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Is office technology playing more and more of your admin role?

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Question: "Not that I want to be out of work, but it seems to me that technology has now given my boss plenty of tools to fend for himself in a lot of areas. Outlook does pretty much everything I can in the scheduling department, and it just takes a few clicks to book a flight or rent a car these days. Is anyone else worried that there's less and less that we admins seem absolutely necessary for?" - Vicki, Executive Assistant

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen January 5, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Unless you’re the owner of the company, everyone is a subordinate to someone.

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NANCY January 5, 2015 at 9:53 am

Even though many managers are doing their own scheduling and planning, it’s a counter-productive move. If they are doing all of this administrative work, it will eventually take away from the time they perform their management responsibilities. Studies show that those managers who do not use their admins for these type of tasks are less effective overall. Perhaps that’s the real question that needs to be asked.

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JoAnn Paules January 5, 2015 at 7:36 am

Keep in mind that all software programs are tools. Just because you own a hammer doesn’t make you a carpenter, does it? Well, just because your boss has Outlook doesn’t mean he no longer needs you. My manager has the same tools that I do but compared to him….I’m a master craftsman.

Learn to make better use of the tools you have. They say that 80% of Office users use 10 to 20% of the available features/functions. Be part of the 20% who use more.

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Joan January 2, 2015 at 7:19 pm

I have been an administrative assistant/executive assistant for many, many years. My one big regret in life is that I did not further my education so I could be the one BEHIND the desk, and not standing in front of it. Unless you are privy enough to work for a large, for profit company where they pay executive assistants a really nice salary, this is for the most part a pretty dead end job. I have had several managers who have made my job most enjoyable over the years and others who have not. Because your whole existence is pretty much tied to the person you work for, you have no real sense of identity. Get that education and take your world in another direction!

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Ce January 2, 2015 at 10:07 am

I believe that I am as valuable to a person as I allow myself to be. If you offer your strengths in order to make a task flow more smoothly, you are adding value to your function. YOU have the choice whether or not to make yourself valuable. Sometimes that may even mean taking the initiative to find ways to accomplish that.

My former boss was Vice President of a small electric co-op. He is an electrical engineer, who is intelligent, organized, and tech-savvy and has loads of common sense. He never once indicated that he felt the tasks that I – or any of his other employees – performed were “lowly” or beneath him. In fact, he’s the type of guy who would make coffee if the pot was empty. If a piece of trash was on the floor, he’d pick it up and throw it in the trash can.

Despite the fact that he is capable of doing many things that he paid me to do for him, he valued me because he appreciated that I possess the skills to ASSIST him with certain tasks. (After all, isn’t that what being an Administrative Assistant is all about?) Yes, he can and did handle his own calendar, travel arrangements, etc. when I was out of the office.

There are also things which this highly educated and intelligent man doesn’t do very well. He could author a letter containing very technical information (I’m not an engineer, so I couldn’t have written it with such detail), but he’s far from a grammarian. The trick was that I had to have a basic understanding of the point that he intended to convey, and then I had to use my skills to make sure he got the message across to the recipient. Additionally, as any good lawyer will tell you, things that are put in writing must be done so very carefully. A comma, or lack thereof, in a letter or contract can determine whether or not your company is paying out big bucks to someone who misunderstood what you thought you were saying!

I also offered opinions and helped him to see things from alternate perspectives, something that technology can’t do. But I could.

Bottom line: we worked together as a team. He has skills; I have skills. He taught me some engineering stuff, and I taught him some grammar stuff, but he will always be the engineering expert, and I will always be the grammar expert. Together, we were a pretty awesome team! We all have strengths and weaknesses, and I think that no matter how advanced technology becomes, machines will never be able to replace people. God-given gifts can’t be programmed.

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Barb January 2, 2015 at 10:17 am

Well said, Ce. I agree 100%. I have a boss very similar to yours. A brilliant guy, president of our company, and nothing is beneath him either. There have been plenty of times when he’s actually asked if he could get me a cup of tea as he was headed back to the break room. We are a great team.

