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Evolution of office automation

old office

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.

Finding time in 2021

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.

The future of AI and Max, my virtual assistant

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.

Optimize executive engagement

The digital landscape and technology has changed at lightening speeds and our behaviors adapted to grow and learn the latest tools needed to drive a successful career. This leaves a vast majority of people living in a world that is always powered on and faced with fear of missing out [FOMO]. But how does one adapt without sacrificing what matters most?

For starters, there needs to be boundaries and commitments that are tied to both personal and professional goals. Without a vision, the course of the year will lose itself spinning out of control with no mini-wins tied to levels of achievement. The plan doesn’t have to be a 3 or 5 year journal, but something that is realistic to journey through a short period of time, then branch out as each goal is attained.

To help attain proficiency and stay motivated, executives can share their outlook at the beginning of each year with their executive assistant. This step is pivotal in carving out the time in the weekly schedule to focus on the areas that will bring the most value throughout the day. 

Keep in mind that there are different levels of engagement for executives that are shaped based on the structure of the organization and size. The CEO’s balance of engagement externally should be higher because they are charged with overseeing strategic initiatives wherein an SVP’s internal engagement will be higher to strengthen the employee value proposition.

The executive assistant can leverage the outlook calendar tools to assign categories to the calendar posts so that all meetings can be tracked for the amount of time that the executive spends in the areas that are tied to their overall performance. Of course, the categories for internal and external engagement will vary based on the organization’s charge of business. However, there are two categories that can apply to all executives to start with—external and internal engagement. Looking at the role of a CEO, their external engagement will be the driving factor in performance for the company so their ratio may look like 60% external vs 40% internal. And the role of an EVP in marketing may also have the same ratio because of the relationship build they need to maintain with external partners as well as committing to a regular social media schedule. Learn how to create outlook categories here. And to help create a social media content calendar, check-out the array of resources posted by Hootsuite here.

The earlier in the year an executive gets started on developing an engagement plan and track the journey, the executive assistant can pull engagement reports directly from outlook that will reveal whether or not time carved out each week demonstrates commitment to what matters most. Overtime, there will be less FOMO because the ares that make a difference in living life will intrinsically balance out.

Bolden the culture of kindness and bring on something new

Over the years we have invested and committed to a wide variety of activities that include external engagement efforts, giving back, community programs and virtual events. This last year we recognized that there is significant opportunity not only in our traditional approach in social responsibility, but also in giving back to the communities we live and work in as we face the challenge of the pandemic—we all have the ability to build on the foundation that delivers long-term value in our communities to bolden the culture of kindness.

We need to ignite the passion of giving back to make an impact where it matters—strengthening the core of our inner most values, not only in our professional lives but personally too, will develop the culture we yearn for.

As we enter into the new year, look for the opportunities to help those in need. The travesty of 2020 will eventually be behind us, but there will be the lingering impact to our lives for months, possibly years to come. Being part of the difference doesn’t always come in the form of money, it can be devoting your time to listen, to teach or mentor and there are many programs to get involved with to provide meals for those who are home-bound at this time. 

Keep in mind as we journey into 2021, the past does not determine our future because we have the power to change our behaviors and tap into calls to action that aim at fostering good in our lives and communities. For instance, there are limitations on the way we live at this time, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stop living our best life. The time we have now at home, can be a start to a new beginning by fueling our brains with ideas and different ways to not only pivot but also adapt to a refreshed normal or family favorite throwback like reinventing drive-in movies!

Technology has consumed our lives and shifted our mindsets to all things digital that blocks [or starves] our ability to reach the depths of our creative imagination—many ideas 30 plus years ago were shaped in sandboxes or swinging in the park. Change doesn’t have to be about inventing a new product or building the foundation of a business from scratch, it can be taking a craft or a hobby and turning it into a powerful force of kindness—virtually connecting with seniors to get them moving indoors will not only create positive energy but happiness that fuels longevity. 

Extending your spirit and heart beyond FaceTime, Instagram, Twitter and streaming can transform the future that will move our communities forward and foster social responsibility in the world. Pause for a moment, put the mobile phone down and pull out the jigsaw puzzle, then let your mind flow freely to visualize your future—refresh your way of thinking to bring on something new and add that sparkle of color back to your life! 

Bring on something new and add that sparkle of color back to your life!

Remote Workforce Existed Years Before the 2020 Pandemic

great ideas are born no matter where you work

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.

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