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The Changing Roles of Support Staff in a Virtual Workplace

As organizations lose team members to the Great Resignation, or some opt for virtual assignments or reductions in their work week and roles, it ultimately shifts the roles and expectations of support staff. Many administrative professionals are now juggling responsibilities with bigger, cross-divisional teams and a global workforce. People at different levels in organizations have been struggling to bridge the divide between roles and expectations of staff and executive levels for years. But this challenge must be prioritized for leaders in today’s workplace. Otherwise, unclear expectations and unrealistic demands will result in conflict and turnover, especially among support staff.

Courtesy of Wix Media

Take the example of an administration professional who has been a participant in a group coaching engagement. She’s responsible for supporting over fourteen upper, to mid-level management personnel. Many of them have urgent demands on her, with time sensitive projects they need help with that require quick turnaround.. Because of the size of the group, the amount and nature of the work placed on her, she’s struggled to identify how to prioritize the workflow and is unable to properly communicate when she just cannot meet their needs.

So, that raises multiple questions, not least of which is what tasks are most important and most urgent. We discussed this during our coaching together, which helped refine her understanding of prioritization. But it also required her to talk with her colleagues and manager to identify what they believe to be the most important tasks and activities. Once they settled on a mutually agreed upon list, we explored how she could go beyond that, and work to frame the message with the managers she supports. She needed to communicate up her priorities in a way that would be accepted without dissension, conflict, or discord.

That’s one example of a common occurrence in organizations in this new landscape. The need to revisit workload, priorities, reporting structures, tasks, activities, and expectations of support staff should be routinely considered. But this change extends equally to leadership. Leaders should consider what needs are not being met, what expectations have changed, and how their communication needs to improve to ensure continued workflow.

Transparency and honesty are key. What has always been done one way may not work anymore because of the changing workplace, and they need to be frank with their team members. Open discussion about needs, expectations, and priorities should occur on a monthly cadence, if not more frequently. Once re-examination occurs, then the messaging must also evolve so the changes can be understood and accepted by everyone impacted.

As organizations push to adapt to the new work models and staffing shortages, there’s also a need to manage the emergent expectations. There's a need to communicate clearly so that priorities can be agreed upon and flow can continue to be effectively accomplished. Quite often this involves a realignment of what everyone does and how quickly support staff are expected to achieve said goals. The truth is, they may not be able to meet demands as they have historically done.

As leaders, you need to ensure the executive team reporting to you understands this and is proactive with change. There’s an opportunity to train and develop leaders to schedule their tasks, priorities, and timelines more effectively to give people who support them the appropriate lead times. They need to think about what they can do today, and on a regular basis, to adapt and communicate positive changes that will satisfy the expectations of all involved.

10 Questions Leaders Should Consider When Assigning Work To Support Staff:

  • How do you, as a manager, define success is terms of your performance and output?

  • What do you need to produce and deliver to be successful as a manager?

  • What are the time frames for delivering, or accomplishing, the various components for what you just defined as the major milestones in your goals?

  • Which of these goals are you best equipped to perform?

  • Which of the action items do your skills and expertise make you the best person to be responsible for performing tp reach the goals?

  • Of the goals that remain, who are the people within, or outside of, your organization who could best perform them?

  • What approach can you take to streamline the way in which these goals are done?

  • What do you need to do to communicate so that the person supporting you will be able and willing to do them?

  • How would you develop a schedule for accomplishing, and communicating this plan, including lead times for ensuring project support staff have the time required for completion?

  • What else needs to be managed so you can ensure excellent results delivered on time?

Renwick Brutus' career has spanned roles as research economist, investment advisor, entrepreneur and consultant. He holds an MBA from Fordham University and has been recognized for his outstanding achievement in sales and business leadership. Today, Renwick applies his unique blend of business strategy and interpersonal skills to help individuals prosper and companies grow. He is actively engaged as an entrepreneur, advisor and executive coach to business leaders. Contact him by email and LinkedIn .

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