Covid-19's unprecedented challenges of work has shifted the role of the office. It should come as no surprise that the pandemic has also greatly increased the complexity of the role of office managers -typically in charge of ensuring the office runs smoothly, both on a logistical and human level- as a result.
Being in their colleagues' shoes while still having to represent the company, office managers must today play the role of the middleman between employers and employees. That is especially at a time when people are turning towards their employers for guidance and support.
Here are a few things they must do to ensure fulfilling their vital role.
Covid-19 has shaken work as we know it from the ground up. While in the past, around 5.4% of employees working across the EU worked from home, an astonishing 40% of this population began to telework as a result of Covid-19 according to Eurostat LFS.
Needless to say that this considerable switch has forced companies to swiftly adapt, as they first faced a logistical challenge related to remote work. While most businesses have already integrated cloud-based solutions allowing the work to be run from virtually anywhere, it is also important to set up solid and easy-to-use communication channels ensuring constant connection between co-workers.
Beyond day-to-day communication channels, it might also be of relevance to schedule weekly meetings where employees can update each other on the overall advancement of the business so as not to lose touch with the organization's big picture. That is, of course, in addition to any team-specific meetings that should take place on a regular basis.
On a more granular level, office managers ought to make sure employees have all the material tools they need in their home office. Ask yourself if they're equipped with the same optimized tools present at your place of work, whether it be ergonomic office supplies, big monitors etc. It is the office manager's role to make sure everyone is working at optimal conditions.
Amongst other ways in which the pandemic has been a trend accelerator, it has surely increased that of employers playing an essential role in their employees' wellbeing. Today, a company can by no means ignore its duty-of-care, giving office managers the extra responsibility of branching out beyond the usual working environment into every employee's makeshift home office.
An office manager should thus provide employee support. This might include enhanced sick leave, flexible working hours, childcare exceptions and provisions, as well as financial assistance when needed. Keep in mind that an employee's personal wellbeing is in no way separate from their motivation and productivity. It is therefore the organization's duty to ensure their employees' wellbeing, treating them as people first and workers second.
Needless to say that mental health plays an essential role in this wellbeing. An office manager ought to tackle this issue starting first and foremost by listening to their co-workers. Make sure to go beyond forms and surveys as a human connection might prove significantly more telling. To round it up, provide more concrete solutions to this unprecedented situation: make sure your insurance plan covers therapist visits, refer employees to teletherapists, or even relaxation apps such as Headspace, Petit Bambou, or Calm.
Many companies are also resorting to team building activities and other just-for-fun sessions to maintain employee connection as well as mental and emotional wellbeing. Entrepreneur Europe has put together a list of games that inspire your next team activity suggestion. You'll find that some companies such as Agence FOMO, deal4event, or Teams Connect are also offering virtual team building solutions when budget allows.
A part of sustaining employees' mental health is also helping them maintain their productivity - a step which will also be highly appreciated by companies which are more than ever in need of a stable outcome.
To this end, there is surely a temptation on behalf of upper management to monitor employees and their activity as everyone adjusts to these new working habits. A Gartner analysis in fact shows that "16% of employers are using technologies [...] to monitor their employees" by tracking usage of work computers, virtual clocking in and out, and monitoring emails or internal communications. This can, however, prove counterintuitive, making employees feel an infringement on their privacy, or a lack of trust by their superiors. An office manager's role here would be to steer management to focus rather on outcome than time input, shifting evaluation to being performance-based first. Encouraging ownership in that way might just be the best option to keep employees motivated and give them purpose to always be better at what they do.
Writer Bill George, author of Discover Your True North, puts it well in this Forbes article: “The role of leaders will shift to further attention on empowering their employees, energizing them around a common mission, and measuring the outcomes of their work, instead of measuring employees’ inputs.”
The coronavirus has brought about a great increase in virtual meetings performed over Zoom, Teams, Google Meet and others. Just as working from home is entering the realm of the normal, so will virtual meetings in comparison to physical ones. This has and will continue to have a great impact on corporate travel.
An office manager's role here will be to make sure colleagues are strictly travelling when necessary. Travelling increases the risk of infection, while also draining company resources at a time when these are much needed. The filtering process between essential and non-essential travel should follow a clear and firm reasoning.
Where travel will prove essential, office and travel managers must make sure to follow strict procedure every time a colleague has to travel. We've put together a checklist of things to keep in mind while planning a business trip that might be of help. It is also essential to keep an eye on employee safety, both by preparing them well before travelling occurs, tracking their whereabouts for increased visibility, and fully insuring them, as highlighted in this article.
In sum, Covid-19 is the “most significant social experiment of the future of work in action” as the Harvard Business Review so rightly puts it. As it persistently shifts our ways of working, the load will be ever heavier on office managers. Whether it be through providing logistical ease, lending a listening ear and concretely supporting employees' mental health, or being particularly careful with their colleagues' health and safety, office managers are more than ever today playing a central role in walking employees through this rough phase, and towards the future of work.
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