Let’s get real for a second – office administrators are some of the most underrated and underappreciated people in the office. It’s often a thankless job that involves being on your feet throughout the day and working long hours. The best office admins unfortunately go unnoticed because so much of the role is about making sure things just…work.
If you’re new to the position, you may be overwhelmed by the pressure to fit in with the current staff, with little direction from your predecessor or colleagues. While we’re sure you’re up to the task, we would like to provide some additional guidance and tips to help you slip into your role with ease.
Work with the office, not against it
You want an efficient office but not at the cost of turning your colleagues against you. More often than you’d think, cooperation takes precedence over efficiency. In order to do this effectively, observe the way things are currently done before you shake them up. Get to know the desk jockeys and code grunts. Work closely with management. You may see a lot you don’t like – inefficient filing systems or outdated printing practices. So, you’ll have to be a bit of a bad prosecutor here and ask your coworkers leading questions: “How do you feel about how fast business processes get done around here?” or “These filing cabinets could be a little less full, couldn’t they?” and “How much paper are we printing every day?” You have to point out pain points. Then you can promote change. You’ll still receive some pushback, but if you wait and make changes gradually, before they know it your coworkers will be thanking you.
Schedule and set aside time for organization
Prioritize data entry, curating phone logs, aggregating data, and designated time for re-organizing the filing system you inherited. Accurate records are essential for formulating reports and tracking trends in the company. What’s more, if you never give priority to organizing sessions, you will never get to it. Keeping a well-organized machine and network is the easiest way to ensure high productivity. Give yourself a few hours every week dedicated to this activity, whether on your computer, among the filing cabinets, or with your staff. Purge documents that are unneeded or outdated, within industry regulations of course. Set up some regular spring cleaning events for the whole office to tidy their desktops and go through old, untouched folders.
Keep records of all communications and projects
You might be on phone duty. You might be on email duty as well, receiving and answering messages sent to the company’s customer-facing email address. It’s not enough to pass phone calls and emails onto the correct departments, you should keep at least a basic record of these communications. Date, time, contact information, and reason for contact at least. This is imperative for maintaining accurate and open lines of communication between departments. If a call is lost or dropped, the recipients can track that in your detailed logs. Most importantly, any trackable information can be input into big data programs. Presenting this data in tables and graphs can give management an understanding of which customers call in often, which departments receive the most interest, how customer support can be improved, etc. If you’re only monitoring inner office communication, a record is still valuable to management and to individual departments. For project management, whether it’s the admin staff or another department, make certain to take note of project roles, responsibilities, deadlines, and any relevant statistics.
Have a system for organizing and filing
Perhaps we’ve put the cart before the horse in imploring you to keep your filing system tidy – what if you haven’t even established the darn thing! Well, before you figure out a filing structure to maintain on the company’s server, consider evaluating the way files will be indexed and named. When searching by keyword, relevant files float to the top more easily if they have the project name in their title. Consider also adding a creation date and a version number. For memos, this information should also be included in a header or at the top of the first page of the document. Avoiding redundancy is also key, and we’re not talking about backups (those are a good thing). Avoid keeping the same document or folder in multiple locations within the same machine or file set. So if you have job posting documents in the recruitment folder, don’t also put them in one of the marketing folders. Make folder names as clear and simple as possible and file names as detailed and consistent as possible.
Make sure that your filing system is simple and repeatable
As an administrator, you often set precedents for the rest of the workplace to adhere to. As we said up top, office workers are stubborn, prone to complaining, and very grateful of anything that makes their work easier. If you replace their previous system with one that is less efficient or more complicated, the transition will be painful for everyone involved. This is why you need to establish a system for logging and/or filing which not only fits your personal preference but can be universally appreciated. To this end, use familiar methods for storage and retrieval. Use numerical and alphabetical indicators. Maintain consistency by indexing all files in a folder with the same value types. Iron out the kinks before presenting this option to the staff and then implement quickly and painlessly.
Upgrade as you see fit
One duty of office administration is the keeping and ordering of supplies. Sometimes, “supplies” includes purchasing enterprise level software for the organization. Do yourself a favor and win over your colleagues with a solution that will make their lives easier. An Enterprise Content Management system will streamline document management, simplify workflow, speed up processes, safeguard files and make them easier to find. You may need to get IT involved, but it’s worth it for the savings in time and purchasing budget. If you really want to make transferring to a new system painless, go with this, the path of least resistance.
Don’t panic! Whether this is your first time as an admin, you’re transitioning from a role as an assistant, or you’re just in a new position and researching enterprise software, you’ll do fine. You got this. Just remember to coordinate, compromise, operate efficiently, and stay organized!
A version of this article was published as How Do I Organize My Office Files and Filing Structure? on August 29th, 2019.