For those of you that are not celebrating Thanksgiving today I thought I would move very swiftly into our next seasonal celebration – Christmas! Last year I wrote a blog which was full of secret santa present ideas for your office Christmas parties. I had some good feedback at the time so thought I’d re-publish the post for you all. Most of you will have your parties over the next few weeks so I hope you find my ideas useful…
Okay, hands up if you have ever cried at work? Now unfortunately I can’t see if you have actually raised your hand but I can imagine that at some point in your career you might have shed a tear or two. If I could see you I would turn that raised hand into a high five and maybe give you a hug. I’ve cried at work, I’ve actually cried a few times at work if I’m honest. Once I cried at work because my contact lens was stuck in my eye and once I cried because I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle – that was more out of embarrassment than pain.
Here at Practically Perfect PA I am always on the look out for great office stationery, maybe because I am slightly obsessed with stationery but mostly because it is hard to find a reliable, competitive and innovative office supply company.
Practically Perfect PA is nearly two years old. (Wow!) To celebrate, I’m turning a little introspective and over the next few months will be consolidating some of the posts into handy e-books and webinars for everyone. Also I am going to start writing a monthly newsletter to keep everyone up to date on what has been happening with Practically Perfect PA, what I’ve been doing and any future events that I think you might find useful.
Today though, I have a favor to ask of you I would like to know a little more about you, your job, what you think of the assistant profession and also what you love, or don’t love, about Practically Perfect PA. Since I started the blog, I have not really asked my lovely readers about themselves and I do feel a little rude!
I’d appreciate your honest feedback, I really would! I’ll share a summary of the results next month, for the curious.
Thanks again for all of you that read the blog and send me such wonderful feedback, you really do make it worthwhile for me to keep going with Practically Perfect PA.
Just a quick note on the survey results: I want to assure you that the survey data will remain anonymous and will only be used to support the development of Practically Perfect PA. Under no circumstances will the data be passed to a third party.
Last week I wrote a blog which asked the question ‘Should assistants make themselves look busy?’ I’ve had some great responses from people regarding the issue of perception, the way we carry ourselves in the office and the interaction we have with our colleagues. All of this lovely feedback got me thinking about office politics in general. The term office politics tends to come with lots of negative connotations and is very much associated with game playing where the ability to win is equated with success and losing will keep you on the lowest step of the career ladder. In my experience most assistants will steer very clear of this type of behaviour as we are keepers of highly confidential information reporting to senior figures and cannot get involved in the slippery world of office politics. Although I agree to a certain extent that we should avoid office politics at all costs I also think that we should be aware of what it involves, how to play the game and use that to our advantage. Here are a few tips on how assistants can learn the rules of office politics without playing the game:
In its simplest form office politics means the interactions of people in the working environment, the differences between colleagues, the conflicts, relationships and communications. We all have to work with other people and for assistants especially we have to work with lots of different levels from the CEO to the office intern so we need to have the basic communication skills in place to deal with colleagues. Most assistants will change their communication style depending on who they are talking to and wouldn’t necessarily think this is playing at office politics but I would suggest this is knowing the basic rules and using them to our advantage.
Dealing with conflict
There will always be conflicts in the work place, I’m not talking about physical punch-ups (although I have seen a couple of ‘discussions’ come close to that!) but the kind that will come at you over email or creep up on you before you know it. One of the downsides of being an assistant is that we do take a lot of criticism for things that may not necessarily be our fault or really have anything to do with us. We are the public face of our company and the gateway to our Directors so we will get conflicts coming our way when colleagues are frustrated but can’t say anything to our manager or clients have been let down by the company and need to offload their grievances. How do we deal with this? Do we fight back and raise our voice, no we don’t. Neither do we flee the conflict scene in search of a quiet space to have a good cry. We make a choice on how we are going to deal with the conflict despite our natural instincts telling us otherwise. Owning this choice, knowing how to react to conflict and calming the situation down is a characteristic of good politicians and I think also a characteristics of great assistants.
What is the best route to take?
When navigating the ups and downs of office politics the best route I’ve always found is to follow the one that is right for your manager and the business. When disagreements rear their ugly head by sticking to what is best for your manager and the business overall you are thinking strategically and acting in a neutral manner. Although it is difficult to not think of what is best for yourself with time most assistants put their manager’s requirements first anyway so it really is sticking to what you know. By following this path you won’t be picking sides or making the conflict personal so you are removing yourself from the nasty side of office politics where some of your other colleagues may reside.
