Secretaries face with being replaced by virtual assistants due to WFH

Secretaries face with being replaced by virtual assistants due to WFH

PAs declare war on VAs: Secretaries faced with being replaced by ‘virtual assistants’ due to WFH are launching their own businesses to prove top execs can’t ‘operate without them’

  • PAs are going freelance and setting up own businesses amid the jobs bloodbath
  • But others said they are turning into VAs – where they work for a client remotely
  • There are fears PAs will be redundant amid Covid as they ‘may not be necessary’
  • This week over 500 secretaries at Deloitte had been told their jobs were at risk

Personal assistants have declared war on virtual assistants amid fears they will be replaced by them due to the new work from home culture.

Some PAs are going freelance and setting up their own businesses after a jobs bloodbath hit the industry during the pandemic.

But others are turning into VAs – where they work for a client remotely and do not enter their offices – as they say top executives cannot operate without them.

There are fears PAs will become redundant due to the Covid crisis as the role ‘may no longer be necessary in the same way’.

Earlier this week it emerged more than 500 secretaries at Deloitte had been told their jobs were at risk.

The bombshell came after 20,000 employees were told they can choose whether to work from home, the office or a mix of both from ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.


Some PAs are going freelance and setting up their own businesses after a jobs bloodbath hit the industry during the pandemic. Left: Lily Shippen, who runs a recruitment service for PAs. Right: Lucy Everett

Kate Chastey director of The Passionate PA, said a lot of people are leaving offices to become virtual assistants or go freelance.

But she warned ‘their success rate is very low’ and many go back into jobs ‘as soon as they find something suitable’ which is often within months.

The PA, who started out as a freelance more than a decade ago, added: ‘They’re not setting themselves up as a business, simply trying to fill time and make ends meet.’

She admitted the Covid crisis had changed the role of the personal assistant but said they had become ‘even more important’ during the pandemic,

Ms Chastey said: ‘The entrepreneur has had more time with reduced travel et cetera, but most have worked even harder to keep their businesses going over the last 18 months.

‘This means that the business support from their PA has been even more vital as a great PA will be doing so much more than handling meetings, diary management and HR matters.’

She said there are apps and ways of outsourcing receptionist and secretarial work at a fraction of the cost of a full time PA.

But she added: ‘Our business leading clients still very much want their executive level PA support to be provided by a real person, with real personality – ready and willing to meet face to face when the time is right.’

Kate Chastey (pictured) director of The Passionate PA, said a lot of people are leaving offices to become virtual assistants or go freelance

Lily Shippen, who runs a recruitment service for PAs, said she had noticed the switch from many in her trade to freelance.

She continued: ‘There were a lot of jobs going during Covid. But I don’t think it is where the role is going.

‘The role is growing year on year just in a more strategic way rather than the traditional roles.’

But Rosemary Parr, a former executive assistant to BT Chairman Sir Christopher Bland, said she is concerned by the way the industry is going.

She said: ‘As a result of Covid there may be some industries where there is a cut back in admin staff.

But Rosemary Parr (pictured), a former executive assistant to BT Chairman Sir Christopher Bland, said she is concerned by the way the industry is going

‘However no Executive at a senior level can do their job to their best ability without an efficient EA/PA supporting them.

‘EAs & PAs ease the pressure, take on multiple tasks, become the software and app expert, implement time saving structures and can make their executive 40 per cent -50 per cent more efficient.’

She added: ‘Through Covid many of them I have trained tell them they have been given additional responsibility, manage reduced office staff and working from home schedules and covid facilities management.

‘The role is evolving and moving upwards into management with 50 per cent of the profession now educated to degree level. As a profession they will never be eliminated.’

Yet a senior PA for a healthcare firm, who asked not to be named, said she had found her job ‘extremely boring’ during the pandemic so she launched her own business.

She said it started really busy as she helped ICUs and doctors across the country, but her work dried up and became ‘extremely quiet’. 

She said: ‘For the first few months of Covid as our clinicians were busy being redeployed to ICU and writing Covid guidance for doctors across the country, I was fairly busy supporting them.

‘And then things became extremely quiet. Since January, I have maybe a handful of tasks to do each week. It’s extremely boring.

‘One day last week I even forgot to log on in the morning (yes, I forgot I had a job!) and nobody even noticed.

‘I was so desperate for something to do that I launched my own business. I spend roughly half an hour doing PA-related tasks each day, and for the rest of the time I’m an entrepreneur. A bizarre situation, but I need to put myself first.’

Despite the PAs backing the necessity of their jobs, big businesses appear to be shifting away from the traditional personal assistant (file photo)

And Lucy Everett, a former EA in the City of London who created Virtually Supported, made a similar move.

She said: ‘Some people have the opinion that PAs & EAs are simply an admin support role.

‘But my experience as an EA in the City prior to starting my business was so much more than that.

‘Most EAs are the right hand person for the board level exec they support. They’re expert problem solvers who can organise multiple diaries, across a range of time zones without any fuss at all.

‘They sit at board meetings with high level execs and get to understand how to run a big business and what goes into strategic decisions.’

Despite the PAs backing the necessity of their jobs, big businesses appear to be shifting away from the traditional personal assistant.

More than 500 secretaries at Deloitte have been told their jobs are at risk after 20,000 employees were told they can choose whether to work from home.

Big businesses appear to be adopting ‘hybrid models’ for staff and this will speed up the digitisation of staff services meaning fewer PAs may be needed.

Deloitte is considering making at least one third of secretarial staff redundant which would save then £4million-a-year.

Deloitte is considering making at least one third of secretarial staff redundant which would save then £4million-a-year (file photo)

Boris Johnson is ready to ditch the ‘work from home’ guidance – but it will be left to employers and their staff to decide when workers go back to their desks (file photo)

Instead there would be ‘pools’ of secretaries for staff to use – with only the most senior management retaining personal PAs.

The official guidance telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be scrapped on July 19 in England.

But it will be left up to employers and their staff to decide whether they have to go back to their desks.

Deloitte is the latest of several large companies to announce plans for hybrid working.

A spokesman said: ‘We are consulting on proposed changes to executive assistant roles at Deloitte, which, unfortunately, could lead to some redundancies.

‘We know this will be difficult news for those affected and we are supporting our people during this process.’

It follows Asda, Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC Banks, as well as call-centre operator Capita and British Gas owner Centrica.

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