Spotlight On: A Remote Executive Assistant
With the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have changed the way in which they operate for good. As a result, there are more and more companies, entrepreneurs and business owners looking to bring on board remote or virtual staff, rather than hiring someone to be based in the office full-time, as was the norm before.
Having launched our virtual offering in January of last year, we caught up with one of our candidates, Charlotte Crouch, whom we placed as a remote Executive Assistant, to find out how she was getting on in her new role. Here, she shares her experience of successfully transitioning from a full-time, in-house, corporate EA position to a fully remote EA role, and her top tips for anyone looking to do the same.
Charlotte is currently working as Executive Assistant to the CEO of The Turmeric Co., a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, that specialises in health shot drinks. The CEO of The Turmeric Co. is Thomas Robson-Kanu, who is not only the CEO of the business, but also an international footballer. Keep reading to hear his advice for anyone looking to hire a remote VA, and how hiring through Lily Shippen has benefited his business.
What industry did you work in before starting at The Turmeric Co.?
Private Equity, which is totally different from where I am now. I’ve gone completely out of the corporate world into FMCG/Marketing which was quite a big change for me.
I prefer that it’s less corporate and I also feel as though I have a lot more in common with my colleagues. Private Equity was always quite direct and could be cutthroat, so this is much more exciting! I’m also really into my health and fitness and with our products helping people’s health and wellness, I feel I have more of a connection with the product.
In fact, a few weeks ago we did interviews with some of our most loyal customers and it was so inspiring to hear how our products had helped them. For example, one customer couldn’t walk and had really bad knee pain, and since taking our Turmeric shots they can now walk without pain! It’s fantastic to be part of a company where the product is making a difference to people’s lives and it’s something that you believe in as well!
What was it that made you think about moving from where you were to something different?
One of the reasons was that I felt I had outgrown my old role. For me, when the first lockdown hit, I was loving not having to commute – it was a lot less stressful, and allowed me a better work-life balance. I quickly realised how much more time I had and that I was doing more work at home than I would’ve done in the office. That was the catalyst really, realising how much I was enjoying not going into the office and knowing that I couldn’t continue to work remotely in my old role.
With regards to your role, can you give some examples of the duties you are undertaking in your new role and whether or not they differ from your previous in-house role?
Some of the key elements of my role have stayed the same, such as diary and inbox management. I don’t book travel for Thomas or any of the employees as the company don’t tend to travel, whereas I did a lot of travel at my old company. I would say that I undertake more business and operational related duties in my current role. For example, when I started, the team were all on Google and used Gmail, with WhatsApp being their main form of communication. Before Christmas, I moved us all over to Outlook and we now use Microsoft Teams for all of our communication, which is miles better.
As they are two very different industries it’s hard to directly compare, but private equity was always quite admin-focused with things like heavy contracts, paperwork and legal duties.
I feel like I have more input in my current role, Thomas values my opinion and discusses ideas with me, such as new software that he’s considering bringing into the business, and asks my advice on the business set up, so I’m able to be more ‘hands on’. I also sit in on a lot of Thomas’s calls which allows me to have a better understanding of the business as a whole.
In my old role, I rarely got involved in my boss’s calls and I wasn’t as heavily involved in the business side. I would also make a lot of teas/coffees, meet and greet clients, buy my boss his lunch and print all his documents, when I was office-based, so a lot of my day was spent doing a lot of basic admin, which wasn’t utilising my skill set or my full potential!
I think that because The Turmeric Co. is such a young company, the team are forward-thinking and adaptable; they’re continuously looking for the best technology and processes to help the team and the business grow. If someone has an idea, Thomas takes notice and encourages people to run with things, which I really like - it makes the team feel valued.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced so far since being remote-based?
Starting a new job remotely is difficult wherever you work. Something that really helped me was putting together the org chart for the company, because there wasn’t one in place. That exercise gave me a better understanding of who sat where within the business and what their role and responsibilities were. Being remote, you don’t get a feel for people’s personalities as you would in an office, and not knowing which colleagues work closely together can also be challenging.
I didn’t feel that comfortable, initially, calling someone to ask for their help because I was so new to the business and hadn’t built a relationship with them yet. Having regular calls with Thomas really helped me with this, as he’d point me in the direction and I would build up that rapport from there.
In terms of skill set, what skills do you think you have that have enabled you to be successful as a remote EA?
