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Why admin professionals are the new middle managers

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Just as everything in the business world is constantly evolving, the role of management assistants has transformed significantly in recent years. New research has found that there are several key factors driving this change, not least of which is the recent recession.

When firms were forced to cut costs in order to stay afloat, many PAs found themselves taking on more work to compensate for staff shortages. Although the economy is now recovering, businesses are reluctant to hire more managers and they’ve become dependent on multi-skilled assistants to fill in the gaps. Modern technology also plays a part, as many admin professionals are tasked with monitoring a company’s social media output to report on client issues.

Most companies recruiting PAs and EAs require candidates to possess a certain level of leadership skills. It’s not uncommon for an admin professional to be asked to head up a team, which sometimes includes approving office purchases, leading important projects and even getting involved in the hiring of new staff.

Despite the business world’s reliance on computers, only 13% of those surveyed said they have mastered Microsoft Office, which is why training for PAs has become so important. This shifting role has paved the way for unprecedented opportunities, but budding professionals need to have high-level skills to succeed, concludes the survey conducted by the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP).

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Stay on the right track to get to the top

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In these days of constant connectivity, social media and instant messaging, it’s all too easy to become distracted from the task in hand. Follow these handy hints to avoiding workplace interruptions – they’ll help you focus on your job and your souped-up efficiency is bound to impress your boss into the bargain.

Try building a physical barrier around your desk – think books, plants and a big lamp. This should help create the impression that you don’t want to be disturbed. Manage technological distractions by setting a timer on your phone, committing you to working on a particular project until the allotted time is up – no Facebook or Instagram breaks allowed.

Switch off from technology once in a while – if you find yourself fixated by Lady Gaga’s latest fashion faux-pas, then get up and walk away for five minutes or so – getting some air will allow you to have a clear head and will help you be more productive in the long run.

If garrulous colleagues are the ones waylaying your good intentions, then ask them to email you instead of popping by your desk to chat. If they really won’t take the hint then maybe it’s time to make your point blindingly obvious by attaching a note to your desk similar in style to a hotel’s “Do not disturb” sign – “On deadline” is one suggestion that might work.

When all else fails work out an exit strategy: think in advance of a line you can use to bring the conversation to a swift conclusion when you’re busy. Something along the lines of “I can’t really give this my full attention right now, but if you let me finish what I’m working on here, I’ll get back to you” can be an effective yet diplomatic way of achieving this.

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The importance of that little black book

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Networking is one of those buzz words that resonates within the PA community, but it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s an excellent reason to sign up to the Little Black Book coaching session presented by celebrity PA Donna Coulling at the PA Life Training Day.

Donna will talk delegates through the how, why and where of networking and cover topics that include “Knowledge is power – you are who you know” and look at which associations and organisations you should consider joining.

Donna trained as an actor at the renowned Italia Conti Academy in London and is now PA to such stars of stage and screen as Helena Bonham Carter, Rachel Weisz, Sir Derek Jacobi and Samuel West.

The training day takes place on Monday, 15 June at the ILEC Conference Centre at the Ibis London Earls Court and features 12 compelling courses, each individually tailored for the PA community. Delegates can choose to come for the full day for £249, or for just a half day at £125.

The full-day option includes a networking lunch where attendees get the chance to mingle and chat with administrative professionals from a whole range of different backgrounds.

To book your place, or for further information, visit, email, or call Jack Risley on 01992 374064.

Dealing with work from a distance

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With a growing number of assistants deciding to set up on their own as VAs, working remotely from your boss is becoming increasingly common. Here are a few pointers to follow to make a long-distance professional relationship work.

First off, remember there’s little about working face to face that you can’t replicate online or on the phone. Factor in a Skype meeting once a week when you can make time to talk things through.

Don’t shy away from being assertive in your manner; researchers at the University of North Carolina found that those working remotely tend to make more use of tactics such as frequent check-ups and reminders. These can be influential in reaching a positive outcome when managing a project.

If you’re unsure of the best way to interact with a boss who isn’t physically based at your location, then try approaching a colleague close to him or her, who can act as an intermediary on your behalf.

Lastly, don’t forget that distance increases the possibility of miscommunication, so make sure to have good management systems put in place to counteract this.

