A great office manager has insight into every aspect of their company: from a high-level understanding of the cultural health of an organization, to remembering team members' birthdays, to memorizing the office emergency plan. In this role you are expected to juggle a diverse list of responsibilities and competing priorities and if you are a new office manager the volume and variety of the tasks expected of you can feel overwhelming. To help you excel, we talked to office management pros and they shared hard-won insights that will help you be more productive and save your company money. Everyone was new to their job once and the ideas below will help set you up for success.
Know every inch of your office
As an office manager the quality of the office is your responsibility. It is essential to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of your physical office space in order to ensure it stays in tip-top shape and enables your colleagues to do their best work. You want to be the first person to notice if there are too many dishes left in the sink or if a light bulb in the conference room blew out.
Kim Rohrer, Director of People Operations at Disqus and co-founder of OrgOrg, recommends taking a few minutes every day to walk around the office to take stock of what’s going on. Too often office managers find themselves in one of two situations: stuck at their desks handling daily office minutia, or away from their workstations for an extended period of time in order to tackle a longer project. Taking a few minutes to walk around the office everyday is a great way to reconnect with your space and assess what improvements need to be made from a decorative, functional, or organizational standpoint.
Cultivate great communication
Excellent and frequent communication with everyone in the office is essential for office managers. If there are changes in the physical office or to workplace policies, team members want to be notified well in advance, have context to understand why they are happening, and feel safe expressing their questions or concerns. In addition, you want to foster an environment of accessibility so your colleagues can have an open line of communication with you.
Regis Wakefield, Senior Employee Experience Manager at Greenhouse, says everyone at her company works to be open and available. People pop by her desk frequently to discuss office issues, but she also uses a database to streamline the process. If a bathroom light is out, or the refrigerator is malfunctioning, they can submit an employee experience request via a Zendesk account. This ensures that all the requests go to one place and Wakefield will be able to address them, even if they come in when she is working on another task.
Office managers are often the liaison that translates ideas from the CEO to the rest of the company and vice-versa. They may represent their executives in company meetings or off-site staff events. Rohrer at Disqus stresses that one of the first things an office manager should do is establish strong communication with their manager, so they can build a relationship of trust from the beginning. Ultimately, your boss needs to be able to trust you to make decisions and further company goals without their direct supervision.
Find the tools and vendors that will make your job easier
All office managers have different tools and software they use to save time and keep organized. Often it’s a matter of preference, what service is available, or what software integrates best with what the rest of the company already uses. Some of the top software, services, and apps that office managers said make their jobs easier included Hivy, Asana, TeuxDeux, Envoy, Managed by Q, Slack, Social Table, and Google Suite.
There’s no shortage of productivity apps out there, but Zachary Felsenstein, Community Manager at Bond Street, swears by a traditional paper and pen. He has a notebook he carries with him and jots down in it anything he needs to know. It’s always available for him to refer back to, and unlike a digital file, he never has to worry about forgetting what he named it.
Most office managers are required to order and restock supplies, so it’s important to choose efficient vendors. Adele Gower, Office Coordinator at When I Work, recommends automating as much as you can. Having deliveries ship on an automated schedule saves her time and allows her to spend her energy elsewhere. In San Francisco and New York, this is easy, as everything from bulk paper goods to fancy cookies can be delivered on demand. But this was a bigger challenge for Gower at When I Work’s first office in St. Paul, Minnesota. To set up a reliable supply chain for her office took multiple phone calls, and once she even chased down a truck she saw parked outside of her office to get a business card.
Building relationships with vendors is also important. Wakefield at Greenhouse stresses the importance of growing a relationship of mutual respect with vendors. When you’ve earned that respect, it’s easier to ask them to go the extra mile when difficulties arise or you need a delivery fast.
Find a supportive buddy or an entire support network
If you’re a first-time office manager, the number of tasks you have to coordinate and oversee can seem daunting. Remember you don’t have to do it alone. Connecting with a network of supportive office managers can be invaluable for discussing challenges and finding solutions to overcome your obstacles. Before her move to the Minneapolis area, Gower worked as an office manager at DataHero in San Francisco. When she needed guidance or an understanding ear, she had monthly lunches with office managers from other companies in the area.
When Kim Rohrer first started at Disqus, she was the only employee, besides the CEO, who was focused on the people and operations aspects of the company. So she connected with the office managers at GitHub and Heroku, and the three of them began messaging each other using a Google Group. Participants started adding their friends to the group until it snowballed to over 2,000 members. Today office managers and other admin professionals can join the group Organization Organizers, or OrgOrg, and find a network of people happy to provide advice as well as a searchable archive of previously asked questions.
“There’s other people out there that are doing great things and also struggling with the same issues you’re struggling with. Groupthink will always be really helpful for coming up with creative solutions,” said Wakefield, who is a member of OrgOrg. She added, “And it’s just fun to hang out with people who are working on the same things that you’re working on.”
Take on extra tasks to learn new skills
Once you have mastered the basics of your job, spread your wings and push yourself to go above and beyond. Many people fall into their first office manager position, but whether you want to expand your current role or eventually move into a different department, the best way to do that is to add to your skillset.
Gower at When I Work said that whenever she has free time, she will always expand her skill set by asking for more projects to tackle. She’ll check in with the accounting department, her boss, or any other department that might need her assistance. Because she has helped out and build strong relationships, Gowers colleagues returned the favor during a stressful office move and all pitched in to help.
Felsenstein at Bond Street agreed. He said, “As an office manager, you’re the central person that interacts with everyone, so you have an opportunity to talk to all these different departments. It’s your job to find what else piques your interest and get acclimated to all different areas of a business.”
Whether your interest is HR, event planning, business development, finance, or marketing, figure out where you would like to expand. Verbalizing short-term and long-term goals will help you assert yourself and excel in your office management role while you build your career.
Photography by Dominick Mastrangelo