How to be of the Highest Value to Your Executive(s) during COVID-19: Advice from our REACH Podcast Guests

In an effort to continue to support our executive assistant community during the COVID-19 crisis, we pulsed our previous REACH podcast guests (the ones you’ve listened to, laughed with, and learned from) to get their thoughts on how you, as an executive assistant, should be thinking about your role and what you can do to add value during this time. After surveying our network of executive assistants and what they would most like perspective on, the two questions we received the highest hits on were:

“How can I be of the highest service and value to my executive at this time?” and “What support tips do you have for staying connected with my executive while remote?”

Keep reading below to learn what your esteemed colleagues had to say on these points.......!!!!

Kristin Beatham: Executive Assistant at JUUL

“One of the things that makes an EA a great EA is the ability to connect with the team that flows up to the Executive. Having a personal connection to the Executive's direct reports is important for communication in the best of times, but in these extremely unstable times, it’s invaluable.

Normally it's not usually professional or wise to have too much personal information or even too much familiarity with your bosses' direct reports. With the current crisis of COVID -19, life and lifestyles have changed dramatically. If you know that many employees have kids under 10 - maybe suggest planning meetings earlier or much later in the day when they might have more privacy. Reach out and ask what works best for the team. Would people consider meetings on the weekends when their partner (who also works) can watch the kids?”

Lia Ballard: Marketing Planning and Operations Lead (Former EA to CEO) at Affirm

“If you weren't an “ear to the ground” person before, find a way to be that person now! Get active in those chat channels, schedule virtual coffee dates, attend the “optional” meetings. Like most of us, your executive is likely under a tremendous amount of stress right now and operating with a narrower scope, so now is a critical time for both you and your executive to be aware of how the company (outside of the C-suite) is feeling. Ask yourself, what are two or three things you think are valuable for your executive to know? And then come prepared to suggestion meaningful ways to take action. Example: You notice there are fewer attendees at the virtual all-hands than last week. Are employees on meeting fatigue? Could the content improve? How?

At the end of the day, we're all human and doing our best to adjust to a very different way of working, interacting, and socializing with one another. Be kind to yourself and consider being vulnerable with your exec (read, more open and honest); this invites them to do the same with you, and the two of you will come out of this experience stronger than ever.”

Tanya Benvenuto: Director and Chief Executive Assistant to CEO of Okta

“Understand that your Executive’s priorities and focus have shifted. The Exec is now having to address things that were not on their plate before. These things are big and have emotion attached to them. Along with this shift is uncertainty. The very best thing that you can do at a time like this, is remain on top of your job and don't let anything fall between the cracks. You need to keep the ship running! You need to be their normalcy and "safe space" as they navigate through these uncertain times.

You need to make sure that all the things that are important to the Exec and his/her org are still moving in the right direction. The Exec is now thinking through different things, but you can help by keeping the priorities/initiatives that are measured in your org on your radar. This is an opportunity to really partner with your Exec, if you aren't already. Put together a plan to present to your Exec as to how you can make sure the team feels as little impact as possible, and how you'll be checking in with the correct people to make sure things are tracking in the right direction.”

Ann Borja: Executive Business Partner to the CEO of Lyft

“There's nothing like presence in the present time. Presence can manifest itself through texts, emails and virtual conference calls. Check-in personally with your Exec, but also know when to give space. We're dealing with uncharted waters and sometimes allowing space for your Executive to think is exactly what they need. If your Exec has a team or a handful of direct reports, create a sense of community and camaraderie e.g. virtual happy hours, skill building sessions, etc. Most importantly, take great care of yourself. If you can't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others.”

Lauren Richards: Executive Assistant at Webflow

“Remember to think of your Exec as a whole person. Leaders are working in overdrive right now to make their workforce feel safe and secure during these uncertain times, so ask yourself, who is looking out for those same Leaders. This is where you come in!

Review their schedules and make sure to carve out time for their own wellness. Add workout blocks, meditation blocks, lunch blocks (seems obvious, but if you are new to being remote, you sometimes forget to do 'obvious' things, and calendar reminders will help).

If your Exec is responsible for updating the company's COVID-19 Policy, do some research. Look on LI, go to local governmental websites and have as much up-to-date information for your Exec as possible, making it easy for them to draft the latest revision.

