, especially if you work together as a team and share your knowledge and successes.

GUIDE: Preparing for a new Personal or Executive Assistant Job

Networking is such an essential part of the Assistant role. We can work in such silos that without a network to support our endeavours, the position can be very lonely.

Assistants are naturally good networks, you might not think it, but we are!

The nature of our role means we come in contact with lots of different people, companies and suppliers, and we generally are pretty helpful types!

In this chapter, we will look at how Assistants can build their network and widen their circle of influence. We will also share amazing tips on how to set up an internal Assistant network.

Before diving into this topic, we also have a comprehensive article on Building your Personal Brand and Network.

In this chapter, you will learn:

Using networks to get stuff done

We don’t have the answers to everything (although often our organisations think that we do!) but with the help of other assistants we can basically rule the world! So how do we ensure our networks are there to help us get stuff done? Here are a few tips:

Get to know your network

Assistants have access to many networks that can help with various aspects of the role. It is important to get to know the people within the networks. If you can all put a face to a name it really helps. If you can get out and about, attend networking events and get to know other assistants this really helps. If you are more of a social network kinda assistants ensure you like, share and comment on other assistant’s posts. Simply getting to know your contacts will make it easier for you to help each other out.

Give and take – networks need to get stuff from you.

This is important. If someone in your network asks for help and you can help – do! If you have a great supplier that you can share with your network or any advice, training suggestions or something that you have implemented that works sharing this knowledge don’t hold back from sharing the information. Your network might not need that contact now, but it might come in handy another time. Giving back is the number one rule to networking!

Don’t beat around the bush – get stuff done quickly.

We are a busy bunch, and I think most assistants would prefer a straightforward conversation. If you need help, ask for it upfront. This is one of the reasons we network in the first place! We get asked questions a billion times a day from colleagues, so we are pretty used to sharing our knowledge and helping other people out. Don’t be shy! Your network will have the answers, and if they don’t, they probably know someone who does!

Don’t rule people out – they have networks too!

Assistants deal with all manner of issues so actually our knowledge is pretty widespread and our networks can be really big. So don’t rule people out because you don’t think they will be able to help – you never know and it is always worth asking the question. It is also well worth being a little creative with your networks. Try to network with people who might be able to help in certain areas. For example, I always found the post room staff to be incredibly helpful when I needed details for a new supplier – they see parcels, packages and couriers bringing new products in and out of the office all day long. They knew all kinds of stuff!

Networking with other departments

We all know that networking is really important for Assistants. There are plenty of external networking events out there but really the first place to start with building your network is within your organisation.

It is essential that you know and get on well with your team and your department, but it is equally as crucial that you know as many members of staff as possible and you have contacts within other departments. A well-connected assistant will benefit their Executive immensely. They will know what is happening in other parts of the business, they can keep their Executive up to date on any developments within the business, and they will increase their overall awareness of the business objectives.

Here are a few of my tips on how to network with other departments.

Firstly, you have to take advantage of your position. You are an assistant to a senior member of staff which means everyone will know who they are and in turn, will know who you are. I’ve found this very helpful over the years because I haven’t had to explain my role in the organisation or which department I work in – everyone just knows.

Being an Assistant to an Executive means that you will often have to speak to other departments and arrange meetings with your Executive and your colleagues. In those situations always make sure you introduce yourself so that other members of staff know who you are and what you look like.

The first group of people within other departments who you should get to know are the assistants. If you don’t know every Assistant in your organisation, make sure you say hello next time you are passing through their department or drop them a quick email to introduce yourself.

Socialise with people from other departments.

As I said, you should know all of the assistants in your organisation so start by inviting them to your department drinks and hopefully they will return the invitation. If you see someone from your organisation in a social setting go over and introduce yourself, next time you see them in the office corridor, it will be easier to say hello and strike up a conversation.

Put yourself forward for cross-departmental projects. It is much easier to get to know someone if you are working on a project together. During meetings, make sure you contribute to the discussions and also make sure you are proactive in the work you take on. Once the project is complete, make sure you keep in touch with every member of the team, including those in other departments. Oh and remember to organise a celebratory drink once the project is finished – it is much better to get to know other people in an informal setting.

If your organisation has any social groups such as a sports team, book club, or poker night, do make sure you go along to one of them. It is a great way to get to know other people within your organisation and network with other departments.

Ensure you know what every other department in your organisation does. This information should be available on your intranet. It is much easier to network with other members of staff if you know what they do and how they fit into the business.

Working with other Assistants

In my recent blog on what I think Assistants can expect in 2013, I briefly discussed the relationship between assistants and how teamwork and support of each other will become more critical this year. I thought I would go into a bit more detail and give some tips on how we can work as a team.

