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How to effectively use an executive assistant

Tech tools may have made it easier and cheaper to be productive, but many startup founders still swear by executive assistants

By Anisah Osman Britton

Riya Grover is the founder and CEO of London-based fintech Sequence. In the early days, her cofounder Eamon Jubbawy — also the cofounder and former COO of digital ID startup Onfido — suggested an executive assistant (EA) would be beneficial to support her in her role, especially as she was working full time and had two young children.

Almost a year down the line, she says it has been a life changing hire. In our Startup Life newsletter, Riya gave us her top tips on how to get the most out of the executive assistant role.

Outsource the role

If you’re in the early stages of running a company, having to find, onboard, train and manage an assistant is a lot of work. We hired in from a company called Athena — it employs graduates from the Philippines as virtual assistants. Athena manages the process end to end, including things like contracts, payments and training. Its promise to 10x leverage my time is easily achieved.

Teach them your priorities

I initially thought having a calendar that people could book into, like Calendly, was sufficient and time saving. However, having an EA optimises my time even more. I loop my EA into every email  to do with scheduling — she is not directly in my inbox, which is a personal choice. She actively manages and maintains my diary to make sure the highest priority things are given precedence and put in. In my case, that’s customers first.

Get your EA to support with people ops

Executive assistants can support with anything that is heavy on the administrative side, for example onboarding. When new employees join Sequence, my EA does all the administrative work around onboarding: welcome emails, ordering laptops, getting them logins for our tools…

An EA can also support with planning events and offsites for the company. You can delegate location research, the scheduling of the day, travel for the team and communication with providers. It creates a lot of value for employees who feel like things are in hand.

Have a clear task management system

You may already use a tool like Asana or Trello onto which you can onboard your EA. If, like me, your EA is mostly personal to you — and not the entire C-suite — you can manage tasks via Slack or WhatsApp. Make sure you have check ins at the beginning and end of the day so you know what’s being prioritised — this visibility means you can shift tasks around if something more pressing arises. If your executive assistant is virtual, having transparency on what is happening and what should be prioritised is key.

Ensure you have confidentiality

If an EA is involved in people operations across the company, they are going to have access to sensitive information. My EA has access to everything: this is necessary to support me and scale my time. It also stops back and forth questions.

To do this, it’s important to have strict and clear rules around confidentiality. This should be written into the contract from the get-go. Make sure you know what your EA has access to and plan out an easy way to revoke it during offboarding. If you’re working with an outsourcing agent it’s liable for this, so some of the risk is removed — but again, make sure your requirements are written into the contract.

Don’t overwork your EA

There is a limit to what an EA can do. As we’ve grown and have needed more processes and systems to be built, we’ve brought in a founder associate — a really smart generalist, with an MBA, that is a level above an EA. This enables the EA to continue to be efficient and not overloaded with work that doesn’t fall within their area of expertise.

🤔  What is an executive assistant? Hiring platform Workable has put together this job description template with tasks and responsibilities you may need an executive assistant to carry out.

👉 The case for executive assistants. The EA role may be one of the first to go when companies cut costs. Here’s why that’s a bad idea, according to Harvard Business Review.

📣  Do you actually need a chief of staff? If your EA job description includes a bit of strategy or domain expertise, you may need more than an executive assistant.

🐥 Is that an EAs job or the CEOs? The Twitter thread that got everyone talking about EAs (read the quote tweets for differing opinions on how to use an assistant).

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter, which comes out weekly on Wednesdays. Sign up here.

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