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Office Survival: Make Them Love You While You're Gone

If something happened and you missed work for a week, two weeks, or even a month, could your coworkers step in and fulfill your responsibilities without a major interruption to your office? Are your daily procedures documented for easy reference? Does your manager or executive really know all you do each day? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to get to work on your administrative procedures project right away.

Administrative ProceduresCreating solid step-by-step documentation takes thought and effort, but the end result can be used over and over again by anyone who needs it, including you.

Your Office Needs Administrative Procedures

There are many compelling reasons for creating documented office procedures. If you want to take a vacation, get sick unexpectedly, or need to attend a conference, procedures allow others to fill in for you with little disruption to the office.

Many companies are putting an emphasis on business continuity and disaster recovery planning, internal and external audit requirements, and succession planning. Documented procedures are vital to each of these areas.

There’s career value in it, too. Developing an office procedures binder shows your professionalism and demonstrates an attitude of service that your executives and team members will recognize. It also helps you demonstrate initiative, provides leadership experience, and allows you to gain visibility in your department and organization. At performance review time, your procedures binder provides visual proof of the tasks you perform and the daily value you add.

The Secret to Success: Keep It Simple

Embarking on your procedures project may seem like an overwhelming and daunting task at first.  But it doesn’t have to be. Use these five simple steps to keep yourself on track and moving forward throughout the project:

  1. Assemble the right tools for the job.
  2. Track your tasks for a few days.
  3. Document your top five procedures.
  4. Identify what to include in your procedures binder.
  5. Organize your procedures binder.

Step 1: Assemble the Right Tools for the Job

Visit your office supply cabinet and find a few basic office supplies to get the ball rolling. You’ll need:

  • A three-ring binder, preferably one with an extended cover so your tabs are protected.
  • A couple sets of tabbed sheet protectors for section dividers.
  • A stack of sheet protectors.

Once you have these items, create a binder cover and spine label that identifies the binder. You want this binder to be easily identified no matter where it lives on your desk. Next, create a generic table of contents that includes a list of sections and the order you want them in. Some sections to consider include: accounting info, facilities info, calendars/meeting dates, catering/menu planning, contacts, and daily/weekly/monthly checklists, projects, and office supplies. Finally, create a permanent home for this binder on your desk so it is easily accessible.

Step 2: Track Your Tasks for a Few Days

The best way to figure out what procedures you need is to keep track of everything you do during your workday for a couple days or a week. It’s important to include everything you do, from logging into your computer to turning on office machines, such as copiers and coffee pots, to scheduling weekly staff meetings. No task is too small. Remember, you are writing these procedures for someone who’s filling in for you. That sub might not know they need to do many of the things that are habit for you.

As you write down your tasks, note the day of week and time of day. You may want to use a spreadsheet, a spiral notebook, or the three-ring binder to keep track of all the information you collect. Once you dive in, you’ll be surprised how many procedures may already exist in various formats that you can quickly insert into your binder.

Step 3: Document Your Top Five Procedures

Now that you have a great list started, pick your top five most important procedures and commit to documenting one a day for a whole week. Then repeat this again next week with five new procedures. In a month, you’ll have 22 more procedures documented.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you explain these key responsibilities in procedure format:

  • Use a template to stay on track and consistent from task to task
  • Chronicle each process step by step and be as detailed as possible
  • Write in commands rather than sentences. (e.g. open this file, click here, save)
  • Bullet points or numbered lists are a lot easier to digest than paragraphs
  • Give visual examples, such as screen shots, for computer-related tasks or include sample forms
  • Ask someone to do the task based only on your documented procedure to determine whether it’s detailed enough

Step 4: Identify What to Include in Your Procedures Binder

In addition to the list of tasks you start tracking in step two, think about what procedures may already be documented for your position that you can include in the binder. Start by reviewing your job description. Consult with other administrative professionals within your company to see what procedures they have created. Check with internal departments for procedures that are standard across the entire company. Do an Internet search for procedures on how to use web conferencing tools, voice mail, and more. Many routine office procedures are likely similar from desk to desk at your company, so don’t go it alone or reinvent the wheel. Partner with your colleagues to maximize everyone’s efforts.

Here are just a few procedure ideas to get you brainstorming on other procedures you may want to include:

  • Handling basic office operations, such as transferring phone calls, routing mail, making the coffee, proofreading tips.
  • Information or resources you refer to regularly, including organizational charts, facility maps, phone lists, and branding standards.
  • Details about recurring events or meetings you coordinate.
  • Phone, computer, and video conferencing system user guides.
  • Department, manager, or project specific information.
  • Checklists, forms, and templates.
  • Disaster recovery or business continuity plans.

Step 5: Organize Your Procedures Binder

The best way to document and keep track of all your procedures is to insert them into your procedures binder as you complete them. Once you have several procedures, organize them based on the list of possible sections you outlined. As you use the binder, you may discover there’s a better order for the sections, so feel free to adjust it as needed. Your binder is a work in progress. You should continually add to, edit, and adjust it to make it as easy to understand and comprehensive as possible.

Share Your Procedures

Once you have your procedures documented and your admin binder assembled, make sure it is located in a place that’s easily accessible to you, your executive, and team members. All these people should know exactly where to find it in case you’re not reachable. You may also want to give it to your executive and those who cover for you for review. Let them flip through it before your next vacation or scheduled leave so they can familiarize themselves with your responsibilities and point out any missing information. This will help you fill in any holes before you leave.

Start Today!

Procedures are essential for any admin who wants to be successful in the job and keep the office running smoothly. When you are out of the office, it's nice to be missed. But it's also nice when things can take care of themselves so you don't return to a pile of problems or unhandled business. Make the commitment to start on your administrative procedures now. Then the next time you need to take time off, you can do it without worrying about what will happen, or not happen. Instead you’ll be able to relax knowing that the person filling in for you has everything needed to successfully fill in for you while you’re away.

About the Author      

Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a training and mentoring resource for administrative professionals. She is the author of The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation In Your Administrative Career. Find more career advice and download our free templates at www.AllThingsAdmin.com. Follow Julie on Twitter at www.twitter.com/julieperrine