Office Management

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Office Management

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This chapter discusses the key attributes of running an efficient and organized office. Your office(s) first and foremost needs to be a productive work environment for your staff. When hiring a new employee is the space, phone extension, and computer ready for them on the day he or she arrives—or are you scrambling to get these things set up during their first couple of weeks on the job? Further, the professional services firm office is your face to clients and prospective and existing staff. It ref lects either organization or disorganization, confidentiality, or lack thereof or it ref lects...

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  1. 20 Office Management JOHN BASCHAB AND JON PIOT There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly taken-for-granted relationship. —Iris Murdoch, British novelist This chapter discusses the key attributes of running an efficient and organ- ized office. Your office(s) first and foremost needs to be a productive work environment for your staff. When hiring a new employee is the space, phone extension, and computer ready for them on the day he or she arrives—or are you scrambling to get these things set up during their first couple of weeks on the job? Further, the professional services firm office is your face to clients and prospective and existing staff. It ref lects either organization or disorganiza- tion, confidentiality, or lack thereof or it ref lects simplicity or complexity. What catches your client’s attention when entering your office space? What first impression does your office and staff leave? Office management includes support services such as managing and main- taining the facility; organizing and managing the administrative staff; ensur- ing proper services are provided such as phones, offices, and document reproduction centers. Office management may also include some of the softer aspects of running the firm including fostering the firm’s culture and captur- ing and maintaining the history of the firm. For smaller firms, office manage- ment duties are typically combined with other functions (e.g., book-keeping) that can be carried out by one person. In larger firms, office management may actually be the function of a dedicated full-time employee or a depart- ment of employees. In this chapter, we discuss many of the basic services provided by the office management function and the growth points in the life of the firm when transitioning from part-time staff to full-time staff and other organizational actions are appropriate. 517
  2. 518 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations Why Is This Topic Important? This topic doesn’t receive the attention it deserves because it is a support function. The bulk of professional services firm management attention, in- vestment and discussions will appropriately focus on billable activity and business development. However, business development will suffer if one walks into a poorly run professional services office and notices immediately that no one is attending to the reception area, the phones are not answered consistently, and the space looks cluttered and unorganized. A disorganized office begs the question: If the firm is willing to treat its own offices this poorly, how well can it possibly service client accounts? Conventional think- ing would suggest that running a simple function such as answering the phone or maintaining an impressive reception area should be an easy act for a professional services firm. Doing the work of the firm, selling, and working with clients is complicated; managing the office is not. Or is it? Rarely does the “plant” run as smoothly as one wishes. Many important duties can get complicated due to inattention, time demands or office poli- tics, for example: • Assigning offices • Optimizing administrative staff assignments • Prioritizing duplication services • Executing common tasks, such as new employee onboarding or recruit- ing events • Filing confidential client or employee information What can appear to be a simple office change for one attorney or consul- tant can cascade into a mess of negotiations and disgruntled workers who don’t want to be moved or don’t like their office assignment. A well-run office management function is important for four key reasons: 1. It helps keep your billable staff from focusing on unproductive office and administrative matters. 2. The reception area and workspace are transparent to the client and re- f lect on the firm. 3. The organization of the workspace can increase staff productivity or hinder it. 4. The function can be (and most often is) a central force in promoting a culture. A professional service firm maximizes profits by ensuring the profession- als are as billable as possible. Their time is not well spent on office or facil- ity issues. So the a critical objective for the office manager is to keep the
  3. Office Management 519 professionals from having to spend precious time on nonbillable office man- agement issues. Additionally, the office manager ’s goal is to provide services that make the job easier, or to facilitate doing components the job using a less expensive resource (i.e., graphics specialist, research analyst, typist). This chapter provides an overview of the office management function. We discuss the typical support services provided, facility management best prac- tices, and the hiring of office managers. What Is Office Management? Office management consists of three primary functions. First, office man- agers typically provide support services to the rest of the employees. These services include administrative support, scheduling, print and document re- production services, design/graphics support, telecom, mail, and so on. Sec- ond, the office manager maintains the physical facility and manages the landlord and building services. Maintaining the facility encompasses space planning, maintenance, office moves, security, storage, vending and coffee service, break rooms, and so on. Finally, the office manager in some cases may be responsible for other duties such as coordinating local office social ac- tivities, celebrating major firm events, publishing firm newsletters, maintain- ing a history of the firm, and providing meeting space outside the building, to name just a few of the other miscellaneous duties. Support Services Support services are those common services that can be leveraged across all the staff. They are typically items that can be centralized relatively easily and they use standard processes to control scheduling and quality. Support services are also activities that need to be routinely performed to support the professional staff in the normal course of their work (e.g., docu- ment duplication and filing). Support services sometimes require the acqui- sition of capital equipment (e.g., copying machines, graphics workstations, postal equipment). Plotters, high-end printing, paralegal services are just a few examples of support services. When deciding which activities to support at a centralized office level, consider those which: • Are required by all staff. • Exhibit economies of scale. • Can be effectively executed by lower-cost administrative staff than by professional staff. • Are experiencing labor pool scarcity.