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Employees reveal how to get your revenge

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A new study shows employees across the UK have been committing astonishing acts of revenge on their colleagues and customers. From harmless pranks to stunts that cross the line of legality, anonymous workers have confessed their sins in a tell-all survey.

The research, conducted by national health and safety consultancy, compiles a list of amusing recollections. One office worker who wanted to get back at his miserable colleagues adjusted the motion sensors in the bathroom to turn the lights off after one minute, plunging the room into darkness.

Another, who’s a manager, admitted to scheduling long meetings with lots of trivial points on the agenda, then lying about having to be elsewhere after 10 minutes in order to secure some quiet time at his desk.

Other confessions are more light-hearted, such as the employee who left a note on a colleague’s desk to “phone Liz” – along with the number for Buckingham Palace. Meanwhile, one person left an open packet of fish fingers concealed in the office of a co-worker who had them disciplined without good reason.

More serious offences include the shop worker who got revenge on a boss for refusing to pay more than the minimum wage by passing discounts on to customers. Plus, there’s the office employee who was cheated out of a big business deal and got back at the Sheffield-based sales team by pretending to be a new customer and setting up meetings at a fake office in Cornwall, rolling with laughter at the panicked phone calls asking for directions on the day.

Possibly the most risky – and illegal – prank was conducted by an office worker whose boss took the credit for a 350-page report they wrote together, for which the boss received a bonus. The employee complained and got transferred to another department, but not before she wiped the computers of her former manager’s team of all their important files and got him suspended.’s research shows that only 17% of those surveyed actually admitted to pulling pranks. While the stories recounted are humorous, the consultancy warns that such behaviour can lead to reduced company profits and even serious injury to the victims.

How to write efficient and effective emails for your boss

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Personal assistants write hundreds of emails to their bosses every week and often correspond with clients on their manager’s behalf. If the goal of a message is to inspire someone to take action it’s important to focus on the psychology of the reader. Here are some tips for writing more effective emails.

Consider the circumstances It’s tempting to send your message as soon as you finish writing it, especially in today’s fast-paced world of instant communication. However, it’s always a good idea to think about when and where your boss will receive your email. If you’re informing your manager about an upcoming leave of absence, it’s not a good idea to send it on a Friday evening, or when he or she is returning from a stressful business trip.

Personalise messages If you’re writing an important email on behalf of your boss to multiple recipients, don’t send it to everybody at once with a generic header. This may save time, but it won’t grab a reader’s attention straight away. You should also use key words in your subject line to avoid being overlooked in a crowded inbox.

Think about your readers You’ll no doubt know the majority of your audience on some level and will understand their needs. Keep in mind those you don’t know, the so-called “mystery readers” so you can structure an email that gives all of the important details and can be understood by anybody, even if they were inadvertently forwarded the message. Be sure to make it timeless where possible so colleagues can refer to it in the future and understand its original context.

Give options for responses You can never force your boss or a colleague to respond to your email, but you can make it easier for them to decide to take action. Start by outlining exactly what you expect to achieve and give your readers a deadline for answers. Try coming up with default options where appropriate, such as: “If I don’t hear from you by Monday, I’ll assume you agree with me.”

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Report highlights new business travel trend

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As many as 83% of business travellers use time on their trip to explore the city they’re visiting. Nearly half of them (46%) add personal travel days to business trips every time they go away.

In its report on the “bleisure” market, (leisure and business travel combined) serviced apartment operator BridgeStreet Global Hospitality reveals that the three most popular bleisure activities are sightseeing, dining and arts/culture.

The majority of those polled (60%) have taken bleisure trips, with most of them adding two annual leave days to a business trip. More than half (54%) of respondents said they bring a partner or family members with them on such trips.

The top reason for bleisure travel is a desire to see the world and participate in cultural experiences. As many as 78% feel that adding leisure days to business travel enhances the value of the work assignment, while six out of 10 are more likely to take business trips now than they were five years ago.

The report also found that most business trips (48%) have a duration of 1-2 days, with 25.5% of respondents citing 2-4 days; some 18.2% regularly go on trips that last longer than a week.

