What On Earth Has Happened To All The Secretaries?


Once upon a time, there was a secretary in every corner of every office in the land, organizing staff and keeping the business ticking over. But if you’ve paid a visit to a modern startup or small business recently, you’re lucky if you find one. Yes, they still exist, but rather like the horse and carriage, they’re becoming a rare breed.



So what’s going on here? It turns out that the horse and carriage analogy is actually quite applicable to the current situation. A combination of new technology and cost-cutting measures is turning the secretary into something that is obsolete, no longer required by the present generation of companies.



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Go back just ten years, and this was unthinkable. How could businesses do things like manage appointments, organize meetings and communicate with HR? But it turns out that we’ve been going through a silent revolution over the last decade or so, and practically nobody, except a few obscure economists, noticed.




Back in 2013, an article on Bloomberg.com sounded the alarm. They ran with a story which pointed out how people at the clerk and assistant level in offices were simply disappearing from the workforce. Unlike what’s happening in the self-driving space, where the press is obsessed with how shiny new technologies like autonomous vehicles is going to destroy jobs, we’ve seen practically no coverage of what’s happening to entry-level office workers. Nobody is reporting on how these jobs are being eviscerated and how businesses are reaping the rewards.




Some commentators, however, are still calling for caution in the business community. Although the removal of secretaries and their replacement by smart technologies is potentially a cost-saver, it could also lead to a waste of executive time. Remember, executives, are expensive to hire, often earning orders of magnitude more money than the people down at the bottom of the pay scale. As a result, it’s imperative that their time is spent well and that they avoid doing menial tasks, like photocopying. Many companies think that it’s good for the senior management to be seen doing tasks usually designated to those lower down the ranks because of the morale and camaraderie produced, but it simply doesn’t make economic sense. In general, work should be given to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well, which might mean the secretary.




With that said, so long as you can avoid this particular pitfall, the benefits of going without a horde of support staff and assistants are evident on the bottom line. And with the advent of new technologies, like those from CalendarSpots.com and others, it’s become far easier to make savings. Scheduling and organizing the boss’s time used to be the purview of a great assistant, but now it’s something that can be done easily by machines. Customers just punch in when they want to see you and voila – your calendar is updated and it’s job done.




Businesses have got to be careful, however, with eliminating all entry-level staff. Assistant and secretarial positions used to act as apprenticeships, giving inexperienced but otherwise talented people in a company to show their worth before graduating to more senior positions. But with the advent of new technology, companies run the risk of suffering a talent shortage. In the past, there used to be dozens of lower-paid, low-risk positions in every office which gave managers and owners the opportunity to observe the abilities of the people under their lead and select those worthy of promotion. This system worked silently and effectively for generations. But companies are increasingly closing their doors to all but the most accomplished of individuals, meaning that they could suffer a skills shortage in the future.




The place where assistant-free culture is most evident is in Silicon Valley. Here CEOs and executives are desperate to free themselves of reliance on other people and free up their own time by working more efficiently. This shouldn’t come as any surprise for small businesses. After all, Silicon Valley startups are all about pushing the envelope. Many startups in the Valley are building technologies that will ultimately go on to replace more labor, which is why so many are clued up to the latest labor-saving digital technologies.




Thus, it should come as no surprise that the role of the secretary in modern companies is dwindling. Google recently launched version 1.0 of it’s AI Gmail auto-responder technology, and we can expect that this will be enhanced in the future to offer more sophisticated instant replies to emails. Should this happen, then businesses might not have to worry about buying secretarial support for much longer.



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