Niamh Smithers

How are Ireland’s EAs, PAs, and Office Managers Managing Working From Home?

Without a doubt, one of the most important roles in any organisation, the role of the Executive Assistant is a multi-faceted, multi-functional, and multi-tasked!

This week I spoke to Executive Assistant in eShopWorld Niamh Smithers. Niamh is taking working from home in her stride and was good enough to take some time to chat through her routine with us.

Niamh Smithers

From Niamh,

Before I get into about me I hope you and your families are safe and well. To the Executive Assistants who are supporting those on the frontline, thank you for what you are doing.

I’m an Executive Assistant 14 years now – wow, I had to count that one out twice to make sure I was right, seems too long! I’ve worked in a few different industries but it was with Ulster Bank that began my career as an Executive Assistant but I’ve also had experience in Insurance, Telecommunications, TV, and now in Technology.

I’m based in Dublin and lucky for me I’ve only a 10-minute commute to work (currently it’s a two-second walk down the hall!!) after so many years of travelling into the city centre, further afield to Belfast, London, and Edinburgh.

My role in eShopWorld is primarily to support the Chief Operating Officer but I work with probably another three to four executives all having different needs so the role is varied as well as ensuring our office of 300+ is working and functioning.

Some refer to me as the concierge of eShopWorld or a living Alexa as I’ll do what I can to help or direct you to who you need to speak. The role is busy, it’s demanding, it’s interesting and varied but that’s what I enjoy so much about it.

What is your schedule like now?

I get up at roughly the same time, (maybe a walk) and dress in my work clothes. Maybe not the heels, but psychologically I am in a more focused headspace when I do as much of my regular routine as possible. So when normality is restored I’d like to think not as much will have changed.

How are you staying physically active?

Well as we are only allowed one form of exercise a day outside, I’ll vary when I go for a walk so it might be first thing in the morning, lunchtime or late evening. The other option then is to do a work out at home. There is so much online that you can really pick and choose what you want to do.

What has mainly changed for you on your work day?

How I engage with the executives and my general engagement with my colleagues. Being physically present you’re able to read someone’s mood, eye contact so you can understand how they’re feeling but with the no ‘Water Cooler’ chats going on, it’s hard to get a gauge of how people are feeling or what’s going on in the business without having to be in a meeting. So it’s trying to find a balance of keeping engagement with people.

How do you separate your work space from your home space?

I live in an apartment and although I’ve a spare room, there is no desk so I had to get creative around my work space. I’ve a dining table that flips out to sit eight people so as you can see in the photo, I’ve split half for work and half for sitting. So my living space has become three spaces now.

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Home office

Niamh Smithers


Any recommendations for any of the following (in terms of apps/programmes/software that are free / good value / only if you have budget

  • For communicating – Skype, Slack, WhatsApp, Phone
  • For safely sharing docs – OneDrive but if sharing with external parties I would recommend password protecting documents or confidential documents internal. During these current times, scammers/hackers do take advantage.
  • For organising your day/your Exec’s day – My two weekly catch-ups with the COO have now moved to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 15 mins to keep the engagement as well as when needed with text messages or email. I still have a weekly catch-up with others. However, I’ll just plough ahead when needed e.g. I’ll just go in and manage the conflicts. That’s the role of an EA to manage the schedule so the Executives don’t need to and being a step ahead. Taking the initiative.
  • To make sure my day is organised I schedule reminders/block my schedule in the morning for a walk/breakfast, lunch so I remember to look up from my desk and then a reminder to finish work by 6 pm -otherwise I won’t. During these times you can very easily get caught up when at home and forget to look at the clock as you’re not running from one meeting to another or looking to get home by a certain time.
  • For teams – Zoom or Skype with the video’s on, Slack channels
  • For tasks/to-do lists (personal and/or professionals) – I have to say I’m old school on this. I’ve a to-do list which is broken into Top 3 priorities today, to do and then break out of am/pm and then a To-Do book for the longer-term To do’s.
  • I am finding though my new whiteboard desk very handy for jotting down things as they come into my head or for a constant reminder. There was one I used with a previous executive Remember the Milk (the pro version you can share to-do lists with others and see when things are done or updated with notes)
  • For video conferencing – Zoom currently as Skype is feeling the effects of the demand on its platform. With video but remember your Video etiquette 🙂
  • For engagement with others – Having more regular and shorter catch-ups with your executives. Make a list of people in work to call or message at the start of the week to just check in to see how they are.
  • For getting involved – Look at areas where your strengths are which could be communications, activities to get people together, pulling information together for other areas. Even if it’s not your area, put a hand up and say you’ll help. This is a time where your skillset as an EA is adaptable. Just send an email saying I’m here to help they may not need it now but they will remember when they do.
  • For taking the opportunity – although it’s a time that is of uncertainty and keeping ourselves and family safe. Being there for each other as this is time for opportunities to reach out to friends you haven’t seen or spoken too.

