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PAs declare war on AVs: Secretaries risk being replaced by ‘virtual assistants’ due to WFH

Personal assistants have declared war on virtual assistants, fearing that they will be replaced by them due to the new work of the home culture.

Some PAs are going freelance and starting their own businesses after an employment bloodbath hit the industry during the pandemic.

But others are turning into VAs — where they work for a remote client and don’t come into their offices — because they say senior executives can’t function without them.

There are fears that APs may become redundant due to the Covid crisis, as the role “may no longer be needed in the same way”.

Earlier this week it emerged that more than 500 Deloitte secretaries had been told their jobs were at risk.

The bombshell came after 20,000 employees were told they could choose to work from home, in the office or a mix of the two starting on ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.

Lucy Everett

Some PAs are going freelance and starting their own businesses after an employment bloodbath hit the industry during the pandemic. Left: Lily Shippen, who runs an AP recruiting service. Right: Lucy Everett

Kate Chastey, director of The Passionate PA, said many people are leaving their offices to become virtual assistants or go freelance.

But she warned that “their success rate is very low” and that many return to work “as soon as they find something that suits them”, which is often within months.

The AP, which started as an independent more than a decade ago, added: “They’re not setting themselves up as a business, they’re just trying to fill their time and make ends meet.”

She admitted the Covid crisis had changed the role of the personal assistant but said they had become “even more important” during the pandemic,

Ms Chastey said: ‘The contractor has had more time with reduced travel etc but most have worked even harder to maintain their businesses over the last 18 months.’

“This means that business support from their PA has been even more vital as a great PA will do much more than manage meetings, diary management and HR matters.”

She said there are apps and ways to outsource receptionist and secretarial work at a fraction of the cost of a full-time PA.

But she added: “Our business clients always want their executive-level support from a real person, with a real personality – ready and willing to meet face-to-face when the time is right. “

Kate Chastey (pictured) director of The Passionate PA, said many people are leaving their desks to become virtual assistants or go freelance

Kate Chastey (pictured) director of The Passionate PA, said many people are leaving their desks to become virtual assistants or go freelance

Lily Shippen, who runs an AP recruiting service, said she’s noticed many moving into her profession as freelancers.

She continued: “There were a lot of jobs going on during Covid. But I don’t think that’s where the role is going.

“The role is growing year by year just in a more strategic way rather than traditional roles.”

But Rosemary Parr, former executive assistant to BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland, said she was concerned about developments in the industry.

She said: “As a result of Covid, there may be certain industries where there is a reduction in administrative staff.

But Rosemary Parr (pictured), a former executive assistant to BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland, has expressed concern about developments in the industry

But Rosemary Parr (pictured), a former executive assistant to BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland, has expressed concern about developments in the industry

“However, no senior executive can do their job best without an effective EA/PA to support them.

“EAs and PAs take the pressure off, multi-task, become the software and application expert, put time-saving structures in place, and can make their senior manager 40-50% more efficient.”

She added: ‘Thanks to Covid, many of them I’ve trained tell them they’ve been given additional responsibilities, managing small office staff and working from home and managing Covid facilities.

“The role is evolving and moving towards management with 50% of the profession now graduates. As a profession, they will never be eliminated.

Yet a senior assistant at a healthcare company, who asked not to be named, said she found her job “extremely boring” during the pandemic, so she started her own business.

She said it started out very busy as she helped intensive care and doctors across the country, but her work dried up and became “extremely quiet”.

She said: ‘During the early months of Covid, when our clinicians were busy being redeployed to intensive care and writing Covid guidelines for doctors across the country, I was quite busy supporting them.

“And then things got extremely quiet. Since January, I have maybe a handful of tasks to do each week. It’s extremely boring.

“One day last week I even forgot to log on in the morning – yes, I forgot I had a job – and no one even noticed.

“I was so desperate to find something to do that I started my own business. I spend about half an hour every day doing PA-related tasks, and the rest of the time I’m an entrepreneur Weird situation, but I have to put myself forward.

Although physician assistants support the necessity of their jobs, big companies appear to be moving away from the traditional personal assistant (file photo)

Although physician assistants support the necessity of their jobs, big companies appear to be moving away from the traditional personal assistant (file photo)

And Lucy Everett, a former City of London EA who created Virtually Supported, made a similar move.

She said: “Some people think PA and EA are just an administrative support role.

“But my experience as an EA in the city before I started my business was much more than that.

“Most EAs are the right arm of the executive at the board level they support. They are expert problem solvers who can organize multiple agendas, across a range of time zones without any problems.

“They sit in board meetings with high-level executives and learn how to run a big business and what goes into strategic decisions.”

Although Physician Assistants support the necessity of their jobs, large corporations seem to be moving away from the traditional personal assistant.

More than 500 Deloitte secretaries have been told their jobs are at risk after 20,000 employees were told they could choose to work from home.

Large companies appear to be adopting “hybrid models” for personnel, which will accelerate the digitization of personnel departments, which means less AP may be required.

Deloitte plans to lay off at least a third of secretarial staff, which would save them £4m a year.

Deloitte plans to lay off at least a third of secretarial staff, which would save them £4m a year (file photo)

Deloitte plans to lay off at least a third of secretarial staff, which would save them £4m a year (file photo)

Boris Johnson is ready to drop 'work from home' guidelines - but it will be up to employers and their staff to decide when workers return to their desks (file photo)

Boris Johnson is ready to drop ‘work from home’ guidelines – but it will be up to employers and their staff to decide when workers return to their desks (file photo)

Instead, there would be “pools” of secretaries for staff use – only senior staff retaining personal APs.

Official guidelines telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be dropped on July 19 in England.

But it will be up to employers and their staff to decide whether they should return to their desks.

Deloitte is the latest of several large companies to announce hybrid working plans.

A spokesperson said: “We are consulting on proposed changes to executive assistant roles at Deloitte which, unfortunately, could result in layoffs.”

“We know this will be difficult news for those affected and we support our people during this process.”

It tracks Asda, Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC Banks, as well as call center operator Capita and British Gas owner Centrica.

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