  4. 520 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations In most cases, any service that is required by all staff should be supported if not managed centrally. If most client work requires some kind of graphics production for reports, in most cases, it will be appropriate to have a graph- ics production group managed centrally. This ensures a unified look to graphics and that best practices can be easily adopted and adhered to, as well as achievement of scale economies in production. If this function is not centralized, then each professional staff group or project team would need to hire their own graphics production resource wasting valuable time and in- creasing costs. Support services typically have some economies of scale, for example, copy machines. You wouldn’t want each principal in the firm purchasing his own copy machine (with the resulting disparity of machine types, speeds, service plans, etc.). The benefits of centralizing purchasing and management where there are economies of scale is well-explored territory. Obviously, by grouping the purchase better pricing can be negotiated and volume dis- counts will apply lowering overall purchasing costs. Additionally, the expen- sive equipment can be located optimally so that appropriate staff can access and use it easily. Finally, this keeps your expensive professional staff billing clients for services, and not negotiating equipment leases. Support activities also experience economies of scale in labor. For ex- ample, rather than hiring three half-time personnel to do estimating, you can centralize the function and do the same amount of work with one full- time person thus saving the fractional utilization of a half person. These ac- tivities are labor intensive and the firm can reduce costs by managing a centralized highly leveragable unit. These services include postal mail management, graphic production, paralegal services, administrative ser- vices, and so on. Finally, you need to consider availability (or scarcity) of resources when analyzing centralization. For example, if most professional staff need a small but critical function for each client engagement, for example a project finan- cial controller, and the labor pool for this function is small, the firm will be better off hiring one full-time equivalent and leveraging that resource across the business rather than having each principal try to procure the resource in- dividually. Decentralization in this case would lead to low utilization of a full- time resource or the procurement of many high-cost part-time contractors neither of which is desirable. If each client proposal or project needs some specialized research for a short period of time, the firm is likely to create a centralized support group that provides research rather than having each principal hire their own research associate. The most common support services include: • Administrative staff management • Document reproduction
  5. Office Management 521 • Travel booking and trip management • Mail rooms • Record keeping and document management Administrative Staff Management It is almost always more efficient to centrally manage the administrative staff. The job function of the entire administrative staff is usually similar, the pool of staff can share responsibilities, they typically have standard du- ties, and they keep the professionals billable and efficient. Professionals are notoriously poor managers of administrative staff, and will benefit from the improved attention to administrative staff management, careers and devel- opment accompanying a centralized management approach. Developing standard administrative roles across the company is a best practice. The office manager can do this relatively easily. First, define the work requirements of each type of administrative staff. Next figure out the duties needed to support each level of professional staff and the required hours per week needed to support each professional staff type. For exam- ple, an associate may only receive filing and travel support thus requiring only four hours a week. A senior associate may require calendar scheduling assistance and expense management assistance thus requiring about eight hours a week of an assistant. A principal requires all of the above plus dic- tation, presentation support, marketing campaign support, and so on, thereby consuming at least 20 hours per week. Given this load, a single as- sistant could handle only one principal, two senior associates, and one asso- ciate. Alternatively an assistant could handle one principal, one senior associate, and three associates. The ratio that works for a given will depend on the specific type of work, number of professional staff and administra- tive burden for each. Typically junior professional staff only receive basic administrative ser- vices (mail delivery, photocopying), while senior staff receive the full suite of services from the administrative team. Document Reproduction Document reproduction, copier centers, and scanning stations are provided through similar products and service models, and are well suited for central office management. Some firms charge out these services while others factor the cost into their services. Regardless, the most critical aspect of running one of these services is the process for requests, the turnaround time, the delivery of finished product, and billing for the services. Most firms will de- termine that the tradeoff of a $10 to $20 per hour resource doing this work is well worth saving the high cost of a professional doing the same.
