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PA PROFILE: Endava’s Orlaith O’Brien tells her pandemic story

Eighteen months ago no-one could have foreseen the profound changes a global pandemic would inflict on our working and home lives. Orlaith O’Brien, EA to five executives at tech giant Endava, recounts how she has adapted…

Tell us about your role.

I work for a company called Endava, an information technology and services provider. My role is Executive Assistant to five execs. In addition to this, I supervise the Facilities Manager within our London offices. 

How did you come to be an EA?

I guess I grew into the role. Coming out of university, my first ‘proper’ job was an Office Assistant for a publishing company. Through time, I was promoted to Office Manager. At the time, it was a small firm, but growing rapidly, and the Managing Director needed some help with his diary management, travel etc. He had never had a PA previously so we had a chat and decided that I would take on the role. It was learning curve for both of us!

How has your job changed over the past 18 months during the pandemic?

It’s been strange for sure! At the beginning, when we had our first lockdown, time management was key as I also had to juggle home-schooling. Diary management increased, travel bookings disappeared, with the exception of a few flights in between lockdowns. Online social gatherings became a focus as people were really missing out on general face-to-face conversations and water-cooler moments. I’ve also been heavily involved in making sure the office is Covid-safe for people to return.

Are you back at the office yet?

Yes, I started going back when the restrictions were lifted in April this year. I’ve been doing two days per week in the office and it’s so nice to get back into that routine. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to working in the office five days per week – it has been lovely being able to do school runs and achieve a healthier work/life balance, without a two-hour round trip train commute every day.

Is your company planning to return completely to the office, or will there be any hybrid working for your teams?

We will be introducing a hybrid way of working, starting in September. Our people teams are currently working on the plan. Our offices across the globe vary and so will the return-to-work plans.

How have you managed to keep your teams connected during lockdown? Have you organised online team-building activities, for example?

We had a range of team building activities across the business, ranging from quizzes to virtual team building activities, wine and cheese tasting evenings. We learned a lot from these. For example, doing it in smaller groups generally worked best. And not always having an agenda to ensure it didn’t feel like ‘organised fun’. The business is also heavily promoting wellbeing – we’ve held online yoga classes and provided staff with access to the Calm app.

In ‘normal times’ do you organise company events such as Christmas parties, company conferences, etc?

Yes, I do. And I’ve missed it so much! We would usually have at least two parties per year. In fact, the last time we had a party was Christmas 2019. But now things are looking like they will go back to normal, so I’ve started to organise the Christmas Party for 2021. I’m really looking forward to it. 

What are your company’s plans when it comes to such events over the coming months?

After much discussion we decided that it would be a bit risky/naïve to hold a summer party. Rules are still changing by the day. However, fingers crossed we will be able to go ahead with the Christmas Party.

How has booking business travel changed for you? And how are things looking for your company going forward, given that you have teams in different parts of the world?

Travel bookings disappeared during the lockdown. Very recently I had fun researching private jets for a European tour that’s coming up. Thankfully, with people getting vaccinated, we are confident that travel will come back to being a regular part of our lives, although it is still tricky as each country has its own rules and restrictions. Luckily, Endava has a Mobility Team who are on the ball when it comes to this and can advise us accordingly.

Was embracing video conferencing a challenge for you and your teams?

I personally didn’t find it too bad initially. However, I know some people did struggle and I can completely understand why. In-person interaction is unbelievably important in order to maintain a good working relationship. 

What services, products and solutions have been invaluable to you during lockdown?

Couriers, and the various video conferencing programmes. It’s crazy how many industries still require wet signatures. Several times per week, I would have documents sent to more than one person for signing before forwarding to its final destination. I’m now on first name terms with my local FedEx courier!

What have been your biggest challenges during lockdown? 

Home schooling was definitely a huge challenge, but also could be quite nice (when my son actually listened to me). I also really missed the social aspect of the office, having random chats and being able to get up and walk around, as opposed to travelling from the sitting room to the bathroom to the kitchen and back. And then there have been the more practical elements to consider too, such as having access to a proper printer/scanner and stationery. Having said that, it also made me extremely conscious of how much luckier I am than some. I have a garden and nice areas nearby to go for walks and runs, so I was able to break away from my desk and get fresh air.

Are there any positives you can take from the situation over the past 18 months?

Absolutely! And I have to remind myself of those positives because over the past year, it would be so easy to get engulfed by all the doom and gloom. I actually stopped watching/listening to news reports and negativity in the world. People’s mental health has suffered so much. And that’s something which Endava has also been conscious of and really put a lot of time and effort into ensuring people’s wellbeing is looked after. During lockdown, because you were allowed out for exercise, I embraced that opportunity and started running, which I really enjoyed.

What advice would you give to aspiring EAs?

Believe in yourself and your capabilities. I have often come across the opinion of ‘You’re just a PA’. It’s infuriating and can do damage to your confidence, so I would advise people to rise above that outdated mindset. Also, ensure you get along with your team. I remember one role I had (earlier in my career) and I would regularly go home and cry because of how I was treated or spoken to. I stayed in that role for two and half years. I now look back and wonder how I coped for that long. I’m happy to say, I haven’t experienced that since!