The skills you'll need as a PA in the future

In the first of our Skills of the Future series, we explore how technological integration in the workplace will revolutionise the personal assistant role.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Building on the innovations of the digital revolution, or Third Industrial Revolution, this bold new age is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

The outcome? A full-scale transformation of the way we live and work.

In today’s climate, any business that doesn’t embrace these changes will inevitably fall by the wayside. That’s why the recruitment industry is placing increasing emphasis on skills that enable employees to exploit technology to the fullest.

According to the World Economic Forum, the top ten work skills most valued in 2020 will be:

1. Complex problem solving
2. Critical Thinking
3. Creativity
4. People management
5. Coordinating with others
6. Emotional intelligence
7. Judgment and decision making
8. Service orientation
9. Negotiation
10. Cognitive flexibility

For any personal assistants reading this list, it probably becomes apparent that many of these skills are traditionally associated with the role. A good PA requires people management, service orientation, and the ability to negotiate, coordinate and making judgement calls. And emotional intelligence is a given.

But this still doesn’t answer the question on the lips of many in the PA community — especially for assistants unsure about the long-term viability of their roles. Namely:

“Will personal assistants be replaced by artificial intelligence in the future workplace?“

PAs have long been the unsung heroes of many a business. From screening calls to organising corporate hospitality events, PAs are the information gatekeepers of the office — as well we an important point of contract for many different employees. For PAs to stay ahead of the pack, however, getting to grips with non-traditional skills is vital in the increasingly integrated office environment. Curiosity and creativity are key.

No matter if you’re learning the ropes or are an experienced hand at pencilling in meetings for your executive team, here are some keys areas of expertise that will allow PAs to flourish in the tech-driven business of the future.

The humans strike back

With more businesses moving towards AI and machine learning, it’s easy to imagine an all-conquering automated future that doesn’t need PAs. However, while AI may have advanced problem-solving capabilities, technology has got nothing on the proactive organisational skills of a thinking, feeling human PA. Sorry, robots.

That’s why many firms are looking for more people-focused ways to harness the rapid rise of technology. Increasingly, large businesses are championing the idea of collaboration between man and machine.

Though artificial intelligence is capable of auto-arranging meetings and schedules via email (in a way that would seem almost indistinguishable from a human), machines cannot think laterally and read a person’s body language in seconds in the way that a human can. Most communication is nonverbal, so what good is AI when your boss is giving off signs that they’re feeling aggravated or aggrieved?

That’s why living and breathing assistants are integral: they provide flexibility and emotional intelligence that algorithm-driven AI simply cannot. If you’re naturally a people person, being an assistant is likely to play to your strengths.

To take an example, say a C-level executive cannot attend a key meeting due to mental health issues that they have privately discussed with you. The meeting needs rescheduling, and your organisational skills can quickly action this in a way that AI cannot. Being a good PA, therefore, requires you to double up as a confidant and counsellor, if called upon.

Some businesses and CEOs may be turning to freelance virtual assistants to cut the costs of hiring in-house PAs, but an over-the-phone relationship simply cannot compete with the face-to-face bond that comes with having an in-house assistant.

You’ll also be required to be a second pair of eyes on many things. Though tech is able to scan for errors, it still can’t hold a candle to the nuanced oversight of a human. When it comes to arranging travel arrangement — which is a huge part of a PA role — having a meticulous eye for detail is one way to demonstrate your worth.

Developing interpersonal skills should be the primary motive for any PA. Aim to build as much rapport with your manager as you can — to the point where they could not imagine things running as smoothly without you. A good PA will become so familiar with their boss’s working habits that they can anticipate when things may go awry and thus respond accordingly. And your boss will be eternally grateful.

Getting to grips with tech

Perhaps AI will have caught up with their human counterparts one day. But if you already have the skills to understand and harness the power of tech, it’ll be you in the driving seat. And more importantly, you’ll be able to keep yourself in a job. Rather than waiting for the future to come to you, you’ve got to grab it with both hands.

This may sound counterintuitive, but introducing a new piece of tech into the office yourself and demonstrating how it works to your boss will stand you in good stead. Aside from showing initiative, it shows how indispensable you are to the forward trajectory of the business. 

No, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, showing you’re thinking about the bigger picture (and not just your immediate responsibilities) will help you raise the bar not only for yourself but for the entire office.

Yes, you’ll be required to go the extra mile on more than one occasion, but whoever said personal assistant work was simply about answering the phone and filling out spreadsheets?

Instead of pushing back on tech, learn to embrace it. It’s going to make your job easier, after all. Need to organise a video conference? Zoom has you sorted. Need to quickly scan some important documents? Scanbot has your back.

PAs are no bystanders. They are active players whose input can often determine whether a business will sink or swim. And being autonomous will put you in the driving seat. 

Making a name for yourself

As we’ve already discussed, diversifying your skill set and becoming the quintessential office all-rounder is one way to make yourself indispensable to your business. 

There are several ways to smash it out the ballpark. Networking with a diverse range of clients, suppliers, shareholders and industry leaders will give you key contacts in your field and potential mentors. Attending conferences on the latest trends in tech will immerse yourself in the culture. And finally, sharing your skills with colleagues will help them develop, too. 

Ask your boss to enrol you in online courses such as The Future Assistant. Or strengthen your skills in your own time with one of Tate’s professional development courses. But remember, leave enough time to enjoy your personal life! It may be a cliche, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance will bolster your ability to do your assistant job well. We’ve all got to take things offline from time to time.

It’s also worth your while to network with other personal assistants, both through Linkedin and through PA-focused events or conferences. The PA Life magazine and the Practically Perfect PA website are particularly good ways to keep tabs on the industry in your spare time.

Establishing relationships across the wider business is also super important. It will provide you with insights into key systems and workflows, and you’ll become an expert on the day-to-day running of the business. You’ll also be able to acquire key skills that will make you more of an asset, leaving you in a better position to determine your own career path. You can never know too much about your job!

Looking for a new and exciting personal assistant role? Search our latest vacancies by clicking here. For more insights into the ever-changing office environment, stay tuned to the Tate blog.

 
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