I think being structured in your day, especially when working from home, is so important; otherwise, the weekends roll into the week.
I also think you can get into the habit of sitting at your laptop for hours without taking a break, so I think you have to be really strict and force yourself to take breaks, even if it is just messaging a colleague and having a chat.
Another key thing is being proactive and using my initiative. Of course it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s important to not be afraid of doing so, but there are times when a quick Google search helps me figure it out for myself!
How did you ensure that you built a good rapport and relationship with Thomas whilst supporting him remotely?
Thomas is fantastic at communicating. Even before I started the job, he would message me and check in with me, so we were building our relationship for a while. If he’s at football or travelling, he will message me to ask how my day is going and let me know where he needs my help. We’re constantly chatting on Teams and we have calls most days.
Even when we are really busy, we make sure that we have a call booked in to go through everything, discuss any sticking points, and determine priorities. We always have that open line of communication, which I think really helps.
I think, for him, it’s also having that level of trust in me and knowing that whatever he wants or needs will be dealt with and that he can rely on me. Utilising Microsoft Teams has also helped, as I think it’s important to be able to have that face-to-face connection too, even if it is virtually.
Are there any tools, software or programmes that you feel you couldn’t work without as a remote employee?
One particular software that is really useful for us as a team is Trello. Every employee in our team has a Trello board. They have an inbox, an in-progress task list, and a completed tasks list and this is really useful when you have a lot of remote workers. It’s great for keeping track of work and has the functionality for people to comment and ask questions all in one place, rather than across different platforms. I don’t think we could live without that!
I’ve also recently discovered Loom - which is great! When you’re remote and everyone is so busy, you don’t always have time to do a screen share with a colleague every time they need to know how to do something, so that’s where Loom is brilliant. You can share ‘how-to’ videos with colleagues that they can refer back to it at any point, which is good if you have new starters coming on board. It’s a brilliant tool!
As a company, you have quite a few remote employees, how do you ensure that you have a positive working culture and good team interaction?
The different chats and channels on Microsoft Teams certainly help with that and in ensuring that we are all engaged. If someone sees a good marketing post, for instance, they will share it on the chat and we all share our feedback and thoughts. There is always that constant communication throughout the team.
We’ve also introduced a weekly team challenge, which I announce on our Monday morning call. We recently did one where everyone buddied up to see how many miles they could walk that week and track on Strava, and the winners got a prize. Things like that are great for team engagement and also help to boost morale when we are all at home.
We also celebrate teammates’ birthdays with team drinks or a quiz. When things go back to normal we are planning on having a quarterly team event so that we can all get together in person.
Do you have any tips/tricks for staying motivated?
I think routine and exercise is key for me, but a big part of staying motivated is also being busy. For me, if I’m not busy, my motivation levels drop massively. Having lots to do keeps me going because I’m one of those people that likes to tick things off a list.
I also find checking in with colleagues really motivating, as well as making sure that I take regular breaks, as I mentioned.
How do you ensure that you are able to switch off and keep a work-life balance when working from home?
I have always found switching off quite difficult. I tend to check my emails out of hours, as that’s something that’s been ingrained in me. You can so easily get into bad habits of having dinner and then coming back and sitting at your laptop again. Something that helps me is physically shutting down my laptop and putting it away.
It is difficult to totally switch off when you’re working from home each day, and it’s something that I’m aware of. Again, I think it all links back to routine. There have definitely been occasions where my partner has said, “Come on now, turn your laptop off”. I think most people are the same, though, and don’t even realise they are doing it half the time!
Do you have a favourite tech or time-saving trick that you use regularly?
One thing which tends to save me quite a bit of time is automating emails and saving them as a signature or Quick Part. For example, for anything I’m doing regularly, like sending invoices over to accounts, I will automate the body of the email by saving it as a signature. So, rather than typing the same message out each time, I will just insert the signature and press send. That definitely saves me time each day.
Thomas, how has hiring a Virtual Executive Assistant benefited you and your wider business?
Hiring an EA has been fantastic! With the technology that we have at our disposal today, it has allowed us to work remotely, where previously this wouldn't have been possible. It has really helped us drive efficiencies and the processes required to successfully scale a digitally native vertical brand.
Do you have any tips for anyone looking to hire a remote Executive Assistant or VA for building a successful working relationship?
I have had PAs and EAs beforehand who have not been remote and haven't been as productive as what we have today. The key to this is the platforms we use for communication, tasks and strategy building.