  6. 522 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations Travel Booking and Management Travel planning, scheduling and management is another service worthy of centralizing. Travel agents and administrative staff know the travel market and keep traveler preferences, and so on. Firm-wide travel policies can be implemented routinely. Travel agents are much better at locating low cost airfares, car rentals and accommodations than the typical layman thus lower- ing overall travel costs. Depending on the size of the firms annual travel budget, travel agencies may provide this service for free because they will be paid a commission by the airline, hotel, and rental car companies. In any case, having someone who can check f lights and make rapid changes for pro- fessional staff on the f ly (e.g. while they are en-route to the airport) can be an enormous time-saver and benefit. Mail Room The mail room is a basic and familiar centralized resource in most companies. This function is important to an efficient operation. The scale and scope of this function will depend on the type of firm and the volume of outbound and inbound mail received. For most small to mid-size firms, assigning this task as one part of administrative persons duties will suffice. Many third-party de- livery services (UPS, Federal Express, DHL, et. al.) will provide high-quality outsourced services for outbound mail management on-site and can keep the mail-room effort to a minimum. Record Keeping and Document Management Record keeping is critical for most firms, particularly medical practices, law offices, architects and other document-dependent services. Record keeping is typically a subset of administrative duties. In many cases, record keeping can be mandated by the law. A good filing system is critical. Storage and re- trieval of files should be a core competency of the administrative staff. The office manager is responsible for ensuring an efficient system. Today many firms are going paperless which consists of scanning paper documents, par- ticularly original signed documents, and storing them on a computer system for easy indexing, search, and retrieval. Today’s office manager should be well aware of these systems and be able to implement one with outside help if re- quested. A variety of cost-effective, feature-filled systems such as Microsoft SharePoint are available and can be economical even for the small office. Other Services Depending on the type of professional service organization, other services may be candidates for centralized support. These services should be looked
  7. Office Management 523 at individually and using some of the criteria discussed earlier determines whether any should be centralized in your firm. Other services may include: • Local technology support • Appraisal and professional staff career track support • Paralegal support • Graphics support • Telecommunications support • Tele- and video-conferencing support • Research services Whenever deciding to centralize a support function, consider several addi- tional infrastructure issues. Ensure that whatever you are centralizing can be done as or more efficiently than what the typical professional could do on their own. If the professional can complete a job faster without use of the sup- port function, then they will not use a centralized support function. Therefore it is incumbent on the office manager to maintain efficiency and fairness when operating the function. Professionals will not want to: • Wait an inordinate amount of time before receiving the support. • Be overcharged for the services (over market rates). • Have onerous administrative burden to receive the service (complex forms to fill out, approvals, complicated phone menus). • Get substandard quality (must be equal or better). Additionally the administrative staff will need to design a streamlined ef- ficient process. Make sure you have developed a system to efficiently do the following: • Handle service requests quickly and efficiently. Determine how re- quests will be prioritized—by title, by client, by urgency, and so on. • Schedule the work. Can reservations be made? How early can requests be submitted (a week or a month in advance)? Labor must be scheduled to address peaks and valleys in demand. • Deliver the finished product in the format needed. How will graphics be delivered (i.e., Adobe Acrobat or Powerpoint format?). • Ensure that service is high quality. The office manager must periodi- cally solicit feedback from professional staff on the quality of the services provided. Annual surveys, staff feedback, random sampling, and service level reporting are all tools that can be used to measure quality.
