Living in Cape Town, working in London

My client FaceTime’s me as he’s walking over Hammersmith Bridge in London. It’s our daily check-in, a brief run-through of his calendar and a quick overview of his imminent travel plans. Shadows flit across his face as he moves from one end of the bridge to the other. He tilts the camera towards the shore, knowing that I appreciate a glimpse of a city that I hold dear. It’s a glorious English summers day, the glittering Thames stretches out in front of me. I can see greenery capping its edges and a few redbrick buildings peeking out of the foliage. The grainy image on my phone’s screen takes me back five years to when I lived in London.

An accredited project manager, I decided to permanently leave my nine to five job when my baby arrived two months prematurely. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but today as a virtual personal assistant, it has enabled a lifestyle of being a hands-on mum yet working a few hours a day from home. An added bonus is that my job allows me to escape to a familiar place – from the British accents to the names of streets I once haunted.

My client – let’s call him Robert – is a high-profile executive who is currently transitioning between jobs. This allows him time to network, mentor, travel, look after his health and spend time with his family. Being sensitive to his current way of life is essential to my job as a virtual PA. Being mindful of what is important to him helps me to do my job well. To be a good PA you have to be process-oriented, methodical, detailed. To be an excellent PA you have to understand the business objective to the task at hand and ‘get’ where your contribution fits into the bigger picture, all qualities which I have finely honed from my years working in London in an executive support position.

A large part of my job satisfaction stems from Robert’s inclusive attitude. I’m not just his secretary; I’m a trusted colleague and he values my input. I feel invested in my job. Robert plays off my familiarity with London by chatting about the weather, calling me from the back of a cab when in-between meetings or as he’s walking through London streets.

My knowledge of the city helps me to help my client. I can visualise the location that Robert is travelling to, I know which the closest Tube is, I know which restaurants to book. Having worked in London for people with global reputations to uphold I understand the significance of Robert’s reputation and recognise the calibre of the people he interacts with.

A newer client Susan requires similar sensitivity to reputation. She is the managing director of an organisation that looks after trade relations between the UK and a specific region of the world. The job is not always administrative. With a good sense of my capabilities, Susan recently asked me to do a piece of research work for the organisation, a task appreciated, making my day just a little more interesting.

Being a bit of a techie and enjoying many forms of communication, Outsourcery helped me find clients with similar proclivities for tech. We email, FaceTime, Skype, Whatsapp and iMessage. These well-considered pairings – and the subsequent Client-PA compatibility – has helped my clients to fully incorporate me into their working lives, even though virtually.

Whilst working in London, working from home a day or so a week was the norm. This style of working has not quite transitioned to South Africa, so having found the opportunity to work flexibly in my home country has been a welcome surprise. It harmonises perfectly with my quest for work-life balance. I can escape to London for a few minutes every day and enjoy looking after my baby at home. Being a virtual PA makes the transition between the two seamless.


Words: Yolande – Outsourcery Personal Assistant

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