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Part 1: Adventures of a New EA Role

HomeAway's reception area

HomeAway's reception area; image courtesy of HomeAway

I’m joined today by Danielle Zamora, who recently stepped into a new role as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at HomeAway. This is the first article in a three-part series, which covers her first month acclimating to an exciting new role.

CH: Thank you for joining us today Danielle, and congratulations on your new role! I know starting a new job can be nerve-racking. How did you prepare for your first day?

ZM: Thank you! It’s been a whirlwind…but in a good way! I had a trip to Costa Rica already planned, so I had to be prepared a week early due to that trip. I returned late on a Sunday night and since onboarding processes at HomeAway always start on Mondays, I started the next morning at 9am.

Before my first week, I took the time to change my perspective. Instead of walking into a brand new role coming from a place of fear of uncertainty or making mistakes, I listened to a great podcast by Bonnie Low-Kraman and Vickie Sokol-Evans titled, “Workplace 2.0 The Future is Now with guest Melba J. Duncan.” It gave me such a boost in excitement! It reminded me about the purpose of the EA role; it’s all about the executive and having a service mindset. I shifted my perspective and started thinking about how I need to focus on the ways I can learn as much as I can to help my executive and his team.

Before my first day, I received a lot of information as well as paperwork I needed to sign through our online onboarding portal. I completed my employee profile, double-checked what I-9 documents I needed to bring on my first day and had all other onboarding paperwork signed through the portal.

Besides my I-9 items, I brought a notebook so I could be ready to take notes right away. I also packed my own lunch since I was unsure of how my schedule would go.

CH: What was your arrival like on the first day?

ZM: When I arrived, the front desk ladies welcomed me and took my picture for my badge so I could have access to the office. I then waited in the front area, which was actually pretty busy! There were 6 other new employees as well as a few other people waiting to be called in for interviews.

CH: What was the onboarding process like?

ZM: The recruiting coordinator took all of the new employees into a conference room where our seats were labeled with our name and corresponding company laptop. Tucked inside the laptop lid listed all pertinent IT information. Some people received PCs and some received Macs, depending on the department. The administrative department uses PCs, so that’s what I received (and luckily what I prefer!).

The Recruiting Coordinator went over basic information, such as referral bonuses, our pay schedule, and information about upcoming new employee orientation classes. These are booked regularly with a group of employees at once and they are a full day.

A representative from the IT department came in to help us with systems set up (Outlook, VPN, the internal Wiki, Slack, our voicemail, etc.) and gave us additional general IT information (the online IT ticketing system, help desk, etc.).

We were then brought down to the “bistro area” for a tour. That space is a break room, which has snacks, drinks, tables, a Ping-Pong table, shuffleboard, and a terrace.

The EA I’m replacing then found me and brought me to my desk. I’m lucky that the previous EA is remaining on my team, but taking on another role. So, she and I will be working together for awhile!

Snow globes

HomeAway's snow globe collection from around the world; image courtesy of HomeAway

CH: What did the previous EA show you?

ZM: She gave me an overview of my desk area I have a desk that can be adjusted to use as a sitting or standing desk. She let me know that there’s an employee onsite that helps with ergonomics who I can set up an assessment with if I like. She also showed me how to use the docking station which activates the desk (the light comes on and outlets power up).

We then reviewed general information, such as distribution lists, calendars, and organizational overviews.

CH: Have you taken a lot of notes so far?

ZM: Yes! I even made a point to reference those as much as possible right from the start, as well as other resources I had bookmarked. Even though the previous EA is a wonderful resource, I am trying to avoid asking questions until I have done my best to be resourceful first. Doing this initially makes tasks take longer, but I am internalizing the information and remembering where to look up what I need to get tasks done. I have run some items by the previous EA for a final thumbs up to be on the safe side, such as reviewing the way I composed a new calendar invite, but this way of going about tasks is helping me to get acclimated quicker in the long run.

CH: Were you able to start organizing all of the resources you received during your first week?

ZM: Throughout my first week I organized my Outlook account. I like using color categories and folders, so I set those up. I already had emails in my inbox because my account was set up prior to my start date, so I had a decent batch that I was able to organize right away.

I bookmarked useful websites the first part of the week and didn’t organize them until the end. I am an organized person and it looked messy for a few days, but in order to set up the best organization, I needed to make sense of everything I would be working with first, to then come up with the most appropriate labels. I now have my bookmarks organized, which will be helpful when I enter into week two.

CH: Are you going to be using task management software to organize your to-do list?

ZM: Our company uses Trello. I have used other task management tools, such as Basecamp and Asana, so it is a new program for me but it is very user friendly and I have gotten comfortable with it quickly. Trello is compromised of boards, and within each board are lists. In the lists are where tasks are stored called “cards.” I have created my own personal board and have several lists in there already such as “To-Do,” “Eventually,” “To Review with Boss” and “Onboarding Tasks.”

We also use Google Drive. I have already created a few documents in there from the notes I have taken since some parts didn’t make sense to add to my Trello lists.

CH: Are there any other EAs at HomeAway?

ZM: There’s actually a team of seven EAs. All of the higher-level executives have an EA. Some EAs support just one executive and some support multiple. Most of the EAs are fairly new due to the recent growing team.

We also have a separate Facilities/Office Manager team which focuses on general office administration. It’s a very cool structure and team.

CH: Do you know if you will be interacting with the other EAs?

ZM: There actually is an “Admin School,” which I will be participating in next week. Each EA takes a piece of the training to teach the new EA. They cover best practices and helpful resources.

Last week I got a presentation about the EA department and now know who supports which executive(s), learned a bit about each executive’s personality and received a high-level overview about what each executive does.

