It is incredible how much the office has evolved since I decided 30+ years ago that my career focus would be of service in the business world.
As I look back, I don’t know how I survived the manual typewriter, carbon paper or the ink press! Needless to say, the advancement of technology, tools and resources has transformed my life as an executive assistant and broadened my knowledge to levels unimaginable from the day I started out as a legal assistant. To help you visualize my first gig, the office had a manual typewriter, a rotary phone, stencil pad, rolodex, calculator and a postage meter–no printer or photocopier that are now standard office essentials.
Fast forward to today, the tools and equipment provide a gateway to possibilities to get stuff done and rise above challenges. Not only do the latest discoveries in technology offer advancements in the executive assistant role, but also for the small business community and startups. It is imperative for organizations, big or small, to evolve with innovations in office automation, otherwise the ability to propel their operations forward would fall behind as noted in this article published by Inc.
For instance, the array of Microsoft office 365 products allow for a small business to get started with a website, design apps, collaborate with colleagues and improve office automation. And the executive assistant can leverage the online learning modules and resources that coincide with their products to advance in the role. This video outlines how to get started in app design and preview of the automation possibilities:
The office landscape will continue to broaden and technology will change at lightening speeds so it is important to carve out the time to learn. Researching and finding the right platforms and products to streamline everyday tasks will not only help exceed expectations in performance but also bring the business into the workforce of the future.
Time is one of organization’s most precious resources and planning ahead is key to optimizing an executive’s schedule–building in flexibility for the unexpected helps to mitigate the unforeseen. And the article posted by BCG, ‘The Heart of CEO Effectiveness” shares great insights and best practices to ponder, especially for those who are faced with exhaustion at the end of each day.
I am going to dive into another piece of ‘finding time’ that is paramount to efficiency and productivity, in particular for those who are in charge of orchestrating heavy Microsoft outlook calendars. The Microsoft Garage team are always hard at work exploring options to enhance tools and/or discover new ones to maximize our performance. The latest tool I am excited to share is a Microsoft Office 365 product “FindTime”. Although everyone is open for help with finding time in their day, this tool is primarily a productivity boost for scheduling meetings. For all the #executiveassitants who are outlook calendar schedulers, this maybe a breakthrough in calendar management and overcoming a hurdle with coordinating external global stakeholders/meeting attendees. Sourcing for time either starts with an email or call to the executive’s administrative point of contact but if they do not have one, then the hurdle widens.
The following image is a visual of the Microsoft outlook add-in FindTime poll shared in the post “About FindTime” which also has a video that demonstrates the powerhouse behind it:
The tool will automatically schedule the meeting based on the first available time slot agreed upon but this feature can be turned off for those who prefer to send the calendar post with additional details to include the purpose of the discussion.
A ‘how to’ overview can be viewed here to learn more about the tool that helps take calendar productivity to a new level and minimize the exhaustion out of coordinating meeting times across multiple calendars.
In 2020 I introduced Max, my virtual assistant. While Max does not exist today the discovery and evolution of AI is gaining strides in bringing Max closer to reality sooner than I anticipate.
The Microsoft Hackathon winning team in 2020 introduced a customized digital assistant–initial design focussed on leveraging the Microsoft Edge browser and teaching it to do a number of tasks. Thus viewing the browser as a ‘window to the world‘ [source: Microsoft article published September 1, 2020 by Leah Culler].
Google is also attaining traction in the AI space with ‘Reserve with Google‘ providing users with an option to adopt something new into their day to ease up on tactical tasks. The tool, while logged into your Google account, connects to a wide variety of online services that let you schedule, coordinate and do stuff on a regular basis–a number of tasks #executiveassistants currently manage for their executive.
As AI evolves, there will be areas that can be automated in the office but not all tasks can be replaced that require humans to perform. For instance, influence, emotional intelligence [EI] or negotiating are sought after soft skills that are weaved into the role to produce optimal impact to the organization. Executive assistants will continue to be an integral part of business operations with renewed standards of excellence as innovation and technology advances because the administrative field always adapts to the business operative. By taking charge of the change and being part of innovation will help to identify how to leverage the power of AI to broaden and enhance what an all-star #executiveassistant can do–take part of the online US based survey here.
Back in 2015 when asked in a job interview or development discussion, ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’, more likely the answer was not ‘working from home’. However, a vast number began to want flexibility to work where they want and when, increasing the remote workforce pool in 2018–the study by FastCompany reveals the numbers. This propelled organizations to adopt flexible work arrangements and used it as a compelling option to attract top talent. Eventually best practices were developed and people managers were trained on how to manage remote teams. What’s interesting is that when workplace flexibility started to take shape, the trending hashtags today #youareonmute, #canyouhearme or #canyouseemyscreen, were not mainstream. Why? Everyone committed to finding ways to work together no matter where colleagues worked.
Fast forward to 2020 and organizations are faced with navigating through new norms but forgetting that employees were encouraged to work from home to help balance their mental health as they dealt with long commutes, extensive travel or long office hours. It worked many years ago and FastCompany highlights some interesting facts in their article: No, remote work isn’t a “new” perk—it’s been around for about 1.4 million years. But why the struggle now?
There are millions of people thrusted outside of their comfort zone without a choice–working from home was never part of their career plan. This results in negative behaviors to surface from fear and/or shake up of their normal routine. And extroverts are struggling yet introverts are in a new found bliss as they face lockdown and restrictions–everyone deals differently which brings a plethora of emotions with no escape. This article by The Sydney Morning Harold gives a glimpse into how introverts and extroverts are coping during this time.
As the world starts to figure out ways to try to get lives back to normal, organizations are revamping the office layout and guiding employees to return to the office. Keep in mind that before the pandemic, everyone was traveling and meetings were crammed into schedules extending the typical 9:00 – 5:00 daily grind. The Doodle report provides some great insights into the importance and state of meetings.
“It long has been argued that “there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ meeting, only ‘great’ meetings or meetings that are a waste of time.” Source: Forbes Article
Taking this into consideration, there’s opportunity to delve into the behaviors vs the tools, environment and resources. And finding middle ground to breeze through the day and promoting flexibility plays a key role in self-care and mental health. For the introverts, they don’t want to feel pressured to return to the office and the extroverts are anxious to leave behind the blurred lines between work and home. These helpful tips from the CNN business article, are worth giving a shot to help manage through virtual meetings–they are here to stay because the remote workforce is not going away.
It doesn’t matter where you work, however, it is how you choose to show up no matter where your physical being is. Achievement is more about what internally drives you to journey through your professional roadmap–the only roadblock to reach your destiny is you. Don’t let any one thing or person stand in your way to overcome challenges or limits in life. For those seeking inspiration and ideas to fuel their professional juices, check-out Elevate, by Robert Glazer.
In closing, keep in mind that not everyone is built the same and we are all unique in what shapes us. This is what creates a diverse world in which we do our best to optimize life to the fullest and realize that people can thrive regardless of where they are.