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Ce January 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

Having that kind of boss is a true blessing, isn’t it? :o)

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Dr. Henry Sinopoli January 2, 2015 at 5:28 pm

It’s obvious you are working for a very nice man, congratulations…Keep in mind, there are only two reasons an organization hires human capital…One…the person can make the organization money…Two…the person can save the organization money…If a subordinate fills either of these roles, perhaps they are necessary…God have very little to do with the delineation of supervisors and subordinates…otherwise we would never experience slavery…

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Lisa C January 2, 2015 at 9:21 am

Regardless of how advanced technology becomes, managers will always need an assistant to manage the details. A manager could have a masters degree in IT and hold dozens of certifications but will still need someone to manage Outlook email and meeting requests because 1.) it’s beneath his/her level of expertise, 2.) it’s a waste of his/her time to deal with what he/she considers to be “lowly tasks” and 3.) it makes them feel/appear superior to other managers to have an assistant.

Managers are needy creatures of habit, thus ensuring a place for administrative support positions. Yes, the types of tasks change with technological advances, but the need is still there for us. You just need to find how to use it to your advantage, which depends on the individual manager, job and situation.

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Lynn January 2, 2015 at 9:50 am

I couldn’t have said it better myself. You are, sadly, correct when considering most “bosses”. Many of the older traditionalists feel they have earned their place and mundane tasks are expected to be performed by us, as admin assistants. Regardless of what others choose to minimilize, the reality is as stated. I expect civilization/business someday will finally open their collective eyes and mechanize, but until then, we have much more value then is intimated. And besides, who says the tasks we are “freed up” to do are NOT in the best interest of the organization as a whole?

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Barb January 2, 2015 at 8:12 am

Computers can’t sort out my boss’s receipts and match each one up to the event on his calendar. And someone has to make sure his schedule is up to date so that he is where he is supposed to be when he is supposed to be there! Also – travel planning is more than just a few clicks of the mouse – it involves arranging appointments with clients, providing directions from point to point, looking for details such as dress codes for particular events, etc., And what about event planning? Do you think these busy executives have time to do all that themselves? No way. I’d say our jobs are safe. Not to worry. I’ve just scratched the surface here.

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Dr. Henry Sinopoli January 2, 2015 at 9:15 am

Alfred North Whitehead, said, “The major advances in civilization all but wreck the civilization in which they occur.” The idea of relinquishment of responsibilities will disturb those most ingrained in current practices. It really is humorous when individuals speak of ‘bosses’ in a futuristic world that more than likely eliminate such a bureaucratic system. Today there are such things as receipts, traditional travel, etc., tomorrow, they will be memories.

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Lynn January 2, 2015 at 9:52 am

Trivializing our tasks is counter-productive. As we all know, there are many reasons why our positions will never go away. Barb and Lisa have given two very real ones.

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Dr. Henry Sinopoli January 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Tasks are trivial when a majority of them can be passed to subordinates. At the risk of sounding insensitive, the roles most secretaries preformed morphed into administrative assistants, then executive assistants, not because of difficulty, but because of political correctness. Regardless of what it is called it is a secondary role. There will always be a need for subordinates, and I agree the elimination of human subordinates, probably will never totally be eliminated, but the advance of artificial intelligence will come close to doing so. Also, some posted comments mention about being a good team. A subordinate and a supervisor are not a team. A team is comprised of individuals who contribute equally to the performance goal of the organization. For example, a professional sports enterprise is a team, each preforming a supervisory, specialized role to achieve the objective. There are subordinates involved, perhaps an equipment manager, ‘administrative assistant’ type functionary, who is much easier to replace. Also, keep in mind, there is a vast difference between managers and leaders. It would seem most of you are subordinates to managers, who are following a structure prescribed by a leader. I do agree, most of you have nothing to fear immediately because change is difficult. Most of the supervisors you are working to prop up matured under the current system, and will depend on subordinates as much as possible, until forced to change…But change is inevitable, growth is optional. It remains to be seen how many dinosaurs survive the global economy. If any of you have children, I would not recommend a career path to be subordinate.