Constant communication is critical. Aim for morning and evening check-ins. Days are long right now, and for most of us, they are blurring together, causing an odd sense of fatigue even though we are on lock-down. Quick check-ins at the start and end of the day will let you know if you need to move a morning meeting or reschedule a late meeting the next day.

In those same meetings, ask how they are feeling physically and mentally. Lots of folks are feeling rundown due to stress and anxiety or because they are sick. Mental Wellness is equally if not more important right now, so creating space for them to breathe and regain their focus is critical.”

Molly McKnight: Executive Assistant at Handshake

“The biggest change for three out of four of my executives right now is not only are they working from home, but they are working from home with their kids. I've found a big part of my job in this crazy situation is to help my executives budget time in their schedule for things like eating lunch with their kids every day, scheduling tutoring hours, etc. Once I have worked with them to set this time - it's then my job to defend it to all the outside forces begging for slots on their calendars.”

Meg George: Events, Facilities and Operations Manager at Even

“I would start by immediately establishing a cadence call if you do not already have one. Every day or every other day, but at least twice a week. This should be a check-in where you provide updates AND ask what the Exec needs. You will, as a result, hear what is at the forefront of their mind and have a chance to adjust your priority list accordingly.

You can go above and beyond by having up-to-date information on creating contingency plans for worst case scenario: evacuation, scarcity, rapid onset of symptoms.

Some more PA-style opportunities to think ahead include:

  1. Pre-booking grocery deliveries (in the Bay, many are booked for weeks in advance)
  1. Pre-booking meal deliveries (such as dinner on a night they will work late, their favorite meal as a treat, or breakfast on a morning where the exec is on their own with the kids, etc.)
  1. Offering to arrange for workout equipment or similar to ensure they are able to stay physically active in quarantine.
  1. Asking what you can do to support the Execs’ parents at this time (many are elderly and require additional logistical support to stay comfortable and healthy. There are more detailed guidelines available online, and I encourage you and your exec to research)”

Carina Ruggiero: Former Executive Assistant to CEO of Pearl Law

“I recommend organizing a weekly video call with Q&A or offer to draft consistent email updates on behalf of your executive. This approach can also be expanded to client and customer communications.”

LJ Cohen: Executive Assistant to Partners of Uncork Capital

“Now more than ever, our Executives need us to be the eyes and ears to help identify issues for anyone who is struggling to help the company succeed together. Everyone is in a different situation and we need to start that conversation to find out if we can do something, or maybe we're the ones who need something! I know many worry about layoffs and that person who is taking on more projects in order to create value and protect their job, might actually be the one who is the most afraid because they can't afford to say they need help and aren't doing well. Reach out. Who knows, those marketing degree skills you haven't used since college might be enough to assist a colleague with a project so they can get their head above water.

Create a running list of questions that you need to ask and prioritize them with "Must Get Answer Now" at top and continue rearranging them as things shift. Share that doc with your Execs so they can see what's top of mind for you. Shared working docs are super important when remote so that everyone has a clear understanding of what was the outcome and who has any follow up. Remind your Executive they can reference it at any time if they want to know where you're at with any of the items.”  

Rowe Hoffer: Senior Executive Assistant to CEO/Chairwoman of Mozilla

“My highest value-add to my Executive, to the leadership team and to Mozilla as a whole is to be a calm and positive crewmember without missing the blind spots as much as possible.”

Ligaya Fieler: Senior Executive Assistant at SurveyMonkey

“Being at home, we don't get those quick few-minutes check-ins, so we touch base each morning over Zoom, just a quick 15 to 20-minute sync and chance to see each other's faces. It feels better than just talking via Slack or email. I’ve also turned her 30-minute meetings into 25 minutes and her 60-minute meetings to 45 minutes. While in the office she would have a few minutes in between meetings to run to the restroom or grab a drink etc., but with back-to-back Zoom calls, she was no longer having a pause between meetings.”

Bottomline, now is the time to buckle down and show your value. Your Executive needs you, but it’s up to you to grab the bull by the horns and steer that conversation. Use this opportunity to show your executive the type of strategic partner, gatekeeper and confidant you are.

Be sure to check out our latest REACH episode where we dive into your COVID-19 questions and concerns in further detail!

Posted on

April 6, 2020


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