Perhaps you just hired your first team member to help you in the office. This person, you hope, will take some pressure off of you. Indeed, they will be swamped, like you have been, with the phones and techs and invoices and parts. It will be great for you to move on to more important stuff.
However, at 10 a.m. on their first day, you realize just how much time there is to fill. You’ve already gone over how to answer the phone. Now, you are facing a willing person and an awkward silence, aside from the slowly ticking clock. Gulp.
If you have not yet hired another person for the office team, consider offering a part-time position. It allows you to get to know each other, and you can assess skills and training requirements. Then, you can add additional duties and hours as you go.
I prefer two part-timers to one full-timer in the office. When it’s busy, or you’re going out of town, one or both of them could log extra hours. Better than burning one person out. And this arrangement keeps you from being held hostage if your one-and-only office employee threatens to quit.
As you grow your company, also consider the ratio of office people to field people. A very general rule of thumb is one person in the office for every two revenue producers in the field. Assemble your budget and crunch some numbers to help you determine your staffing requirements.
No matter the size of your company, there will be times when your office team is under-utilized. You notice them scrolling their social media feeds or shopping at amazon.com. Your job is to help them be productive and successful. Lots of meaningful work helps the days go by quickly, increases morale and leaves little time for complaining or gossiping.
“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.” — H. Jackson Brown Jr., author of “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”
Set the expectations
Here are some tips for keeping the office crew busy:
• Update your organizational chart and communicate the multiple positions your office team members occupy. They may flip between customer service representative, dispatcher, IT technician and bookkeeper.
• Let all team members know that every position description includes “projects as assigned.”
• Review how you delegate. Discuss how using the basic journalism questions — what, why, who, where, by when, how much, and how — will help define the scope of projects big and small. This will keep you from disappointing each other when you assign projects.
• Communicate that there are slow days and hair-on-fire-busy days in our industry. It’s the way it goes and when it’s slow, we find ways to stay busy.
• Spend time one-on-one with team members. Find out what they want to do with their lives, beyond what is evident at work. Your project assignments could be aligned with their next-step career goals.
Afterward, create a written list of projects to be done between regularly assigned duties or when the phone isn’t ringing. Ask your team for their ideas. Energize their projects. You’ll gain instant buy-in, and they know better than you how to make things better.
Support innovation, whether or not it works. Keep the list in Trello or Basecamp or another accessible list-making app. Make it clear that it is their responsibility to reference this list and take action when they have time.
These projects fall into two categories:
• Getting more calls.
• Handling housekeeping.
Revenue-producing activities take precedent, though you can’t neglect housekeeping tasks indefinitely.
By the way, I don’t even bother with a “no social media at work” rule. It is unenforceable. You could be having an in-depth conversation with one of your team members while she is posting a collage of her best friend’s wedding shower.
“Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business and clearing the desks — cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.” — David Allen, author of “Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done.”
Getting more calls
• Check the phone lines. Call each one. Click through your web pages. Make sure everything is up and running.
• Create a game for the day — whoever books the most calls wins.
• Follow up on the pending calls. Make sure all calls have been completed correctly in the customer management system. Easy to do and easy to neglect to do when it’s busy.
• Listen to past calls and role play “If I could do it over” responses. Call back people who didn’t schedule and take another swing.
• Order donuts, lunch or coffee delivered to one of your favorite referral partners with a reminder to turn over any jobs they don’t want to do — but you do.
• Call customers, thank them and ask for testimonials. You may offer an additional service or announce a new product.
• Take a short road trip with one of your team members to visit a customer or referring vendor together.
• Email news outlets with weather-related tips for staying safe or keeping mechanical systems from being affected. Call in to the morning radio talk shows and explain what the broken main water line means for people in the area. Be of service to the community.
• Crank up the social media. I bet you have at least one staff member who loves social media. Pick that person to be responsible for posting a short video or picture of what your team is up to today. Or to share customer posts. Yes, you need guidelines for what is appropriate.
Which leads me to other tasks for staying busy …
• Formalize, write, update, properly save and distribute the manuals. For each position on the org chart, there should be a position description and a manual.
The position description is what you do in that position, a list of responsibilities. The manuals are a collection of procedures for how to do that for which you are responsible. Even the tightest operations have a long list of manual updates to be done, including social media protocol.
• Look for ways to automate. Housekeeping can be tedious, so greenlight some time for exploring software or new processes that make shorter work of tiresome tasks.
• Cross-train for additional positions. Partner up team members to review the manuals and practice new-to-them procedures.
• Send thank-you notes, birthday cards and achievement acknowledgments to vendors, team members and family members.
• Encourage, and pay for, online classes to develop new skills or help them get a bachelor’s or master's degree.
• Clean! Pick a closet, drawer or small area of the office. Have the office team empty, clean and organize the space. Restock with essential supplies and inventory. Take pictures to verify what it should look like from this point forward. Cleaning is my all-time favorite time-filler. Clean is always good; dirty is always bad.
• Leave the headset on so you can take calls, and walk around the building and pick up litter or weed garden beds.
• Do something just for the fun of it. Office chair races or scavenger hunts or burgers on the grill. Why not?
This list will get you started. Remember, you can also send someone home. If labor costs add up while sales go down, you risk losing money — for the day or the month.
Good managers are willing to play defense as well as offense. Offense is increasing sales. Defense is controlling expenses. Labor is your biggest expense and you need to pay attention to the dollars adding up on a slow day. Play offense well, and you don’t have to play defense very often. And, now and then, it’s nice to take an early day to spend time alone or with the family.
“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” — management guru Tom Peters.