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The complete guide to office management

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The modern guide to office management

computer on a desk for office management
Photo by freddie marriage

Office management is a big job and involves a lot of stakeholders. In this guide, we will look at office management, as it is done by modern office managers. We will look at the demands of the job of office management, the skills required to succeed, and how the role is changing.

What is office management?

Office management is a job which focuses on improving productivity, efficiency and working conditions within an office. It may involve a wide range of responsibilities, including managing a workspace, handling visitors to the workspace, organizing activities in the office and off-site events for staff, planning and booking travel for staff, managing internal communications, and more.

Office Manager is a specific job title which deals with the above tasks, and should not be confused with other managers in the office, such as marketing or operations managers. Rather, an office manager’s work will vary greatly from company to company, depending on the industry, the size of the company, and the make-up of other departments.

There are a number of alternative titles for the role such as:

  • Workplace Manager
  • Head of Office Operations
  • Facility Manager
  • Administrative Director

Office manager skills

Soft skills are vital for a good office manager, above all else. Office managers often serve as a go-between for different departments, be it communication between upper management and staff, between HR and employees, or between the company and other workers in the building, such as custodial staff. Read our article on how to improve your office management skills and what tools you should master to further your career.

This is not to say that technical skills are unimportant, these can certainly add value. Especially as the role of the office manager continues to change over time, technical experience and education, such as a capacity to use software or an understanding of labor laws, grow in importance. 

With that said, the main soft skills that an office manager should focus on are:

  • Organizational skills, as the quantity and variety of demands on the role means that only the best-organized office managers will really perform well.
  • Interpersonal skills, to allow them to deal with unhappy employees, to make a good first impression with visitors, and to diffuse tense disagreements between teams.
  • Communication skills, so employees have a clear idea of what senior management are planning for the future, and what they expect from the staff.
  • Negotiation skills, to improve any agreements the company may have with outside providers.

What are the typical types of office management?

No matter the industry, there is room for an office manager position in most companies. However, the tasks assigned to this employee can vary greatly, and may depend on a number of factors, not least of all the the industry in which the company operates. 

The most common types of office manager are:

  • Corporate office managers
  • Legal office managers
  • Medical and dental office managers
  • Virtual office managers

Corporate office managers

In a corporation, office managers’ chief tasks surround improving the performance of the departments working within the office. The environment in which employees work should be appropriate to the work they are doing, and also to the branding and culture of the company itself. Within corporate settings, office managers may be involved with the work of other departments, such as human resources (HR), finance, and even marketing.

For large corporations, it is common for there to be multiple branches spread across the country, or even around the world. In this case, at least one office manager is usually hired to oversee the tasks at each branch, with each reporting to a more senior office manager, generally employed at the head office, who manages the overall operations of office management.

Legal office managers

Legal offices employ office managers to manage working environments for staff and clients of the company. Their responsibilities differ between offices, but the legal office managers are often tasked with handling incoming clients and other visitors to the building, dealing with administrative assistants, handling staff payroll, and working on projects in tandem with the HR team.

One of the main responsibilities for a legal office manager is the office space itself. As these are often where current and prospective clients come to speak with their legal council, the working space must give the highest sense of professionalism. 

Working as a legal office manager generally requires an understanding of the law, particularly in any field in which the company specializes. 

Medical and dental office managers

In the healthcare industry, office managers are often employed in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and dentist’s offices. In this case, office managers are generally required to have a certain level of relevant industry knowledge. This can include education in healthcare or anatomy, lab procedures, and even the law surrounding healthcare.

An office manager working in healthcare is still put in charge of the working space, with a focus on creating an environment that is suitable for patients. Above all, strict cleanliness is vital throughout the facility. Patients’ comfort and feeling of ease is also important, so waiting rooms and operating rooms should have a calming and safe aesthetic, and staff must be encouraged to give a similar presence when dealing with patients.

Additional tasks for office managers in healthcare may include dealing with the confidentiality of patients, ensuring proper practices for disposing of medical waste are followed, and possibly even supervising medical assistants.

Virtual office managers

Many companies don’t have a need for an office manager working full-time at a single location. The company may be too small and unable to afford someone for the position, or they may only have a few hours of work per week to take care of. It’s also becoming more common to run a business with a large portion of employees, or perhaps even the entire staff, working remotely.

For companies like these, the role of a virtual office manager is becoming quickly more common and vital to success. It allows important tasks to be properly handled by an office manager without forcing the company to change to a more traditional setup. 

The responsibilities of a virtual office manager will depend highly on the company itself – what the company needs, how many hours the employee is expected to work per week, the company culture, and so on. But, most of the responsibilities of the corporate office manager will still apply.

The biggest difference with a virtual office manager is the lack of physical space to manage. It may seem redundant to have an office manager with no office, but this is a misconception. With a virtual office, the office manager must still juggle most of the tasks of a traditional office manager – such as organizing travel, planning offsite company events, helping with projects for other teams – but now this requires dealing with teams spread across different locations. And this may even mean different countries in totally different time zones. It may seem counterintuitive, but employing an office manager may be most important when there is no physical office at all.

How is the concept of office management changing?

Office management has evolved considerably in recent years. These employees have transformed from receptionists and secretaries tasked with making photocopies and relaying messages, now to more strategic-level roles in the company. Many office managers now meet with senior staff regularly as they are charged with important decisions such as office location, productivity improvements, and more.

