Rhonda Scharf is a trainer, author and professional speaker
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what do you do?
I’m from a small farming town in Canada outside Ottawa, Ontario (which is our nation’s capital). I lived next door to my grandparents, I went to school with the same kids from K-12, and I really did know “everyone” in my town and school. I now live in a rural setting along the river that is just as active in the summer (boats, fishing, fun) as in winter (skating, fishing, fun), have a grandson, and a pretty fun life! I’m a small-town girl who travels the world helping administrative professionals love what they do and do it better. I specialise in minute taking, project management, AI (artificial intelligence) and anything administrative-focused.
How did you become a speaker and trainer for Assistants?
I was an assistant for 10 years with a national estate company, and I became the “go to” person as we were learning how to use computers (my brain just naturally understood how to make them work) so I transitioned into the Help Desk for the company, which developed into being the software trainer for everyone. In 1993 I left the company to start my own training company, and I started teaching software at that point. I quickly left the software training world and specialised in the skill and enthusiasm side of being an Assistant.
COVID-19 has impacted the way we undertake training. With the vaccine on the horizon, what do you think training will look like going forward?
I expect that I won’t be on airplanes nearly as much as I was in the past (ever again). I do see a surge in online training which I think will continue. In the past, not everyone could jump on an airplane to go where the training was. Now, they can still attend the great training from the comfort of their office or home office. I do think we will see some in-person events, but they will be much smaller and will have a hybrid component. Training will look different, but those that will be successful will be the ones that are able to share information across multiple platforms. This is good for Assistants, especially those that work for small companies that can’t afford to send them to offsite training or aren’t big enough to bring a trainer onsite.
You are the author of Alexa Is Stealing Your Job. How can Assistants respond to the assumption that artificial intelligence will make the profession obsolete?
It will not make the profession obsolete, but it will change it. Computers changed how we worked 30 years ago and those Assistants who refused to adapt found themselves out of a job. I still remember hearing Assistants lament that they didn’t take shorthand or telephone messages, or have a switchboard anymore. The job, the workplace, the world has evolved. We need to evolve with it. I think that AI is a huge opportunity for Assistants. We can get rid of all the time-consuming tasks (scheduling, travel, follow-up, email processing) and let artificial intelligence manage most of it, while we can focus on adding more value to our company, our executives, our teams.
You also run the Canadian Admin of the Year Awards. Why should Assistants nominate themselves for this type of recognition?
It is time to stop being invisible. When we are invisible, we have no perceived value. The award brings a high profile to the faces behind the title, shows people that it is a challenging and competitive profession, and that we deserve to be recognized. Waiting for someone in your office to nominate you is playing martyr and setting yourself up for disappointment when it doesn’t happen. We know what we do. We know if we are good or not. We know if we are one of Canada’s best, so we should be confident enough to put our own names forward. Waiting to be nominated is like hoping people see what you do behind the scenes. They don’t see it. It’s not that we aren’t good, but we make it look far too easy, and therefore it isn’t valued as it should be.
What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant?
I think that we need to immediately start to add value and view ourselves as valuable. This means when you have an opinion share it (respectfully of course) at the table instead of quietly under your breath. Share your ideas and perspectives. Belong at the table, in the conversations, on the email chain because you are an integral part of the team. Support the company by adding value, don’t just focus on task-based work.
So, what’s next for Rhonda Scharf? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I truly love what I do and want to still be doing this in five years. The pandemic has seen me stay in my home office since March, which is different than before where I was travelling 3-5 days a week. I’d like a balance between. I like to travel and am happy to do so in the (vaccinated) future, but not at the same pace as before. Five years from now I expect things will be balanced with in-person and virtual training and conferences. I need people in my life, and fingers crossed that in five years I’ll have enough!