If your organisation is anything like the organisations I used to work for, then you will also have Assistants spread out across different units, floors, offices and Countries reporting into different managers with varying degrees of seniority. It is now extremely rare for there to be a pool of Assistants all working together as a team reporting into one manger. With this structure, it is difficult to see yourself as part of a team of assistants, mainly as we have different priorities; however, I do believe if Assistants work together, it does benefit us all. So how do we do this?

Bond over shared experiences

Do you know all of the assistants in your office? Do you only email each other or speak briefly on the phone when you need something? If this is the case, then trust me, you are not the only one as it can be hard to get to know people at work when you are so busy.

Nevertheless, it is worth getting to know your fellow assistants so to do this organise for all you to go out for a few drinks after work or get everyone together for lunch. It is so helpful knowing the other assistants by their name and their face so once you are all together, trust me conversation will flow as you all have so much in common!

Team meetings

Hold a regular team meeting for all of the assistants, once a month is more than enough, but it is worthwhile. You can put together an agenda so that the meeting isn’t just there for people to vent but talk about best practice, improvements in the office, frustrations, and achievements.

Suppliers can be invited along to discuss the company’s requirements, and you could even ask your colleagues to come in and present their area of the business so that all of the assistants are aware of what happens in other departments. There is so much you can do at these meetings, and I highly recommend you have them.

Support each other

How often do you think to yourself ‘my colleagues have no idea what I do and what I have to put up within this role?’ Well, guess what, other Assistants in your company know exactly what you go through because they are going through the same thing every day.

Try to be supportive of each other, if an assistant looks unwell or stressed or just run off their feet send a supportive email or ask if they need any help or simply take them a cup of tea. We don’t have much support in that we usually work independently and don’t often get asked how we are (especially if your manager isn’t that way inclined) so do look out for each other.

Provide cover for them

You know that feeling when you come back from annual leave, and you know you have hundreds of emails, umpteen voicemails and goodness knows what left on your desk to deal with? How great would it be if you had one of your assistants covering your work while you were away so that you didn’t have all of that waiting for you?

Providing cover is the best thing assistants can do for each other, yes the assistant covering will be busier for a week or two. Still, when they go away, they will have a much more excellent break knowing their manager is being looked after and won’t call in a panic when they should be drinking margaritas by the pool!

The basic rules are that you try to do as much of the work you need to before you leave, you give the covering assistant outstanding notes to follow, and you buy them something lovely as a thank you gift.

So I hope you see the benefits of working as a team with your fellow assistants and supporting each other. I have found this a great help over the last few years, and I hope you have too… if not try to implement some of my ideas; it does make a big difference.

The questions you need to ask before you cover for another Assistant

It can be tough juggling your job and another assistant’s tasks, you have the demands of your work as well as figuring out how to work with another team or one on one with another Executive. It is not easy, but if you have a few ground rules in place before starting the cover, it *should* be smooth sailing.

Here are my top 5 questions you can ask before you take on another assistant’s work:

  1. What is coming up while the Assistant is out of the office?

Sit down with the Assistant a few days before them leaving the office and go through everything that could crop up during that time. It could be anything from essential meetings, expected visitors, trips, appointments etc. Make sure you are aware of everything that is already in the diary so that you can plan your day accordingly, and hopefully it will save you from any surprises. Ensure you have access to the calendars and emails for all of the people you are assisting, even if they are highly senior. It is so much harder to anticipate their needs if you don’t know what is going on during their day.

  1. What is the Executive like?

Or possibly the better question to ask is what does the Executive like? This question needs to be answered honestly by your colleague. Are they demanding, are they unorganised, will they delegate anything to you? Depending on your relationship with the other Assistant, you may well know what the boss is like and what you are getting yourself into. However, I would still get the low down from your colleague because you never know what quirks and foibles these senior managers have until you work for them.

  1. What is expected of you?

So you know what is coming up while your colleague is out of the office but do you know how much you have to be involved with that? Are you expected to be a full-time assistant, or are you supposed to keep the office ticking over until the other assistant returns?

It is so important because from the outset you will know how much work to expect. How much your workload will expand, and if you will have to stay in the office longer than usual. Can you deal with the extra work or should you be taking the cover on at all? If you have to attend meetings with the manager, manage all of their emails and appointments or take on any project work this could be too much, or it could be a great challenge that you are happy to do. At least you will know from the outset.

  1. How long will you be covering for?

Covering for a day is easy, a week not so bad, a fortnight is a juggling act, maternity leave could see you looking after two directors full time… forever! Find out and find out fast!

  1. What is your manager thinking?

This is probably the most critical question to ask. Is your manager okay with you dividing your time between them and someone else? If you are EA to the CEO, is it feasible for you to help someone else when you are in high demand in the first place? If you are happy to cover for another assistant ask your manager first and also have a look at what they have coming up before you commit to anything. If it is a quiet period for your manager, it will probably be fine for you to take on extra work but do double-check.