Modern office management

Modern office managers are expected to have a more direct impact on the revenue generation of the company. They are tasked with planning, executing, and analyzing their own projects just as other departments in the company – all with the aim of bringing real value to the company.

More and more, office managers are becoming involved with the work of other teams – such as helping to craft large marketing and branding campaigns, helping to plan company-run events, and aiding the HR team with projects aimed at improving employee satisfaction and productivity. The office manager can typically be tasked with finding and establishing suitable employee wellness programs, usually in coordination with HR.

With this extra responsibility and room for career growth comes higher expectations. A successful office manager should have experience and knowledge in the various software used by the company. Project management skills are a must, as the role becomes more important and self-starting. It’s important they keep updated with industry knowledge, such as trends, regulations, and news.

An office manager may be asked to wear many different hats. Not only may two companies have a very different set of expectations for the position, but the responsibilities for an office manager at a company may change significantly from week to week. If other departments start projects that need help, or if a large company event draws near, or if sudden change for the industry takes place, then the office manager may be asked to drop their current tasks and help pick up the slack.

What are the main functions of office management?

An office manager’s responsibilities within a company will depend on a lot of factors, such as the industry, the size, and the culture of the company. So this list will focus on the typical responsibilities of a modern office manager in a corporate office.

The typical fields of office management can be broken down into:

  • The office space
  • Employee management
  • Event planning
  • Employee travel
  • Facility staff
  • Internal communication
  • Safety and security

The office space 

In a standard office management role, this is often the key responsibility. Striking a balance between form and function is important – ensuring a positive atmosphere, while being conducive to high performance.

Example tasks: 

  • Ensuring the aesthetics of the office space matches the brand and the people working there.
  • Setting the culture, norms, and organization of in-office working.
  • Creating an appropriate working space for employees to improve productivity and morale.
  • Replacing broken, used-up, or obsolete equipment.
  • Handling the meeting spaces used by different teams.

Employee management

Often, although not without some controversy, the office manager will be asked to help HR with the rest of the staff. And in small, up-and-coming companies, there may be no HR team at all, and the entirety of these responsibilities can fall to the office manager. In these cases, a general office manager should not be considered, but rather someone with extensive knowledge of employment law should be brought in.

In any case, involving the office manager in HR responsibilities may include softer tasks, such as hearing concerns and feedback from staff, as well as tasks related to wages and benefits.

Example tasks: 

  • Managing perks and wellbeing programs.
  • Understanding how employees in the office work best, and what their needs and wants are.
  • Working with HR on recruitment and hiring.
  • Administering the payment and promotions of existing staff
  • Helping to create external motivation for employees.

Managing facility staff

Company employees are often not the only people working within the office space. External contractors and employees of the rented building will often be present in the office, and their management generally falls within the purview of the office manager.

Example tasks: 

  • Working with people who work in the office space, but who aren’t employees of the company, such as maintenance workers, custodial staff, or delivery drivers.
  • Communicating with the landlord or property manager.
  • Establishing relationships with external supplies.

Event planning

Managing the events taking place within the office space falls clearly within the domain of an office manager. This often also extends to events outside the office, be they team-building employee events or ones involving clients and prospects.

Example tasks: 

  • Planning and organizing holiday celebrations at the office.
  • Managing off-site trips, like workshops, team-building events, retreat, and so on.
  • Dealing with venues, vendors, booths, and itineraries.

Employee travel

Managing the travel of employees is a huge part of modern office management. There are a lot of moving parts to consider, and the workload for travel management can be immense and very chaotic at times. Unforeseen complications with travel can have damaging consequences for a company if not handled right, as it may mean missing out on an important industry event, or losing a big prospective client.

Example tasks: 

  • Managing a travel budget for employees.
  • Dealing with flights, transport to and from airports, and accommodation.
  • Handling emergencies, such as cancelled or missed flights.

Internal communication

Communication between senior management of a company and the working employees is extremely important for the productive work of a company. The management of this is often tasked to the office manager. Even if a company has a communications department, or communication specialists within the marketing team, the office manager may be asked to help with this type of work.

Example tasks: 

  • Communicating the needs and the goals of the company to its employees.
  • Updating employees on company changes, such as branding, hirings, and departmental updates.
  • Hearing and taking into consideration the concerns and needs of employees

Safety and security

The importance of creating a safe work environment cannot be understated. This means the working conditions for employees must be safe, and the company should also be secure from potential external threats.

  • Organizing and undertaking drills, e.g. for fires or active shooters
  • Ensuring the building is locked up at night
  • Managing security teams or CCTV
  • Distributing and tracking keys and passes for employees and guests
  • Ensuring access to proper safety gear
  • Approving tools and materials to be used by the right employees
  • (In conjunction with IT) Data security
  • (In conjunction with HR) Dealing with inter-employee harassment, discrimination, or threatening behaviour, displays of anger and frustration from staff

The role of the admin professional continues to evolve, with more demands on the position every year. One of the best ways to compare your skills to the market is to look at office manager job descriptions, you will see the high expectations many companies have. Companies can see the direct impact of office managers on their working environment, and so the role is not likely to disappear any time soon. For office managers, the role is so demanding that it can lead to senior positions in the company from Chief of Staff to even Chief Operations Officer.