Hiring business support staff in The New Normal: What skills and personality traits should you be looking for?

By Australasian Recruitment Company – September 17, 2021

Hiring business support staff in The New Normal: What skills and personality traits should you be looking for?

In the post-pandemic era of flexible working, virtual assistants and digitisation of administrative tasks, is your hiring strategy as future-proof as it can be?
It isn’t new news that remote working and the hybrid model has shifted how leaders and coworkers connect and do business: as early as 2017 a McKinsey Global Institute analysis estimated that 14 percent of the global workforce will need to be reskilled entirely, and 40 percent will need partial reskilling to continue with their current occupations.

With uncertainty still an overriding force in the workplace, organisations are having to rethink what makes a ‘good hire’ into a traditional business support role such as executive assistant, secretary or office manager.
In June this year, Deloitte made a third of its secretarial staff redundant, following a growing trend towards the digitisation of business support roles. As the vast majority of businesses shift towards long-term remote working, naturally this leaves less room for the traditional support roles that carry out a smaller number of tasks. Instead, we’re seeing businesses seeking multi-skilled staff or staff who are willing to upskill in their roles.

Throughout lockdown as companies adapted to home working, many workers upskilled to be able to support in areas such as office management, HR, health and safety and internal comms. One City investment house is training executive assistants to code, while another is upskilling its entire support staff in project management. In a world where the only certainty is uncertainty, hiring managers need to make sure their business support staff can grow and adapt with them.

Victoria Wratten, chief executive of the Executive & Personal Assistants Association (EPAA), says the Executive Assistant job has shifted from being a transactional role to a more strategic one with managerial-type responsibilities. “Diary management and admin work still exist, but there’s far less of it. It goes way beyond being a gatekeeper”.

A McKinsey study from July 2020, Thriving After Covid: What Skills do Employees Need? states that looking for four key skills in new hires can help secure the foundations for your organisation’s success:

1. Digitally savvy

A degree of technological skill is essential to an employee’s ability to operate at pace in a fully digital environment, especially if they are expected to work remotely. A good grounding in digital skills will make it easier for them to add value to your organisation’s ecosystem by way of interacting and innovating, and get their heads round new softwares, data concepts and processes.

2. Cognitive reasoning skills

The new working environment poses challenges requiring enhanced problem-solving skills as well as creativity and innovation. The successful candidate can demonstrate these skills in an increasingly autonomous environment with more limitations and a broader range of challenges than they may have faced previously. Problem-solving and the ability to manage projects and multiple parties remotely is essential.

3. Emotional intelligence

To maintain strong professional ties despite distances, grow relationships and work remotely, employees need advanced communication and interpersonal skills including empathy. In the “distance economy,” an executive assistant will have to cultivate social and emotional skills to develop, on a remote basis, the relationships they used to nurture in person.

4. Adaptability and resilience

For employees to take positive learnings from the last couple of years, they must possess self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-reliance. Other areas that demonstrate resilience include their ability to manage time, boundaries, and their own mental wellness. For example, a cashier in a supermarket will need adaptability and resilience to become a customer service representative when her job becomes automated.


The pandemic has challenged old ways of working and the flexibility we get with new models of work will shape our future talent strategies and business success. Organisations that fail to move with the times and upskill now will be limiting their potential to do so at scale in the future.
At Australasian we maintain strong relationships with our clients to ensure we can support them as their staffing needs evolve over time. If you are a hiring manager looking for your next business support team member in London, please contact us at ARC so we can help you with your search on 0207 625 3300 or hello@australasian.co.uk.


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