If you work at a company that encourages assistants to work together as a team, you will be required to cover for each other every now and again. It isn’t always fun or easy and with the extra work can be quite stressful. There is a positive side also in that you will be exposed to other areas of the business, you might be covering for a more senior manager than you currently do and this is great for your reputation and experience, you might pick up new skills and meet new people. Oh, and you might be rewarded too!

How to build an internal network

During the Virtual Summit October 2017, we had the amazing Simone White, Executive Assistant and Global Chair of GAIN – Administrative Professionals Network at BlackRock train our group of attendees on starting their own internal network for Assistants. Today we are really pleased that we can share the video with you.

It is full of useful advice on where to start if you want to start your internal network for Assistants, how to cope with the challenges of organising a network and of course a detailed look at all of the benefits.

As a Personal Assistant, Simone is part of YOUR network and shares YOUR challenges. Discover new PA and EA networks and if you can’t find one that’s right for you, why not start our own after hearing Simone’s personal experience.

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Working collectively and sharing best practice in your EA network

I often hear Assistants say, we have an internal network, but it isn’t beneficial. That sucks! It is such an achievement to get a network up and running, and it is such a shame if it isn’t working to benefit the group of Assistants working in the organisation. Well, that is about to change today. Here are ten tips and tricks that will help you work collectively and sharing best practice in your EA network.

Effective Meeting Management: This is the first step to take to ensure your network meetings are productive. You have to manage the meetings like you would a board or committee meeting. Make sure you have an agenda at each meeting, always have a chairperson (this could be consistent, or you could change it each month), write down actions and outcomes and stick to the subjects in the agenda and the timing of the meeting.

What are the common issues?

Every network should have some common ground. If you haven’t had a chance yet to write down your common problems formally, then this is a task for the next meeting. Once you realise how consistent and similar your issues are you can work to resolving the problems (and often the problems are similar despite the fact you all work in different teams and departments).

Have a social aspect but don’t make it all about the socialising!

Make sure you do organise regular drinks and get-togethers for all of the Assistants in the network. It is imperative that you all bond and the best way to do this is in an informal setting. Also, make sure that you have constructive get-togethers which have a training and educational element to them.

I spoke a few years ago at the BlackRock Assistant network. They had organised a presentation from a senior member of staff, an external trainer and had asked each Assistant to invite another Assistant from one of their client’s organisations. It was such a brilliant idea and showed the senior members of staff the power of the Assistant network. Of course, there were drinks and nibbles and a goodie bag too!

How can you be more efficient as a team of Assistants?

Again this should be part of every networking session. What can you be doing as a group of employees to drive the business forward and add to the bottom line? At the start of every year, set objectives for the network, work on a joint project that your network owns. What can you be doing to integrate your network into the business? Bobbie Saxon, EA at Diageo, shares a great example of this. Her Assistant team train other members of staff on how to be more productive, use the IT systems correctly and work with them on their time management. What a great way to use their skills and move the business forward.

Ask your colleagues to attend the meetings.

This is a great way to improve the overall business acumen of the Assistants. Ask them to present what they are doing in their team or department so that all of the Assistants start to understand what everyone else is doing and how they fit into the structure of the organisation.

Contact your suppliers.

Let your suppliers know that you have an internal Assistant network and again ask them to come along and talk about how the system or product works. In one of my internal networks, we ask the travel management company to come in, and we talked through the problems we had with their online booking tool, along with one of the IT team. We were able to get them to make adjustments for us that solved some of our issues.

Pull together all of the standard procedures and create a process manual for all of your organisation’s Assistants.

This doesn’t have to be done during the meeting you can set up a Slack channel or a OneNote document or Google Doc (whatever works best for your organisation). Ask everyone to add their best tips and tricks for dealing with procedures in your organisation and how they work best in the role.

Make sure everyone is involved.

You should ask each member of the network to provide an update on what is happening in their area, ask all new hires to come along as soon as they start their job, assign tasks and responsibilities so that all the Assistants feel like they have a stake in the network.

If your network is currently a place where most people come to gripe about the job, this can be challenging.

It won’t make the network useful or much fun! If you do have this issue a good way to tackle it is to have a discussion section during each meeting where people can vent. But make sure you time it well, so the venting section doesn’t take up the whole session. Make sure you have an action point after each section so that something can be done about the issue being discussed. It is incredible how many people stop moaning about something when they are asked actually to start resolving the problem!

You are stronger together.

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Assistants who have set up internal networks which have gone on to change policy and enhance the role of the Assistants across the entire organisation. It can be done. You are much stronger together. An internal network shows that you are taking your role seriously and everyone else in the organisation should too. Make sure this message is frequently communicated in the network so that you share a common purpose.

Thank you for reading our guide!

We hope you find the guide useful and that it helps you on your journey to building influence and creating relationships with your colleagues.

This guide will always be free for Assistants.

We also have free content on the Practically Perfect PA blog, and we have an Assistant Mindset online course which is full of great sessions on how to develop a successful mindset while working as a Personal or Executive Assistant.