As an administrative specialist on IBM's Principal Response Team (PRT) in Charlotte, North Carolina, Clara Sapienza doesn't work in front of the offices of any of the four principals she supports. She doesn't even work in the same city. All of her correspondence with her bosses -- only two of whom she has met in person -- is made via telephone, email and instant messaging.
But Sapienza doesn't miss the physical contact with her bosses; she's having fun working in an all-admin environment, in which everyone supports one another.
Mobile Executives, Technological Innovations
IBM's PRT is an example of a support team, a new workplace model admins may encounter during their job hunts, especially as executives travel more often and companies take advantage of technological advancements to cut costs and increase efficiency.
The Charlotte PRT includes 93 administrative specialists, four team leads and three support services managers. IBM's second PRT in Indianapolis houses 17 specialists. Both offices support more than 1,100 principals, including mobile salespeople and consultants.
Prior to launching these response teams two years ago, IBM consolidated admins on one floor in two of its offices. "We [then figured], ‘if our professionals are becoming more mobile, [why not take] the hub off-site'?" says Missy Sinwell Smith, director of executive and administrative support and sales productivity centers for IBM, Americas.
Advances in real-time technology such as instant messaging and collaborative software were essential to making the concept work, Smith says. The two PRT centers can support each other if weather or other circumstances should interfere with communications.
Customer Service and Team-Building Skills
When assessing job applicants, PRT supervisor Lisa Maxwell says she looks not only for strong administrative and technological skills, but also for experience and personality traits that indicate an admin will work well both on-site with the team and remotely with the executives they support.
"First and foremost, we look for employees who have [worked] in an environment where customer service has been a goal," says Maxwell. "[Our employees] need to be outgoing. I've had some specialists say they really miss the one-on-one working relationship [with their bosses] and, ultimately, I think I'll lose some of them. You have to [thrive] in this [environment], or you'll determine it's not the right match." Introverts or people who thrive on working alone probably wouldn't do well in this atmosphere, she notes.
"It's an atmosphere [in which] I know if I don't know how to do something, I have all the resources to get the job done -- and right the first time," Sapienza says. "I know who to go to or I send out a mass email. It's great, because so many people with different skill sets."
Sapienza also suggests that you can get to know your boss over the phone and computer more than you might think. "I say, ‘I can't get you coffee in the morning, but I can do anything else for you,'" she says.