EXECSec announces strong speaker line-up

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Delegates at this year’s EXECSec Summit will be able to pick up some vital tips to help them do their jobs more effectively, including maximising their brainpower, becoming a PA brand ambassador and setting boundaries in the workplace.

Author and international trainer Sue France kicks off the proceedings with a presentation on neuroscience that looks at how to apply practical steps in order to develop cognitive ability. Sue will also cover techniques designed to make your brain work efficiently at all times, how to rewire your brain for change and the benefits of mindfulness.

Next up is award-winning PA Victoria Darragh, who is currently executive assistant to the Group CEO and Group Finance Director at recruitment firm Hays and the National Channel Lead for Hays PA & Secretarial, as well as being the co-founder of the Hays PA network. Victoria will be speaking on “The PA Pathway to becoming a Brand Ambassador”; she will discuss why being a brand ambassador can add strategic value to your organisation and the ways in which using your brand can help share knowledge and build a community both internally and externally.

It can be tricky setting clearly defined boundaries at work, but Lindsay Taylor, the Director of training company Your Excellency, will talk EXECSec attendees through the benefits of saying “no” on occasion, the six different ways of saying “no” and how to deliver your message with impact.

Delegates at the two-day event will also have the opportunity to hear how former TV and film production assistant Katie McEwan came to work for Jacqueline Gold, the CEO of lingerie chain Ann Summers and one of the UK’s most successful business women. Katie will share the story of her success and give her take on the future of the PA role.

EXECSec takes place from 27-28 April at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire and offers management assistants the opportunity to meet suppliers face to face in a relaxed yet productive business environment via a series of pre-scheduled appointments.

To find out more, visit For more information on attending the event as a supplier, call Aimee Sontag on 01992 374100.

Make Microsoft work for you at the PA Life Training Day

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Most PAs use Excel and Outlook on a daily basis, so it’s vital to ensure that you get the most out of them. If you are self-taught and have some gaps in your knowledge, then you could certainly benefit from a session at the forthcoming PA Life Training Day moderated by Kim Middleton, who is Operations Manager at Pitman Training.

Kim will take delegates through a whole variety of key learning points that include custom settings in Excel, sharing workbooks, working with data and with charts, pivot tables, conditional formatting, track changes, protecting cells and worksheets, plus common formulas and functions.

The presentation also takes an in-depth look at Outlook and runs through topics such as folders and favourites, contacts and groups, using the calendar, multiple time zones, rules and conditional formatting, templates, delegate access, permissions and encryptions, as well as voting buttons.

The Training Day takes place on Monday, 15 June at the ILEC Conference Centre at the Ibis London Earls Court and features 12 compelling courses, each individually tailored for the PA community. Delegates can choose to come for the full day for £249, or for just a half day at £125. The full-day option includes a networking lunch where attendees get the chance to mingle and chat with administrative professionals from a whole range of different backgrounds.

There are discounted rates available for those who have previously attended a PA Life Training Day.

To book your place, or for further information, visit, email, or call Jack Risley on 01992 374100.

Why PAs should take care to avoid multitasking

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Management assistants are often given a multitude of projects to work on at one time, as well as keeping up with their daily tasks and supporting their boss with anything that crops up unexpectedly. However, research shows that multitasking can be detrimental to a PA’s ability to work effectively.

While many people claim they can handle several responsibilities at once, a recent report in The New Yorker reveals that only 2% of the population are actually able to multitask successfully. In addition, an article in Time Magazine says those who repeatedly take on more tasks tend to find ways to distract themselves, even if they’re working on a single project.

A researcher at Stanford University in California, Clifford Nass, found in a study of students that those who multitask more often use their brains less efficiently than ones who avoid tackling two or more activities at once. Clifford recommends finding a better solution to completing multiple tasks to reduce the amount of stress and distractions employees face at work. He says team members should be forced to spend an afternoon away from distracting emails in order to devote quality time to a single project.

Because PAs and other administrative professionals have so much to deal with in a day, Entrepreneur suggests working on related items at the same time. This allows you to engage more effectively while maintaining a high level of productivity. It’s also a good idea to keep an updated to-do list in a visible place on your desk and add to it as tasks crop up so you can review it in your down time.

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