Just like human beings, startups that grow up go through “teenage” years.
No longer is the founder’s basement an acceptable workplace, but office rental costs aren’t exactly within reach, either. That sole salesperson has an assistant now, but can two people truly be called a “department”?
Perhaps the most awkward part of business adolescence, however, has to do with office management. With two or three, it might’ve been “bring your own snacks” and “take turns answering the phone.” But what about with a team of 10? Is it the engineer’s job to fix the printer? The marketer’s? The salesperson’s?
Of course, you could just hire an office manager — if you’re prepared to pay him or her $46,786 per year. If not? You’ll just have to get creative.
Managing Without an Office Manager
At startups, like everywhere else, office manager roles vary widely. Almost all, however, have four primary duties: stocking office supplies, promoting productivity, answering visitors’ questions, and managing workplace assets.
Although you might have to divvy up the remainder, you don’t need an office manager for those four areas:
1. Set up recurring snack delivery.
It doesn’t matter what size your company is: By the time 3 p.m. rolls around, your team’s stomachs are rumbling. Yes, healthy snacks could put their productivity back on track, but who wants to spend the rest of their afternoon on an office snack run?
Instead of making team members put down mission-critical work to run to big-box stores, set up a monthly delivery. Providers such as NatureBox offer unlimited plans that make it easy to keep the team fed for a fixed monthly price. Plus, NatureBox provides corporate clients with oft-forgotten kitchen supplies, such as scoops, jars, and trays.
2. Reserve conference rooms and equipment.
Mark my words: As your company scales, conference rooms will become a hot commodity. Expect the same to happen with other assets team members always asking about, like company vehicles and videoconferencing systems.
Although it would be ideal if team members could work out a sharing system amongst themselves, that’s not how things work. Off-site work all seems to come at the same time, clients want to talk between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and misunderstandings happen.
Before the friction sparks a fire, give Spoke a shot. The employee support app uses artificial intelligence technologies to manage requests ranging from IT assistance to room reservations. While Spoke can’t field every need, it autonomously resolves a third to half of the requests it receives. It passes the rest to a team member of your choosing.
3. Get a virtual assistant and a virtual phone system.
But it’s not procuring snacks or doing equipment inventory that tends to take up the bulk of an office manager’s day; it’s all those unexpected calls and drop-ins. Context-switching, or the act of switching between multiple unlike tasks, can cut as much as 40 percent of a person’s productivity. Without an office manager, those disruptions don’t stop; they simply fall on the shoulders of your regular team.
If you don’t want your sales calls interrupted or codebase riddled with errors, consider a virtual assistant. Zirtual, unlike many providers, offers only U.S.-based, college-educated VAs. Although their plans are a bit pricer than a VA you might find on Craigslist, even its luxury plan is half the cost of a full-time office manager.
How can a virtual assistant answer a phone that’s in your office? Virtual phone systems like Grasshopper can be answered by anyone, from anywhere, while maintaining a local phone number. Plus, because they’re routed through the internet, even low-level plans include features that tend to be reserved for pricer phone systems, such as accompanying mobile apps, business texting, and unlimited minutes.
4. Source office supplies through a GPO.
Buying office supplies is never just buying office supplies: There are vendors to compare, contracts to manage, and shipments to schedule. Although enterprise companies tend to transfer this responsibility to a procurement team, small and midsize businesses usually delegate it to the office manager.
A group purchasing organization — a buying collective that leverages scale to deliver savings on common goods — can simplify procurement. GPOs like UNA Purchasing not only offer discounts like 80 percent off goods from The Home Depot and 20 percent off parcel shipping, but they also manage supplier relationships and monitor prices. And because suppliers want the volume, they’re typically free for businesses to join.
Adolescence is awkward enough; don’t make it more difficult for your company by trying to share an office manager’s duties. It’s not sustainable, and it’s certainly not profitable. If you can fill gaps now with off-site assistants, apps, and set-it-and-forget-it office snacks, you’ll grow past it soon enough.
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