The gateway to the corporate front office is through the back office. That’s the starting point for most of us.
Being newly hired as an executive or corporate consultant reveals little about the company that employs you. Executives and management-level employees have certain perks not granted to 9-5 salaried or contract workers: the corporate credit card, company limousine, and company-paid travel or reimbursed business trips with meals and overnight stays at five-star hotels. The first week tends to be a honeymoon.
But Powerpoint presentations, 10K reports, stock exchange ratings and the corporate website don’t tell the whole story. Before committing to a long-term career with a company, study its back office operations. Interaction with non-management co-workers and the paperwork on your desk is a good predeterminant of your future at the firm.
To get a picture of what really goes on beyond the conference rooms and exec suites, hire on as an office admin. As an office worker, you get a first-hand look at everyday corporate activity through routinely performed office tasks: filing, scanning, photocopying and account keeping. More specific clerical functions to which you may be assigned are invoicing, order fulfillment, document management, customer contact and communication with vendors.
How can you tell if the office is running smoothly or always in crisis mode?
The Company Files – Organized or Disorganized?
Are records missing, misplaced or misfiled? Are folders out of order and in poor condition or are they neatly arranged? A good filing system is important. While most of us are averse to manual filing, problems occur if a vital piece of information is not in the file drawer. Until companies fully adopt and accept electronic record-keeping, there will be a room or file area full of cabinets stuffed with paper originals. But electronic files are also at risk for loss if mistakenly deleted with no backups.
Photocopiers, Faxes, Scanners and Printers
Ideally, these machines should run like clock work, never missing a beat during work hours. Unfortunately, they often decide to go down-time when we need them the most. Going from one area to another in search of an available machine makes a day at the office stressful. If the copier, fax, scanner or printer you are using malfunctions, how easy is it to request servicing and how quickly does a service technician arrive?
Training on State of the Art Office Equipment
Multi-function office equipment is now the norm because it expedites money-saving multi-tasking. Through one modular machine you can scan, fax, print, do multimedia data storage, photocopy and retrieve documents. However, every company has its own electronic office and you must re-learn when you move on. A company or a department that trains and re-skills its staff on the use of office equipment genuinely values worker productivity.
Are staplers, staple removers, stationery, filing folders, pens, pencils, paper clips and other supplies well stocked? Are the most frequently used items consistently replenished? Or are the supplies on hand stashed in a lonely storage closet because they are unused? Must you fill out a supply order form that requires supervisory approval? Are you your own office supply store, carting business items from home office to business office?
The Quality of Tech Support
Does the company have a reliable IT staff to set up and connect your work station? Or must you do it yourself? While you may know a lot about desktop, laptop and peripheral device connections, you are being paid as an office admin and not as a computer technician.
Office Demeanor in Quiet Moments and Crisis
Is your supervisor often in “fire fighting” mode, demanding that you come up with solutions? Do you often assume the workload of co-workers due to their absenteeism? When you must be away from the office, are you chastised for leaving behind an unattended workload? Are you often the target of deserved or undeserved criticism, forcing you to reconsider your position?
All Things Considered
In the office, love or war, everything is fair game. Can you respond gracefully and appropriately, with wit and charm, under pressure? If you can and manage to survive, you might earn a place at the top. Then again, you may decide the hunting is better elsewhere and part company with your company.