  8. 524 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations Managing Facilities Facilities management is the other major function of office management. These activities comprise the following: • Space planning: Managing physical office space including the reception area and ergonomics of workspaces. This topic is covered in depth in Chapter 18, Real Estate and Facilities. • Space maintenance and repairs: The office manager should be the pri- mary liaison with the office building management and maintenance. The goal is to ensure that maintenance is routinely provided by the building for all plant items that are in need of repair (e.g., HVAC, light- ing, restrooms, electric power, elevators and building security). • Meeting space and scheduling: The office manager will manage or as- sign an administrative assistant to manage central scheduling for meet- ing spaces and the policies governing such. The goal is to promote easy accessibility and fairness. Additionally the responsible party should en- sure that the meeting spaces are stocked with all required items such as dry-erase markers, erasers, easels, conference phones, food service items, and so on. • Storage: Items that only need to be accessed in the event of an emer- gency, less than once a year, or confidential stored records may be stored off-site in less expensive real estate. The office manager is re- sponsible to procure the storage space, ensure its security, and coordi- nate the storage and retrieval of items. • Furniture: The office manager is responsible for the maintenance and procurement of office furniture. • New hires, office moves, and employee departures: The office manager support human resource policies and procedures regarding the on- boarding and off-boarding of employees. The office managers responsi- bilities typically include preparing office space and equipment for new hires, managing office moves, and ensuring equipment and security ac- cess is returned when an employee leaves. Other Duties In many cases, the office manager is dubbed the firm’s culture keeper and firm historian. There are other support personnel who might assume some of these responsibilities, but generally the office manager has the tenure and visibility into cross-firm activities that make them the ideal choice.
  9. Office Management 525 Culture Culture is a critical component of any professional service firm. Staff morale is an important driver of overall effectiveness, and a positive, strong firm culture is an enormous contributor to staff morale, as well as work ethic, quality focus and client service attitude. On the other hand, a demoralized staff can lead to a death spiral in which lower and lower productivity re- duces client satisfaction which reduces revenue and profits which causes cut- backs in staff which leads to negative culture and the repetition of a vicious cycle. Building and maintaining a good culture is important and must be proactively managed whether it is the responsibility of the office manager or another individual. In fact, culture is clearly a shared responsibility. Many activities can lead to a positive culture. There are four types of events com- monly found in a professional service firm: 1. Reward events: The firm acknowledges individuals for outstanding service. 2. Social events: The firm promotes activities outside the office so that team members can bond outside the office. 3. Team-building events: The firm sponsors activities that promote team building. 4. Information sharing: These events allow specific units in the company to find out the latest information on the firm. The most important aspect of this role is for the office manager to work with the firm’s principals to determine a schedule of events on an an- nual basis. These typically include business update meetings, annual meetings, semi- annual “state of the firm” meetings. Whatever the appropriate slate of meet- ings, the office manager must develop a schedule of the monthly, quarterly and annual activities that will help define firm culture and execute them on a routine basis. Additionally there are quarterly and annual activities that are important both for the business and for the history/culture. Many com- panies also have annual retreats or company meetings that typically have the following agenda: • Introduction of key people • Update on business performance • Recognition of top clients and team performance • Discussion on one to two year strategic plan • Breakout sessions for practice areas
  10. 526 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations Finally, the a host of less significant, but equally important activities such as birthday celebrations, office decorations, holiday parties, charitable sup- port activities, and pro bono work all contribute to the culture of the company. These activities are typically managed or coordinated by the same person. Historian The responsibility of maintaining the history of the firm is most often as- signed to the office manager as well. This role is very important as it defines and promotes culture and draws employees to the legend of the firm. Criti- cal components include assigning responsibility and agreeing to proper stor- age, retrieval, and use of firm history. Additionally, a written background of the company should be maintained and approved periodically for inclusion in proposals, recruiting materials and so on. The background should include in- formation on key events in firm history, founders, and firm values state- ments. The administrative team should take pictures at company events and save these in albums, online storage, and frames for the reception area. Hiring an Office Manager Not all firms can afford to hire an office manager. However, at some point during the growth of the business, having a full-time dedicated office man- ager may actually increase the profitability of the business by reducing the burden of billable staff of these functions, and by coordinating all the activ- ities mentioned in this chapter. Additionally, a good office manager can im- prove overall productivity by streamlining and efficiently running the office. A typical job description follows: Office Manager Job Description: The role of an office manager is to organize and supervise all of the administrative activities that facilitate smooth running of an office. The office manager may report to the CFO, managing partner, di- rector of human resources, or Chief Administrative Officer, depending on the organization. If the organization has multiple offices with enough scale, the of- fice manager in each location will have similar job functions and report to the same person. Exhibit 20.1 demonstrates the typical firm-size to office-manager requirements. The office manager is expected to carry out a wide range of administrative and facility-related tasks. The office manager is ultimately responsible for en- suring the office runs smoothly: Typical Responsibilities • Manage and organize administrative staff (include hiring and firing). • Manage meeting space and scheduling.
