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Celebrating Administrative Professionals: Meet Hannah

Sasa, Niaje!

My name is Hannah Waeni and I’m a full-time Virtual Assistant on Upwork. I’m also the Group Guide for our Upwork Kenya group. 

The Upwork Kenya group is a place for those in Kenya to be proactive, positive, connect with one another, collaborate, share stories, advice, articles, resources and encouragement. If you’re an Upwork user in Kenya, you can ask to join the group

Speaking of sharing stories, Administrative Professionals Day is this week and I thought I’d share my story with you today and hope it brings you encouragement in your journey!

Joining the world of freelancing happened for me by accident. It was late November 2020 when I received a message on LinkedIn from Bismah, an Upwork admin recruiter. I had just lost my job in July due to the Covid furloughs that were commonplace then. I had not considered working as a Virtual Assistant (VA) and so I was mostly just looking for a regular full time job. The Upwork job couldn’t have come at a better time as most of my job prospects had fallen through and I was starting to get a little anxious as January 2021 was just around the corner and I needed money to pay my son’s school fees.

Well, joining the company where the world wants to work was a real lifesaver and a great opportunity to say the least! When I started out I was working just 20 hours a week and supporting 2 VPs, today I have a 40-hour work week and I support 4 VP’s and their teams.

While I was skeptical at first about working remotely and during Pacific time I have come to really appreciate working from home and being 10 hours ahead of Pacific time. The latter gives me more time to work on tasks/projects that require a little more attention while working from home.

To understand my skepticism, I need to take you down memory lane to when my career as an assistant began. So, my first proper “office job” was at a government owned bank. My title at the time was “Copy Typist.” This was in late 1998 and I was just 22 years old. All communication was in hard copy format. There was lots of printing, signing of documents and filing. In one day I would make numerous trips up and down different floors of our office building to get letters, cheques, and other documents proof read and signed. It was hard labour!As a bank we had an interesting gadget called the telex machine [image below]. I’m sure many of you have never seen or heard of a telex machine.From Wikipedia: "The telex network is a customer-to-customer switched network of teleprinters similar to a telephone network, using telegraph-grade connecting circuits for two-way text-based messages. Telex was a major method of sending written messages electronically between businesses in the post-World War II period. Its usage went into decline as the fax machine grew in popularity in the 1980s."


Obviously, we had desktop computers and a good communication system but nothing was done virtually. I remember my managers traveled frequently to China, Europe, and India to meet investors, or for conferences despite the fact that video conferencing existed and was widely used in many modern offices. It was preferred to meet in person, eyeball to eyeball, and to shake hands on a deal before signing on the dotted line.

I spent 9 years working at the bank growing from a copy typist to a teller, and eventually personal banker. Then I moved to the hospitality and leisure industry in Dubai at the One&Only Royal Mirage located at the exquisite Jumeirah beach. I also worked at a law firm, a non-profit institution, and a school. Over the years, I have gained so much great experience and the ability to adjust, adapt and evolve!

Fast forward to today, and I can tell you the role of the assistant has really changed. Today’s assistant is a juggle master, a trainer to junior administrative staff, and manages entire teams alongside supporting multiple executives. 

Starting my career as an VA at Upwork has been a real game changer for me. I especially resonate with Upwork's mission statement “creating economic opportunities so that people have better lives.” My life is indeed better as I have fostered the following:

  • An interruption-free environment - no constant phone calls, text messages or impromptu in-person visits
  • No commute - saving me time and money
  • Better time management - I have the chance to create my work schedule and still run some personal errands when I need to
  • Better focus time - like I said, no interruptions!
  • No need to dress for the weather! - what can I say, the benefits are endless and my productivity has been through the roof!

Now, when I look back at my almost 20-year career, I really appreciate how far I have come. From working fully in-person to working fully remotely! 

Adjusting and adapting is not easy and I recall the first time my manager talked about a  growth mindset, I was incensed. I wondered if I’d ever truly adjust to the ever changing world of work. That seems like eons ago now.

I credit all my previous managers for helping me develop that growth mindset which in turn has helped me adapt to new work environments, systems and ideas. Whether the feedback was painful or not, it was really what I needed to evolve as an assistant. I can safely say all of that experience has brought me to this moment in time working as a VA at Upwork.

I sometimes forget that I have been here for only 1.5 years; it feels longer because I enjoy what I do so much. There is a great culture of transparency, hard work, customer orientation, and warmth that is pretty hard to find in many workplaces. I thank God every day for this opportunity and look forward to many more successful years at Upwork. I dare say, my dream is to convert from TIP to FTE! And my dreams are absolutely valid! #upwego!


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