female Chinese white-collar professional in her 30s answering her mobile phone while sitting in front of a laptop in an office setting.

Among the many professions in today’s fast-paced business world, one stands out as an unsung hero: the secretary. Beyond the stereotype of merely answering phones and taking notes, a secretary is a true master of efficiency, orchestrating the smooth functioning of an office.

From juggling schedules to coordinating meetings, managing communication, to maintaining records, a secretary’s role is vital in keeping the gears of the modern workplace turning seamlessly.

“Never underestimate a secretary. They are the gatekeepers of the business, with the ability to gain wide exposure of the business from their leader’s perspective,” says Natalie Chung, Director at Page Personnel Hong Kong.

In recent years, digital technology has become an indispensable part of the workplace in terms of communication, security, and productivity software systems, and digital transformation has become a significant part of the productivity of the workplace. With that, secretaries have gained access to powerful tools that they can use to revolutionise the way they work in current workplaces.

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Secretarial work: Digital technology revolutionising secretary roles

The use of modern office technology has streamlined office processes for secretaries. This has resulted in reduced manual labour and repetitive work, as well as substantial reductions in paperwork and data entry.

Imagine organising a meeting for internal stakeholders; one change from one stakeholder would mean that the secretary has to make multiple calls to nail down the specific timing of the meeting. However, with calendar software, the secretary doesn’t have to call anyone and can access everyone’s calendar with the software suggesting availabilities for all parties.

From software for scheduling and document management to advanced communication tools, the modern secretary is at the forefront of utilising technology to streamline office operations, enhance productivity, and facilitate seamless collaboration. Here are some examples of such digital tools:

Communication tools

Various communication tools such as video conferencing software, team collaboration platforms, and instant messaging applications (like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype) have become essential in the modern office. These digital technologies enable real-time communication, allowing teams to collaborate and communicate effectively, irrespective of their physical locations.

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Cloud computing

Cloud computing has revolutionised the modern office by providing scalable and flexible computing resources that can be accessed remotely. Cloud-based services like cloud storage, applications, and backup solutions like Dropbox and OneDrive have become integral to everyday office operations, enabling seamless collaboration and data accessibility from anywhere.

“Technology has also allowed information to be centralised online, making backend operations easier. It has also made information easier to access, especially remotely, enabling collaboration across teams and regions,” says Chung.

Productivity tools

One of the most significant impacts of digital technology on secretary careers is the automation of repetitive, manual tasks such as scheduling, email management, filing, data entry, traditional minute-taking, and bookkeeping responsibilities.

Various productivity tools such as project management software, task management applications, time tracking tools, and automation software streamline workflow processes, enhance productivity, and optimise time management in the modern office environment.

Some examples of productivity software include Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Google Workspace, Zoho Office Suite, Power BI and Apple iWork.

The use of modern office technology has significantly reduced the traditional tasks of secretaries like manual filing and entering data.

Modern office technology has greatly reduced the traditional tasks of secretaries, such as filing and entering data manually.

How the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the digital transformation of secretarial roles

The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives, and the role of secretaries has not been exempted from its impact. As the world has faced unprecedented challenges over the past three years, secretaries have been at the forefront of navigating the new normal and have supported business processes.

With social distancing measures and remote work policies in place, secretaries have had to adapt quickly to new ways of working. This has led to an increase in the use of communication and collaboration tools, as well as cloud-based storage systems, to keep businesses running smoothly.

Chung adds: “The pandemic created a huge learning curve for secretaries; they had to pick up various communication and collaboration tools. These days, secretarial staff are expected to know how to use software like Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams and BlueJeans.So, when I screen candidates for our clients, I’d always ask them how they were operating pre-and post-COVID and understand how they adapted to the new way of working.”

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A shift in demand for secretarial support staff

These days, secretaries may wear multiple hats. Given the lack of resources, small organisations and start-ups may require secretaries to handle social media posts, HR functions or events planning. 

“If you are good at your role, you can climb up the ladder quickly to support C-level management,” says Chung.

With that said, Chung adds that the younger CEOs are less reliant on secretaries. They are tech-savvy and do not require executive assistants to do everything for them. The younger CEOs in their 40s and 50s don’t require secretaries to be as hands-on as their predecessors, given the change in working style. However, there is more pressure on productivity, with tasks needing to be completed at a much faster turnaround rate to meet the market demands.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now new expectations when hiring secretaries. These include emotional intelligence, tech skills, and the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously, given the speed at which technology has accelerated our day-to-day operations.

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How secretaries can advance from an administrative role

In order to stay up-to-date with the fast-paced technological changes so that they remain relevant and stay on top of their field, secretaries need to update their skills and knowledge regularly.

Building confidence in technological software is a must these days. Using technology, they can focus on other duties and add value to the business. Likewise, they can learn new skills that might otherwise be outside their scope, such as in human resources and marketing, and gain valuable experience in other areas of their duties.

“There have been several instances where our clients need to fill secretarial positions because they had promoted the secretary internally into other departments such as HR or marketing to take advantage of their [transferable] skills,” says Chung.

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The human touch is crucial despite new technologies

The role of digital technology is crucial to the work of modern secretaries, and adapting them is essential for any secretarial personnel who wants to excel.

However, while a job seeker may be well-versed in the various digital technologies relevant to secretarial support, it is important to note that the human touch differentiates one secretary from another.

“The secretary is a very personal role. One that artificial intelligence and technology cannot replace. You need to build chemistry with your line manager, understand their preferences and learn how to support them daily,” states Chung.

She elaborates, “For example, when your line manager is planning on a business trip, you need to plan their route so that your line manager is not going back and forth opposite time zones where possible and try to make it as smooth as possible, and factor in buffer time. It takes that human touch to think on behalf of your line manager and make their schedules easier for them to manoeuvre.”

Related: 9 soft skills employers are looking for  and how to develop them

Those interested in secretarial roles must be prepared to explain their previous positions and accomplishments in further detail. The ability to tell a story and sell yourself on your experiences is just as important as your technical skillset, which our clients look for in an ever-changing market.

Simply put, a secretary’s role is to support a leader in the business, so it’s about building relationships with people. “If it’s something that we’ve all learned through COVID the past few years, it’s that the human touch is very important. It’s what holds people together,” explains Chung.

Technology has shaped and continues to shape the role of a secretary and has become an indispensable asset in today’s dynamic and ever-evolving workplace. And while technology plays a critical role in secretarial positions, it is essential to note that secretaries need to maintain their interpersonal skills, professionalism, and ability to communicate effectively with clients, colleagues, and stakeholders, even in the digital world.

Ready to take on the role of a secretary? Check out these open secretarial roles in our job portal now.