I also learned that the EAs use Slack regularly. It’s a communication tool I’m a big fan of! I have already been involved in conversations with the other EAs, such as about general happenings coming up, through that channel. But yes, I do think we’ll all be working together very closely to make sure we’re all synced up on both the big picture and small details.

CH: Have you had any one-on-one meetings with your executive yet?

ZM: My first meeting also included the previous EA. A lot of the discussion was about his schedule since he has a lot of travel coming up and we need to shift things around. One important item was that I got an overview of all his regular meetings as well as an overview of the key players in each.

On Thursday I had my first one-on-one with just my executive and me. We went over my general questions, the backlog of scheduling questions I had and made sure I had all of the necessary permissions set up in Outlook (making sure I had full delegate access, copies of invites, etc.). We seem to communicate well so far!

CH: Have you joined any other meetings?

ZM: It is part of my job to sit in some of my executive’s meetings that involve his direct reports. I am not responsible for taking notes, although I did capture action items so I would know what I would need to follow up on for my executive later on. Being in the meetings is giving me great exposure to new jargon as well as general information. They are helping me to think about the business on a higher level. I have also noticed through my involvement with these meetings that my executive is very hands-on with his reports (without micromanaging), takes the time to make himself accessible and is great at empowering team members once he has delegated tasks to them.

One thing that has been great is that each of my executive’s direct reports have reached out to welcome me or even to meet with me one-on-one. This is just one example of how it’s such an inclusive atmosphere here.

CH: Have you started managing your executive’s calendar?

ZM: I actually began calendaring on the first day. Emails requests started coming to my inbox that day but the previous EA was cc-ed on them. The previous EA took care of a few time sensitive requests at first but at this point she is no longer cc-ed and I am fully taking care of everything.

I actually also manage the calendar for another executive (an SVP). My support for him is limited to calendaring. I met with him at the end of my first week to get to know him and learn about his team.

One thing that is different from my previous role is that I am calendaring directly off of my executive’s calendar. When I was in my previous role, the executive preferred me to send invites from my own calendar and add him to the invite so he could accept or decline. I would use color categories to separate out my own commitments. Now, just my own meetings are on my calendar. This is just one example of how you have to be able to adapt to different preferences and work styles of executives.

My current executives’ calendars already have category systems set up, so I follow those. Basically, there are category names assigned to each color (ex: yellow for one-on-one meetings, green for team meetings, etc.) and I select the best fit. This helps them to better organize their day at a glance.

One thing that’s great is I noticed my executive likes to look far ahead in his calendar with me. For example, since he has so much travel coming up, we have already had discussions about several weeks ahead. An interesting side note is that due to both of our travel schedules, we will not be on the same time zone until May!

CH: That’s a long time to be in different time zones! Will you have to shift your work schedule to match his?

ZM: My schedule right now is 8:00am-5pm CT, which is the same as my husband’s. We are going to keep it as is, but I will adjust it if needed. My executive was upfront in the beginning about the fact that he will be emailing me during off hours, but to ignore those until normal business hours. We established that he will text me if there’s an emergency that needs my immediate attention. Of course, I always keeping an eye on my email just in case. That kind of comes with the EA territory, right?

Most of my executive’s team is in Austin. He spends most of his time on the West Coast and has mentioned that he is an early riser, so I don’t think our schedules will be generally too far off.

CH: Now that your first week is a wrap, do you know what your main responsibilities will be?

ZM: I’m going to be doing a lot of calendaring, event planning (both onsite and offsite), helping with meeting set up and coordination, booking travel through Egencia and working with the other EAs.

At HomeAway all of the EAs cover for each other when we are away, so it’s great stepping into a role having a backfill system already in place. Typically the EAs cover for other EAs whose executives work closely together since they have better insight into regular meetings, happenings, etc. I will soon learn whom I will be providing back up assistance for and vice-versa.

CH: Are there any great tips from your first week that you can share with the other assistants who will be reading this article?

ZM: The other EAs in the office use a website called Travefy to put together travel itineraries for their executive. The itineraries from this site have a very clean look to them and you can add everything, from flights to dinner reservations to meetings, and it’s something I will be checking out.

I also noticed that the EAs here try to make lunch orders easy. One way they do this is by adding lunch orders directly inside meeting invites. They start by creating an order on a website that allows for the collection of multiple orders, such as through Grubhub. They add the order collection link inside the meeting invite and include a request with a deadline such as, “Please submit orders by [insert date].” The EA who composed the invite then places the order on the deadline after making sure all orders have been submitted. There is a document that lists the executives’ dietary preferences, so sometimes the EAs will refer to that if they want to bypass order collecting and get the order taken care of right away.

Also, I learned to be mindful of leaving the request responses button unchecked on Outlook meeting invites (the default is to request responses). Unchecking that box ensures you don’t get bombarded with email responses

Lastly, I have been able to set up some Outlook Quick Steps already. It’s something I recommend EAs learn if they notice they are performing repetitive steps in Outlook. Basically, a Quick Step completes multiple functions at once. I watched a Lynda video to learn how to set these up, but here’s another guide that gives a wonderful overview: Quick Steps for Outlook Email Management.

CH: Are there any general takeaways from your first week?

ZM: In general, it was a great first week! There have been so many new faces and names to remember, but I’m fortunate to be part of team of supportive EAs. They have told me that I’m welcome to come to them for support with anything, especially during times when I feel overwhelmed and I need a lending ear or helping hand. I haven’t worked with a large team of EAs before and feel fortunate to have their amazing support. Also, it feels good to be an integral part of my executive’s team and am enjoying what I’m learning so far.

Danielle Zamora

Danielle's contact info:

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