Where has the secretary gone?
Progress in the workplace seems to have included disappearance of the secretary in many offices. I can type pretty well. And I can use MS Office pretty well – at least when I am using Word I know about rulers, styles, headers, track changes, page and section breaks. So, within reason, I can produce a reasonably well presented document – be that Word, Excel or PowerPoint (without being a guru). But I am more productive when I have a personal assistant or secretary.
The more I look about in workplaces the more I wonder have we taken away too much secretarial support. Are execs spending too much time scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings, generating meeting notes/ actions, updating action plans, opening, reading, filing and replying to correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.
Yes – much more of it is electronic correspondence. But there are still filing requirements. And – yes, the document management systems and wordprocessing software is supposed to do the tracking, storage and retrieval. And the shared diary systems are supposed to support arrangement of meetings. But I still wonder.
Many of the interactions with colleagues work better when not just a piece of software grabbing time in your diary – sometimes the secretary or personal assistant just makes it work better.
And then there are those layers of management we have taken out – in order to be more efficient. As a result we have flatter structures – with some immediate benefits. But what about the loss of time for coaching, supporting, encouraging? Or the lack of time for senior executives as they are pulled into tasks previously managed by those layers of management?
Work is a complex social environment. People use the technology differently – even the same people use it differently at different times of the same day. It’s not only sales people who resist loading everything into CRM – all sorts of people have provisional appointments they do not enter in the diary, times they are hoping to manage – perhaps to get away early, to pick up the kids, to catch up with a friend at lunch time. Sometimes the secretary can manage all of this and make it happen better for everyone.
I would be lost without email, shared information, MS Office – but there are lots of things I need to get done which happen better and faster by having an assistant. And I think there are lots of other people – across lots of the companies with whom I have worked – who are spending time on the wrong things for the lack of effective secretarial support.
We are back to looking at how to make collaboration work more effectively – and part of the secret is having the right resources in place. I have spent thirty years looking to streamline and improve work processes through use of technology – be that email, network shares, social media, cloud, personal productivity tools. But we need to keep focused on the goal – and if more administrative support is what it takes – in spite of the technology – then we should t least be open to this. The technology should empower people – the execs and the support team. It probably enables a smaller group to provide more administrative support. But for now at least, ti seems to me to have led to some questionable practices – pulling execs away from focusing on their greatest added value. I think more organisations may need to revisit their practices ans structures.