  11. Office Management 527 1 per 1,000 hereafter 4 3 Office management FTEs 2 1 1/2 0 0 20 50 100 200 300 400 500 Number of employees Exhibit 20.1 When to Hire an Office Manager • Manage copy services. • Manage travel. • Managing “office” budget. • Conduct administrative appraisals. • Manage building maintenance. • Meet with senior professionals on office projects and prioritization. • Manage work space. • Others (mentioned previously in chapter). Characteristics • Salary: office managers. Depending on firm size salary will range from $40,000 to $90,000 per year. For most firms hiring their first office manager, the salary will be in the $40,000 to $55,000 per year range. • Work hours are typically 50 to 55 hours per week. • Dress is appropriate to professional staff. • Career path can include promotion to full-time position, promotion to management of entire function for firm, and graduation in Human Re- sources or Finance.
  12. 528 The Back Office: Efficient Firm Operations • Candidates will have at least a bachelors degree in business ad- ministration. Personality • Candidate will show evidence of loyalty, reliability, initiative, problem solving skills, and organizational capabilities. There are a variety of higher-learning institutions with a curriculum fo- cused on office-management. Candidates graduating from these programs are ideal for hiring in to such a position. Summary Managing the office efficiently and effectively will give the firm the best opportunity to be as productive as possible thereby leading to increased profits, as well as professional staff morale and a culture which inculcates the values important to the firm. Whether the firm begins with a part-time office manager or a full-time person, creating the position, monitoring per- formance, and putting structure into place will enable efficiency and is crit- ical to promoting culture and impressing clients. Determining the appropriate services to centralize at the office level will also enable the firm to capture economies of scale and leverage scarce re- sources. It will also reduce the amount of time professionals worry about managing such resources. Maintaining the facility is equally important. The office manager is well positioned to manage this function. Providing an ergonomic and well-main- tained office space that enables efficiency and productivity for the profes- sional is critical. Successful firms also find a systematic way to build culture and capture firm history. The office management is well suited for this responsibility. Finally, hiring the right office manager is important because they lead these functions and set the tone of the office. RESOURCES The Association of Professional Office Managers (APOM). APOM promotes excel- lence in office administration and management. APOM supports the performance and professional careers of office managers by providing central resources and services designed to functionally assist members with their responsibilities. The APOM has web-based resources available to members including reading lists, white papers, and policy and procedure recom- mendations. APOM can be found at
  13. Office Management 529 Information on Microsoft’s SharePoint document management and collaboration tool is available from Office-aide, an office management software productivity suite is available from The Professional Association of Health Care Office Management specializes in infor- mation and resources for physician practice management professionals is available from LOMA is an association of insurance and financial services professional services companies. LOMA was founded in 1924 and has over 1,250 affiliated firms in 70 countries. LOMA is focused on research and education to member firms inter- ested in improving company operations is available from The Institute of Management and Administration is available from online at
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