Office Support: A Company’s Backbone


A story with a moral.

“Beautiful day,” you comment to yourself as you stroll – not a care in the world – through the CBD towards your office. On the short walk from your apartment, you’ve mentally reviewed the day; ticked off what needs to be done – mainly by your admin staff – and decided that all’s well with the world.

But is it?

When you swing out of the lift, you’re surprised to find no welcoming smile from reception. In fact, there’s nobody at all there to greet you. Frowning, you check your watch and … light dawns.  “Aha yes, that’ll be it,” you tell yourself. “The BBC breakfast that admin go to every month …  the date must have slipped my mind.” Relieved, you hustle on.

But more surprises are in store in your C-suite office. Nothing is as it should be. No steaming hot coffee on the desk. No booted computer displaying your diary for the day. No neatly packaged documents to review for this afternoon’s Board meeting. Nothing!  Well, nothing except a sheet of paper, neatly centred on the empty desk.

Puzzled, you pick it up to find a concise message from the Board. Today – as part of a confidential research project, no administrative, clerical or secretarial support will be offered to executives of this company. You are expected to perform your duties as normal and keep all scheduled appointments – including today’s Board Meeting.

“Well, that’s hardly going to affect the other execs, you grumble “since they’re all at that productivity bootcamp” Supressing all urges to swear, hammer the desk, kick the wastepaper bin or show any other signs that you may – just may – be a little peeved by this unexpected event, you decide to grab a coffee from the office dispenser.  But, of course there’s no milk. Ah well, water’s better for you anyway.

Back in your office, you settle at the computer, take a few deep breaths and start to draw up a plan of action for this unexpected day. After all, you’re computer savvy. It may all be slower not to mention very annoying – but there’s probably nothing you can’t handle yourself – specially just for one day!

And that’s when you start to lose it. The phones start jangling. Three at once if your ears don’t deceive you. How the hell do you handle that? (Of course what you don’t know, is that special redirections have been placed on the system so no calls are missed or unattended!).

You scramble from one admin desk to another but the various phones always seem to ring off before you catch a single call. Heart pounding, you decide that the phones will have to take care of themselves. At least you’re up to speed on the computer.

Maybe emails first? Get that business dealt with and you can go back to creating a workable schedule for the morning. But what’s this? You almost fall off your chair in shock. There are hundreds of messages. Internal and external and pages of instructions from your EA and admin staff.

You read the first of these: ‘Morning Boss – expect to get about 200 applications for this role. You’ll need to copy each into the appropriate job folder; send a confirmation to each applicant; enter details on the spreadsheet, print and assign to its Consultant and then ….’ It rocks on.  And there are three pages of instructions following this first paragraph.

This definitely calls for coffee… even if you have to go out into the street to find one! But where’s your personal mug? Of course; it’s in the dishwasher that no-one has fired up. Well, you can remedy that, at least.

But, you’re not out the door – what on earth is that security code again – before the phones start up again. And the same mad scramble results in nothing more than one or two messages to pass on. You know you’re missing important business here – but what are you to do with only one pair of hands?

Then, just as you finally recall the code and get moving again in search of a reviving cup of coffee, your day becomes even more horribilis. And it’s only nine o’clock you think despairingly. Not one but two different candidates have turned up simultaneously for their scheduled interviews. (How are you to know they’re not real candidates but actors?).

You think fast, turn on the charm and hustle them away with a fast-fabricated story of a measles outbreak, only confirmed during the night. They’re not happy. In fact, they’re seriously unhappy and make sure to let you know it.

And from there, your day goes from bad to worse to unbelievably dreadful.

The phones haunt you with their incessant demands for attention; the computer won’t give you a moment’s peace; your in-box is so full it’s jammed; suppliers come knocking; candidates just won’t stop turning up; the printer sticks; you can’t find the paper you need; you haven’t a clue what still needs to be done for the Board meeting and on and on it goes. A nightmare in full swing.

You take a quavering peek into the diary and – hells bells – realise there’s a Tender due today, two Client Proposals for major assignments, a research report for UQ and of course your own travel and accommodation arrangements for next week’s seminar down south. By now you’re in a real dither.

True to form, you soldier on. But you’re so overwhelmed by the endless list of little things you don’t know where to find or how to do that by lunchtime you’ve achieved …. virtually nothing! And you can’t believe that you’re finding yourself so incompetent.

Normally so calm, confident and organised. So good at the job you do as CEO. You’re known for your independence ….for running your own race.. doing things your way. So, why can’t you get your head around this work today? What’s happening here? Why can’t you handle even the simplest things?

And then it dawns. The devil is in the detail. Literally. It’s in all of the details – the little things and the big things – so carefully tended by your office professionals and brought together into a cohesive whole.

With such a skilled, hardworking team you’ve become accustomed to relying on them. And relying on them for what? Simply, to do everything that’s needed behind scenes so you can be the star of the show.

But that’s how it’s meant to be, your inner voice reminds you. “But not when familiarity breeds contempt,” prompts the little Jiminy Cricket character sitting on your other shoulder.

And just as you’re thinking of a more modern way to phrase that – and what to do about it –  the door breaks open and your admin team clatters in, clearly nervous about what your reception will be. But, you’re in no doubt.

“Thank you, thank you all for showing me what I was too self-centred to notice for my oh-so-busy and egotistic self” you say.  They gather round, laughing uproariously, everyone talking at once about their sting … while your EA tries to surreptitiously wheel in the Board bag and the precious contents that are perfectly prepared – as usual.