Do the things you’ve been putting off in work as you haven’t had the time like:

  1. Procedure manuals
  2. Desktop filing or email organising
  3. Getting even more super organised
  4. Creating ‘The what you need to know’ for when you take leave
  5. Taking time out to spend some time on your PDP, reading an article, watching a webinar.
  6. Getting ready for review if you haven’t had it.
  7. Reviewing/adjusting your goals.
  8. Share articles with your executives or webinars or colleagues in general.
  9. Why not look at something that is done in the company that you think could do with some improvement or updating
  10. Ask to sit in on meetings you wouldn’t normally have time to do and learn about a new department or project that is being worked on.

Recommended webinar?

I’ve been on a few internal work webinars that have been arranged via our Learning and Development department which have been beneficial during the current times.

I attended the free conference being hosted by EPAA on Thursday 2nd of April and Friday 3rd of April. They had a lot of great sessions that I found useful and the live recordings can be found by clicking here:

Any positive mindset things to do?

Get out for a walk, call a friend, only follow positive people on Instagram/Twitter, share the good and uplifting stories. There was a tweet around four days ago to say that 925 people in Italy were on the mend than the sad news of those passing. You want to feel good stories. Keep positive thoughts alive than letting them be dulled by the negative people and their thoughts.

Anything else that you’re finding really helpful/cannot live without?

My Alexa keeps me company daily from playing the radio or we may play a quiz or two although I wouldn’t say I’m any good at them but we all love someone who gives’ it a lash (as per quote from our very own President Michael D Higgins). Whatsapp for family engagements, as well as Zoom for catching up with so many friends and family in one go. It lifts everyone’s spirits.

And finally… what has been a great watch on Netflix and why ? 🙂

Oh I kinda just watch what’s in the top 10 or whatever I have put on My List but haven’t got to. The last four movies I watched  A Man on a Ledge, A Fall from Grace, Salt and Broken Edge (with 20mins to the end I only realised that I’d seen it before!)

I had been catching up on a series of programmes, I hadn’t been watching on my TV. So for the moment I think I can safely say I won’t be running out of things to watch!

Oh I kinda just watch what’s in the top 10 or whatever I have put on My List but haven’t got to. The last four movies I watched  A Man on a Ledge, A Fall from Grace, Salt and Broken Edge (with 20mins to the end I only realised that I’d seen it before!)

I had been catching up on a series of programmes, I hadn’t been watching on my TV. So for the moment I think I can safely say I won’t be running out of things to watch!

Note from the editor: Over the coming weeks, we’ll be interviewing a number or Ireland’s EAs, PAs and Officer Managers. If you would like to share your experiences with your peers then please get in touch. Email Aisling on

My Forum Experience

Last week I attended the only event for my profession in Ireland – “The Executive PA Forum” and I now have time to reflect as I’m up in the clouds away from distractions (literally I am but on a plane to sunnier climates).

When I think about last week, I initially think of the number of new people attending the forum and those who I get to see year on year, the support each other has for each other as every year goes on you feel like part of family who have a yearly reunion.


