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Whenever we ask Assistants to describe the main challenge they face in their role, there are usually as many different replies as they are respondents! But on looking at the answers for our 2021 survey, two answers leapt out at us.
Across all sectors, regardless of size of organisation, this was seen by most of our Assistants as the biggest challenge faced in today’s workplace.
When events, travel, and in-person meetings suddenly stopped and staff shortages started to bite, Assistants were asked to take on whole host of other responsibilities such as HR, financial, or project management, all whilst working remotely, and often with little or no training.
Other Assistants discovered their roles had become redundant and had to start work with new employers during the pandemic, having to learn the role and getting to grips with their place in the organisation whilst working as a remote employee.
These increased responsibilities, being forced to adapt and then re-adapt, having to work in unfamiliar roles, and at the same time dealing with all the other challenges of covid, has certainly had a significant impact.
In today’s business world, it can be a struggle to achieve the life work balance even at the best of times. But when roles change and new responsibilities land on your desk overnight, it can make things even more difficult.
Whilst the daily commute (often a very stressful part of the day) vanished overnight, in its place many Assistants found that there was a new type of pressure. Respondents reported that they felt obliged to work longer hours than they would have done in the office, and to make sure they were always available – and regardless of other commitments (home schooling, for instance).
WFH, or some form of hybrid working can work extremely well but it can mean that there is a lack of communication with others, whether with bosses, co-workers, or teams. Around 18% of respondents felt that this was a major challenge. Despite all the technology we have available to us, and steep learning curve we’ve all been on, there is still some difficulty in maintaining effective communication with colleagues when not in an office setting. And it is not just work communication; talking to co-workers, discussing issues, swapping ideas, or even just exchanging a few words to get to know new colleagues, this lack of communication can lead isolation and separation.
With so many changes happening quickly and businesses facing all manner of challenges, constant uncertainty about the future of your role can be stressful. Changes upon changes in your role, whether it fits within the new working practices, or even if your organisation will recover from the last two years … all of this adds to the stress and uncertainty for office professionals.
In the previous article, we looked at the skills Assistants felt would most benefit them in a post- pandemic office. Technology skills were the clear winners for most of our respondents but other skills that Assistants rely on day to day were also highlighted, such as communication skills, assertiveness, and time management. Developing and adapting your skillset to meet the new demands of today’s workplace is another challenge.
Although only 2% of our respondents said the workload was their biggest issue, this really should be read in conjunction with the percentages reporting the changes in roles and responsibilities, and the struggle in maintaining a work life balance as their main challenges.
Overall, although hybrid working or wfh reduced the stress of commuting, there was a feeling that Assistants felt more was expected of them and there was the added pressure of longer hours. Worryingly, Assistants reported that, although they had taken on these new responsibilities at the start of the pandemic, now that things were starting to return normal, they were still grappling with this increased workload!
Work in the post-pandemic office is going to present more challenges such as these as we continue to lift restrictions. The current high level of staff shortages and the change in working practices by many organisations could mean that we will need to continue adapting and rising to the challenges for some considerable time.