Ryan writes in:
I recently got a job PAing at a fairly large production company for a couple of weeks. Due to lack of space, I was placed at a desk on a different floor than the people I am working directly for.
When I arrive in the morning sometimes I am given a small task that takes little time to complete, or given nothing at all. I feel like I’m being annoying if I call/email/walk back downstairs to ask if there’s anything I can be working on or help out with. Should I assume that if there was something to be done they would let me know or should I take initiative and risk being annoying?
You’ve heard the phrase, “Children should be seen and not heard?” Well, as a PA, you are the child in the production office. Constantly bugging your boss can be a mental drain for them. Asking once should be enough.
As much as possible, you should be working. If they haven’t given you something to do, find something to do on your own. Restock the kitchen. Organize the script shelf. Clean your messy desk.
Or, at least, you should appear to be working. If your boss walks by and sees you fucking around on Reddit or Facebook,1 she might start to wonder why they hired you in the first place. At the very least, ask the development department for a script and read it.
The good news about Ryan’s situation is, if he decides to slack off, they probably won’t notice. But there’s another phrase that applies– “Out of sight, out of mind.”
If the boss never sees you, she’s going to forget you’re even around, even if you’re doing a fantastic job. That’s no good, either. Try to ensure the work you make for yourself is visible.2
Another way to utilize your free time is to ask if you can sit in on meetings and phone calls. (Again, seen and not heard.) It shows initiative, and you’ll learn a ton. Once the meeting is concluded, find a good time to ask your boss some questions. Clarify anything you don’t understand, and especially make sure to ask your boss about her job. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and your interest will definitely be taken as a positive.
In short, don’t let the distance from your boss’s office deter you. Keep yourself busy, and the boss will notice.