Save time by becoming more proactive in managing the office, explains Hana Gray
Many of us in office management and administrative roles are developed to be reactive. We are asked to carry out a task, fix an issue, support a colleague, and we react. It’s essential in these roles to be reactive and responsive for so many reasons.
But have you ever considered and actively taken steps in becoming proactive? The shift can have massive positive effects, including saving time, providing a better service to your stakeholders, levelling up your career and moving towards becoming a strategic thinker.
Having spent nearly 20 years in these roles, I’ve recognised the importance of embracing and acting consciously on this shift. In its simplest form, as office managers, many of us wait for issues such as burned-out light bulbs, hots and colds, leaks, waste, cleaning issues and product shortages to be brought to our attention (and if they’re not, there’s an issue here!). However, by implementing proactive “housekeeping” checks in your office each day, ideally early on in the working day, you’ll note everything that needs resolving, raise the tickets and report the issues or directly fix them yourself before the emails and employee visits to your desk commence.
Doing something as straightforward as this also demonstrates to the other staff in the office that you are “on it,” you are in charge, and you are also visible and accessible by doing the walk round. Additionally, if you know there’s (for example) a light out above what I like to call “drop dead Fred’s” desk (the person whom we all know can be difficult), you can get ahead and message them and say, “Hey Fred, the light out above your desk has been reported and will be fixed later today” – how much better is that than Fred knocking at your door?
You can be proactive and enter a more strategic mindset by managing upwards. In situations such as information sharing and communication, think about a time when your business knew an office move, changes within an existing footprint or a full-blown relocation was due to occur. How soon were you told about it (and that you’d be rather significantly impacted!)?
Ensure that in catchups with your line manager, and if and when you have air time with other executives, you are asking the right questions in relation to capacities, strategies, changes and business objectives as well as saying, “When this sort of change (e.g., a move) occurs, I really need to know as far in advance as possible so I can execute it effectively.”
It’s much the same with joiners, leavers and capacity management: how often are you told about someone starting in a few days’ time? Have you ever considered what you can do, and what is most definitely within your control to prevent this from happening and have more notice?
Meeting with HR, the hiring manager(s) and any other staff who hire or are aware of the hiring pipeline, regularly sharing information, asking the right questions and pushing out your expectations around what you need to know, and when, can be valuable. You can get so much further ahead of joiners and capacity management, particularly in mid to larger businesses, by having access to a hiring pipeline. This means that as soon as a role is live and they are looking to fill it, you are aware and it goes on your capacity tracker (we have some super-cool time-saving templates to help on The Office Management Portal if you need them!) – and that means that you can manage desk space, IT equipment and licences in hopefully good time because you are aware people are incoming soon enough. Of course, once they are a named hire with a start date, you can really get the wheels in motion to get them set up, in liaison with IT and no doubt other departments too.
Building these relationships and acting on this basis will put you front and centre of where you need to be to manage your work and requirements effectively. It’s worth taking a moment to consider other areas of a similar ilk to see if there are measures you can implement to have the same desired effect.
Invest in the Right Tools
Having the right tools at your fingertips will help you to react faster when you need to, but also remain highly organised, particularly in an office management role.
Here are some examples:
A complete contractor contact bible
This is all the people you rely upon externally who are experts in their trade and can help you at a moment’s notice. Everyone from the cleaning company to the repair person, plumber, electrician, M&E contractor, massage & yoga company, insurance broker, real estate agent, and rates advisor… there are so many.
Your bible can include a contact name, company name, email address, phone number and any contract information including start and end dates, notice periods, costs and conditions, enabling you to manage all your contracts super-seamlessly and ensuring those you don’t want to auto-renew do not.
It also means that in your absence, anyone can dip into the file and get the information they need without having to hunt for it, or worse… contact you whilst you’re sunning yourself on a beach halfway around the world.
A floor plan (or plans) with all your layers
It is important to note that this may not make sense if your business is micro or small. This is one of my favourite tools to have, not least because in creating it I can learn who everyone is and where they sit but also share that with our new joiners so they can see who is where. But this isn’t just names to desks, oh no. This can also be on the same plan, or separately, your filing plan (think spreadsheet appended to filing cabinet/storage locations detailing who owns what, where – AMAZING for joiners and leavers who want space or need to clear it out, as well as office moves and shuffles).
It can have your equipment and assets on it, such as printer serial numbers, coffee machine serial numbers and fire extinguisher locations so when those maintenance people show up, you can give them the way-finding plan, giving you a few minutes back that day without going to the machines to find the reference numbers, and if you are happy to, letting them find their own way to the machines. If it’s a big enough floor plate or business, you can also do departmental colour-coding for the desks to help with allocations and capacities and do a way-finding plan for fire exits that you share on your Health & Safety notice board.
A management information pack
“What?” I hear you say! This is the best way to communicate what you’ve been up to, what challenges you are facing, what objectives you’re actively working on, budget updates and much more. Share it with your line manager quarterly or six-monthly as a minimum. Doing this helps you shout loud about your successes and wins, and can help you build a case for, for example, additional headcount in your team because the numbers of meetings held, emails received, AC complaints, joiners and leavers, and internal office shuffles is going up, up, up.
Doing any or all of these in your role will start to turn the tide on the reactive ride and move you into being a much more strategic, proactive expert who can manage their role with ease, and who is ready when firefighting situations occur.
Whenever I’ve worked with office managers and Assistants to support them in making this move, I’ve found it sometimes is the simplest, most obvious thing that can make a huge deal of difference in the day-to-day management of your role.
I’d recommend taking a moment to step back and carve out time to consider areas where you react, potentially very regularly, where it feels like a mad rush and where you are provided with information that you can act on by digging deeper to unearth what, when and how it might impact you and your role.
How can you turn these things on their head and make them work better for you, and for the business?