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Treva January 5, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I think you may be a little misguided in thinking the role of the administrative professional changed because of political correctness. The role advanced because administrative professionals are taking on greater responsibilities than that of the former secretarial role. They work harder; are more diligent and indispensable. They are not just sitting around making coffee, taking steno and typing letters, but playing a major role in working with their leaders in helping to deliver the bottom line which is achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. Which brings me to the point that a team is comprised of two or more people working together to reach a common goal so yes, an assistant and her boss can work together as a team and work towards the goals of the organization (i.e., the assistant irons out the nitty-gritty details and logistics while this frees up the boss to be thinking about the bigger picture). With that being said, there are many WOMEN and men who are in leadership positions who rely heavily on the knowledge, skills and abilities their assistant brings to the table. I do not believe the advancements in technology are going to eliminate the need for assistants and it should not pose a concern for current and FUTURE administrative professionals. You may want to check out some of the very empowering articles out there that are showing the new power of the administrative professional and how we are no longer being utilized for just menial tasks, but how we are relied upon for being a sounding board for new thoughts and fresh ideas.

Lynn January 2, 2015 at 8:12 am

I feel that no matter how advanced technology gets, most bosses prefer to have us do many of the same tasks we have been. I personally have found if my boss is my age or older, they generally aren’t interested in learning ‘new’ tasks, even if they’ve been reduced to a few quick clicks! As stated above, new technology DOES assist in freeing me up sooner, to take on new tasks that interest me.

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Dr. Henry Sinopoli January 2, 2015 at 9:27 am

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, the traditional role of boss to subordinate has been male supervisor to female subordinate. Thankfully that is being replaced by gender neutral leaders who believe in life-long learning. If one works in an organization with supervisors who aren’t interested in learning new technology, or prefer to engage human capital to do what technology will do more efficiently, without increased organizational cost, the organization will fail to be sustainable. Also, the role of technology is not to free-up subordinates to take on tasks that interest them, it is to take on tasks that complete organizational goals.

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Amy January 1, 2015 at 5:45 am

What I have found to be interesting is that even when bosses use technology that we do and assume some control of aspects of their calendars, travel arrangements, meeting planning, etc., they still want, need, and depend upon their assistants to handle those aspects of their jobs for them.

Most bosses that I am aware of could do 90% of what is delegated to their admins, but don’t for real reasons. Isn’t this why we got into our field in the first place? To take on some of those responsibilities and keep our bosses free to work on their bottom line?

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Dr. Henry Sinopoli December 31, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Nanotechnology and robotics are two issues that will eliminate the need for personal ‘human’ assistants. The future is wired for knowledge workers, with the exception of low functioning, labor intensive employment. The field of self-organizing systems will continue to emerge as fitting our needs through computing.

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Anne December 31, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I both agree and disagree with Lisa. I believe if you are in a position to take on new responsibilities, in that case, technology is very helpful in freeing you up to do other things. On the other hand, if there are not a lot of other responsibilities that you can take on, we just may be watching this particular profession slowly fade away. It will be interesting in the next decade to see how this profession morphs.

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Lisa December 30, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I like to think of it as having technology make my work-life easier. I’ve worked as an Executive Assistant at the same company for nearly 20 years. My job has morphed significantly over the years. As the traditional “secretarial” things that I used to do have dwindled, it opens up opportunities for taking on new challenges.

In job I had 25 years ago, my boss actually dictated correspondence and other types of things into a tape recorder, which I transcribed! Since most folks are pretty self-sufficient with their own correspondence, setting up meetings, and arranging their own travel, I’ve had the chance to take on other resposibilities such as serving as our office manager, working with the human resources department, and enjoying an expanded role working with our board of directors. My current boss still likes me to take on day-to-day tasks that frees up his time for other things. I’m lucky that my job as an Executive Assistant suits my personality, because I love to make sure things are running smoothly by taking care of all of the “little things,” in addition to bigger projects.

Vicki, maybe you could approach your boss about taking on new things. There are always lots of things that need to be done, and it will help make your life at work more interesting. It worked for me!

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