Recently we had the pleasure of speaking to Lauren De Matos, Executive Assistant to the Executive Director of People, Safety and Culture at Life Without Barriers. Lauren was also crowned Runner-Up Up and Coming EA at our 2019 Executive PA awards. Here Lauren shares her tips and tricks to adapting as an EA working across industries and the importance of learning and development. Since remote working is now a common arrangement, Lauren also shares her experience on how to maintain a well-functioning connection with your executive remotely.
Lauren has an extensive background in administration and took many opportunities to advance her skills in each role she took. After Lauren finished her HSC, she took part in a two-year administration traineeship at the local council in Scone, NSW. After her time with the council she moved into a receptionist role at a local law firm in Scone and gained experience in the legal world. 10 months later Lauren decided to move from her little hometown to the big smoke in Newcastle. Here, she transitioned into a role in allied health and then went on to work as a clinical support officer in the local operating theatre. After three years there, she moved to BAE Systems as an executive assistant to the general manager. Lauren then began her current role at Life Without Barriers in 2018.
While administration wasn’t necessarily Lauren’s main career goal, her progression in the industry was an organic experience.
“I really like the fact that I get to have time with people, that’s a really big thing for me. Then I really loved the diversity of the role. It’s not something that you just sit down and know what to do or what to expect every day. I just love being a support person in some capacity and the fact that we do get to float between different industries. You don’t really get to do that with many other professions.”
As many EAs would know, accepting a different position at a new company can be a daunting prospect. As an executive assistant, you’re one of the main points of contact within the business and getting up to speed on who you’re working for can be difficult. As someone who has experience across a variety of industries and companies, Lauren is a pro when it comes to researching.
“Before you go into it research the company as best you can online…I think for me it was really a matter of taking those opportunities to meet as many key stake holders and build those relationships in many parts of the business. I find, especially in a big organisation, it can be hard to understand what happens outside of your function.
“Just establish as many relationships as [you can] with as many different people. And always ask questions…As anybody else in this profession knows, [EAs] are the go to people for a lot of different questions from a lot of different people so you need to make sure you become that hub of knowledge and the best way to do that is to just ask as many questions as you can.”
While 2020 has seen an increase in remote working, Lauren was adapting to this style of work long before it became the norm. Seven months into her role at Life Without Barriers, Lauren’s executive made the move from Newcastle to Brisbane.
“We just got back from Christmas break and Scott was on his way up to Darwin and he rang me and said, ‘I’m in Brisbane’. And I said, ‘What are you in Brisbane for? You’re supposed to be in Darwin.’ But he’s like, ‘No, I’m moving to Brisbane in two weeks.’
“We were really open and up-front to begin with…We laid down some ground rules with open communication, being available on mobile for each other, and emails and everything…So, now we refer to each other as ‘Work Wife/Work Husband’ and I know that’s not everybody’s favourite terminology but our commitment as ‘Work Wife/Work Husband’ is to talk every single day. That way he still feels connected, I feel connected and we can get through those tasks we need to. And because he moves remotely from the rest of his team it gives him that connection back into the team and lets him know what’s going on.”
Lauren says that their work relationship wouldn’t survive remotely without open communication. Lauren makes a habit of doing a daily update at the end of the day with questions she has and tasks her executive needs to complete in the next 24 hours. This saves having to have task-based conversations on the phone and allows them to focus on strategy and planning conversations.
“Trello has been a god send for us…Every morning—he’s a very early riser and will have a flood of thoughts—he just pops it into my to-do list. And I just chug away as soon as I log in and I can put all of my comments in and due dates and notes of where it’s up to. So, that’s been a huge help for us. And we work better now than we ever have.”
Being an EA means that you might have to transition between industries, but it also means you might have to transition between departments within a business. For an EA who has worked in a diverse range of roles, Lauren says the department you work in results in a different set of responsibilities and knowledge. For her, working in HR has been a game changer.
“It has impacted me greatly working in a HR world. It’s made me realise the intricacies of dealing with a business and how something that I thought could be a really small change, such as asking people to move desks, can actually have quite an impact on that person. It’s made me really consider how I look at things big picture and the effect it might have on somebody else.”
Lauren’s experience working across different roles has helped her discover what she enjoys doing the most—something she believes all EAs should be clear on.
“I know what portfolios I would work in and what I wouldn’t, and that’s personal preference. I think it’s really important to know that within yourself, like what you’re not interested in. Say I stayed in finance, I wouldn’t bring the same passion to work every day. For me, that’s something that I need. I can’t just go to work and then switch off at the end of the day. I really need to enjoy what I’m doing and that’s working in a HR function.
“For me it’s just so important to make sure you work in a place where the values align with your own, as well as working for somebody. If mine and Scott’s values didn’t align, we would’ve clashed. We definitely oppose each other when it comes to some decisions, but we can understand where the other is coming from. If I worked for someone where we just didn’t gel together, then I’d never get the understanding of why he does things the way that he does.”
While Lauren has had an extensive professional background, she never stops learning and educating herself on different topics. She believes that ongoing learning and training is imperative to your success as an EA. Expanding on your skills and education is never a wasted effort and will only improve your success in the role of an EA.
“Whether it be quick online course that takes you 10 minutes or a university degree, you’re never going to walk away and think, ‘What’s the point of that?’. You’ll always get value, whether it’s a tiny thing or something monumental that changes your life. I would 100% encourage people to go and do that…There are some really great EA conferences, I usually try to get to one a year. And while some sessions might not be right up my alley, I’m always able to take something away from that session and apply it in the workforce. There’s nothing wrong with learning and trying to better yourself.”
For Lauren, being crowned Runner-Up Up and Coming EA at the 2019 Executive PA Awards was a huge achievement—one that she considers great not just for herself, but for the industry, too.
“I’ve got my trophy on the desk and it’s just nice to know there is an awards ceremony…It’s a changing landscape and people are really starting to value the administration profession. Just to be able to have that award and have people ask, ‘What’s that for?’ or ‘What does an executive assistant do?’ is really great.”
Lauren is a huge advocate for self-nominating and encourages any EA considering an application to do so.
“Go for it. If I had asked my boss, he would’ve done it and I probably would’ve ended up writing it for him! But what’ve you got to lose? I’m not good at recognising my achievements myself and I think there are a lot of EAs out there who are their own worst critic…So, to be able to sit down and be like, ‘Wow this is actually what I do!’ is a really nice thing…A lot of people don’t actually reflect on the good things.”
While Lauren has dedicated her time to becoming the successful and recognised EA that she is, she hasn’t gotten there all by herself. Lauren’s relationship with her executive, Scott, is a special one that they’ve both worked hard to foster. Their working relationship is a prime example for all the EAs out there of the trust and hard work that’s needed to be successful in their role.
“I’d like to thank Scott for all of his support and faith in me; I wouldn’t be the EA I am without him.”