Katherine Scott reviews the virtual masterclass The Essential Guide to the Internal Assistant Network

As online Zoom and Teams calls have become the norm since the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that virtual conferences and masterclasses continue to be run even as the world opens back up and are as informative and enjoyable as their live counterparts. In fact, they may be less daunting than in-person events if you are new to the profession or have social anxiety; they may prove more beneficial and effective for your training and development.

Executive Support’s The Essential Guide to the Internal Assistant Network Masterclass is a testament to the value of virtual events, as the speaker sessions, interviews, and Q&As were incredibly informative and engaging. The administrative professionals that functioned as trainers for the event shared their expertise, knowledge, and experiences in creating internal Assistant networks within their companies. Through this, they were able to explain how they developed their networks and benefitted the Assistants, their executives, and the business.

Why Do We Need Training on Internal Assistant Networks?

Networks are part of the larger initiative for the collaboration, recognition, and appreciation of administrative professionals worldwide. Part of the struggle is in convincing executives and businesses to properly utilise and train their administrative staff, as they are unaware of the value this can add to the business.

So why aren’t businesses taking advantage of their Assistants when there are so many benefits? The problem lies within the structure of businesses, as Assistants are spread across the company as opposed to other positions which lie in a department. This means that administrative staff rarely communicate with each other, as they work independently and stand alone in their respective departments. So, there is no outlet or communication of company budgets, aims, training, or shared concerns.

Businesses are asking questions and want to know how to implement structures for administrative staff so that they are trained, promoted, and employed in the first place. This is also what Assistants want; however, they don’t have the outlets to communicate this! This masterclass is about how creating an internal Assistant network that connects administrative professionals can allow both the executives and their Assistants to reach their shared goals and resolve problems. It allows for collaboration and communication among Assistants and essentially creates a department of administrative staff with a clear structure and purpose.

This virtual event, chaired by Lucy Brazier OBE, provided a comprehensive guide on why and how to set up an internal Assistant network within your company.

The Masterclass Trainers and Topics

Cathy Harris

Cathy Harris is an expert on internal Assistant networks. Her session, ‘The Value of an Internal Assistant Network,’ provided a comprehensive summary of what an Assistant network is and broke down the step-by-step guide for creating one within your company. Cathy’s advice on how to create a successful network was incredibly informative and comprehensive. She stressed the importance of having a network that allows a team of Assistants to share their knowledge, concerns, and training, rather than feeling isolated. An internal Assistant network can help your personal growth and development, boost your confidence and productivity, and improve leadership skills, work ethic, and trust with others.

Simone White

Simone White shared her story of creating a successful network within a company, from its inception to becoming a professional network that is respected and recognised. Simone is particularly passionate about inclusion and inclusivity. One of Simone’s goals in creating the network was to prioritise inclusion and appreciation and ensure that the issues that Assistants raised were resolved by bringing them to the attention of the executives. Simone explained how this has been shown to better the business by increasing the performance of the Assistants, allowing them to reach their full potential.

Deborah Marchand

Deborah Marchand is one of the 500 administrative staff in her company and was responsible for setting up the company’s internal Assistant network. She explained how, before the network, information was very scattered and, especially as the business grew, Assistants needed to combine all the information in one place. Deborah wanted to boost engagement and communication among administrative staff in the distinct locations within the company and took the initiative to create a network that focused on training in order to build and improve the network.

Danielle de Wulf

Danielle de Wulf is one of over 4,000 employees at a Belgian company. She explained their community model and the importance of structuring your community to increase its value to your organisation. In contrast to the other networks, Danielle started with a team of 30 management Assistants, who shared their information and workload, including potential opportunities and vacancies. This then led the 200 assistants in Belgium and across the Netherlands to see how advantageous being a part of a network was, and after 5 years they were all part of one or more administrative teams.

The unique factor is that sometimes each group is made up of administrative professionals from one department or location, but at other times it is a mixture of people from different fields and places. To further improve and develop these networks, there are pools and teams of experts that help train the administrative professionals within the diverse groups of networks. This model is particularly beneficial for Assistants and leaders alike, as consistent dialogue and communication allow for an increase in employability, as well as efficient cost savings for businesses.

A particularly useful insight Danielle highlighted was that her network model is highly customisable, as it is modular. Networks can start by using only one or two of the modules, which can work for all kinds of companies. One of the benefits is that the network creates an atmosphere of openness and trust, helping to prevent the isolation of Assistants who work independently. It is also a highly efficient and invaluable model for improvement, as external landscapes can be monitored and ideas shared between administrative professionals on how to tackle and resolve problems.

Corina Wenzel

Corina Wenzel’s session focused on how to put on a conference within your internal Assistant network. Following the theme of community and cooperation, she wanted a group of like-minded people to discuss and work through problems together. In short, like many administrative professionals, Corina was looking for allies, as she felt underestimated and undervalued in her role. Unlike the other networks, Corina did not have to ask for sponsorship; the network received sponsorship from executives of their own accord. These sponsors initially funded the network, and eventually funded conferences and events. Corina discussed the roadblocks she encountered in organising the conferences as well as explaining that managing a network and conferences is all about delegating, communicating, and sharing the workload. She took advantage of the pandemic to host virtual conferences and invite government agencies from around the world. This provided a great example of the advantages and opportunities that can be unlocked through virtual events.

Lisa Larson and Melinda Gates

To conclude the virtual masterclass, Lucy Brazier was joined by Lisa Larson and Melinda Gates, who shared their experience in setting up a rewards program within their network. Their goal was absolute recognition of the Assistants’ work and a celebration of the success of the Assistant community within their company. In their business proposal, they included an annual awards celebration, as other departments in their company already held their own. This really helped to gain recognition of the hard work that Assistants do within the business. Lisa and Melinda highlighted the benefits of setting up a network, a sentiment held by all previous speakers, and the sense of community and opportunities for training created. During the pandemic, they focused on networking opportunities to maintain this sense of community, such as café connection, which allowed Assistants across the globe to meet each other by randomly pairing people together on a monthly basis, as well as a monthly newsletter, a website, and online breakout rooms for those who needed more human connection.

Conclusion

Each speaker gave their personal account of creating a network within their company, which highlighted the different approaches depending on the nature of the business, the field of work, and number and current training level of staff. By hearing multiple accounts, attendees had a comprehensive guide to beginning the process of creating a network within their own organisations.

The masterclass showed how communication and sharing information between Assistants is essential, as everyone has something to teach and to learn from one another. Even though you might think an online event would not prove as valuable as one in-person, the Q&As after the sessions allowed for inclusivity and interaction. This furthered the training, as the speakers could tailor their knowledge to answer specific questions relating to the situation, role, or company.

Do not underestimate the benefit of online conferences! Much like in-person events, you get back what you put in. Given the multitude of opportunities to have your voice heard, it is just as easy, if not easier, to get involved and take away invaluable skills and advice.

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Katherine Scott is an English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh. She served as the 2021/22 Vice President of Edinburgh RAG, Edinburgh’s largest student fundraising group. During the summer of 2022 she worked as an intern at Executive ... (Read More)

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