From a high level view of the speakers who spoke it was interesting that approximately 50% of them had previously been PA/EA and had gone on to others areas like a HR Director and setting up their own businesses. I think there great stories to hear cause it shows that the role of PA/EA gives you a great skill set, makes you ambitious but also makes you appreciate and know your self worth.

… So what did I learn or take away from this years forum which now has me reflecting on my role but also my personal life.

The role is evolving from your standard secretary to one of a leader in the business. Think for a moment what do you do in your role or if there is someone in your office who holds a role like EA/PA. They are the heart beat within a company, they know more than they say, they take in/store a lot of information and they are the links to a lot of what happens in a company.

Look at the diversity balance of the role. It is mostly women holding the support roles but there is a need for individuals to see themselves as leaders in the business, and companies too. The majority don’t see ourselves capable of doing the job that a man may think they can do 100% when in fact it’s 60% but flip those numbers for women when in fact they could do it 100%. Ask yourself what areas do I need to improve on to bring me to be a leader or be seen as a leader in my company?

In saying that, you need to understand your self-worth and the key areas that will keep you true to yourself. How you need to set yourself apart for others and not to fall in line with others. The areas shared were:

  • Positive self esteem
  • You are clear about your values
  • Set yourself apart
  • You believe you are good enough
  • You recognise the skills you bring to any table
  • You engage in work that is exciting and fulfilling

The thing about these six areas are they are all within your control and knowing who you are as a person but also in the role you hold. The people you surround yourself with should contribute to these and not take away from them. If you can answer “YES” then great, but how do you elevate it further and improve, cause there is always room for improvement. If your answer is “NO” then it’s time to re-assess what needs improving, who needs to be in your life and maybe not in your life.

The other focus of the Forum was about well being and looking after yourself in your role but in personal capacity as well. I’ve been a career Executive Assistant 12 years now and I always say anything I do, I do for others that at times you actually forget about yourself cause your focus is on others. There is more days than not where I think I’ve eaten cause I’ve probably gone to get food and got called on; looked up and it’s 3pm or went to go to bathroom but never actually making it cause you’ve been stopped 20 times on the short walk. I can tell a lot of you have nodded to the last part.

What each of the speakers taught me was about taking that time for you! Time to meditate, to bring yourself out of the chaotic zone of every day life, knowing the signs of when it is getting too much but knowing how to step back and hit the reset button. Being able to say ‘No’ to your manager or peers, knowing to deal with those times when things don’t go right and too move on.

But if someone treats you wrongly, know that you can stand up to them! Be very clear on your self worth and as scared as you may be to do that, nothing is scarier then letting someone take it way from you.

Did you every think about how many hours there is in a week? There is 168 hours in a week. Have you thought about what you spend these hours doing? I’m going to guess no for those reading this, so take the time to break it down by:

  • Hours sleeping
  • Hours working
  • Hours spent with family/friends
  • Hours just for you
  • Hours spent on learning, upgrading your knowledge, achieving goals
  • Hours spent on giving back

When you actually sit down to work this out and there is 0 – 4 in an area maybe it’s time to re-look of where you’re energy should be focused. Improve on areas to give yourself balance and the other areas will benefit. Putting more hours into the areas where it’s draining your energy will not have a good out come for you or those around you.

In summary of the day I know there are areas I need to action on and it gave me food for thought as it always does, as I come into mid year review in my company it’s prefect timing to asses where I am in my role, with my goals and as I head away from some downtime to hit the reset button.

I look forward to next years event on November 3rd, 2020 to see how I’ve progressed from this years forum and to see the new faces of this year who will become part of the family reunion and meet new attendees.

Remember to be the change you want and not what others see it to be.

Thanks for reading but remember I’m dyslexic so if it doesn’t read right, missed a word or spelling or grammar isn’t up to par, it’s just who I am #madebydyslexia

E.A. Niamh Smithers