What can assistants influence?
Politics is all about influencing the right people at the right time, think about the recent election in America and how the politicians focused all of their attention on wining voters in swing States as the election day got closer and closer. Obama and Romney didn’t go to States that had already decided which candidate they were going to vote for instead they concentrated on the areas they could influence. The same goes with office politics; stick to what you can influence. Assistants are able to influence people because of the confidential matters we are entrusted with and also the close relationships we have with senior members of staff. Do we use this to our advantage – yes, I hope we all do! A good example of this is when I quite often by-pass the IT procedures if my Director needs IT support in a meeting. I won’t log a call like most of my colleagues, I’ll phone the guy in IT and ask him to come straight over which he will do because I work for a Director. Now that can annoy my colleagues but really it is just me using my influence to benefit my manager. Although there are many constraints in the work place if we know what we can influence and what we can’t will only help us. Office politics or good use of our skills and position?
As I said before office politics can be a minefield but I do think we need to be aware of the rules and who is playing the game.
I have a stinky cold which is rubbish when you have just started a new job and have to suffer through it and you are also going away for the weekend. I am determined to beat this cold, hence the over dramatic dash around Superdrug emptying their shelves of cold and flu products. I am determined to have this cold out of my system by tomorrow even if it means ingesting a dangerous cocktail of Lemsip, Beecham’s and vitamin C!
Over the years most of my roles have been based in large open plan offices where I sit in amongst dozens of other colleagues, all working away at a common cause… well presumably! As an Executive Assistant I’ve always found it tricky working in an open plan environment for a number of reasons but mainly because of the amount of time I have to spend hiding the confidential documents I am working with while being interrupted yet again by a colleague asking for something! I now work in a secluded corner of my office where I have my own space and rarely have to worry about anyone seeing my work or sneaking up behind me, which is great. However I do miss the connection with my colleagues and the banter that can make your day fly by, which does seem to make me some sort of office plan Goldilocks – I want a desk space that is just right!
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to working in an open plan environment but as an assistant how do we survive this type of culture? Here are my Do’s and Don’ts:
DO: Have a clear desk policy, even if it is not enforced in your company. We do handle confidential documents, so do make sure you lock everything away when you leave your desk for long periods of time.
DON’T: Shout across the office to your colleagues, if you need them urgently get up and walk over to their desk. If you act like this your more impolite colleagues will think it is okay to shout at you for whatever they need.
DO: Send an email to your colleague if they look like they are busy at their desk. It will mean that you won’t be interrupting and they can deal with the query later. Start the email with ‘you look busy so I didn’t want to interrupt…’ Again if you conduct yourself like this your colleagues should treat you with the same respect.
DON’T: Put up with the set up of your office if it is not working for your team. Suggest those that work closely together sit together so that they can discuss their work without interrupting anyone else.
DO: Get a confidentiality screen if you are conscious of opening private documents on your computer.
DO: Make use of the open plan environment. Make sure everyone sees your face and where you sit. It will help colleagues get to know you and understand how you like to work.
DON’T: Feel the need to share your personal life with everyone, either over the phone or at each other’s desks. Some of your colleagues just don’t want to know!
DO: Think about adopting some sort of sign that tells your colleagues you are too busy to be interrupted. This does have to be quite forcefully maintained for it to be taken seriously by colleagues.
DON’T: Sit near to the stationary cupboard. This might be tempting because you will be able to see what people are taking but at the same time you will be asked where everything is without them looking for it first.
DO: Plug in your earphones and listen to some music when you need to block out the noise around you.
DO: Think about working for a few hours in a meeting room or a local coffee shop if you need to get away from your desk.
DON’T: Eat smelly food at your desk… a salad is okay, a roast dinner probably is not!
DON’T: Think that everyone has the same personal space as you. Looking over your colleague’s shoulders or sitting on their desk might be uncomfortable for them, if you don’t know how they react don’t go too near.
DO: Turn down the volume of your telephone. If you receive a lot of calls this is a quick way to reduce the noise you create. If your phone lights up when it is ringing I would mute it completely.
DON’T: Hold meetings at your desk, book a room or go to a communal area.
DO: Join in the conversation with your colleagues once in a while.
DO: Think about where the office equipment is in relation to your desk. It may seem logical to have the printer near you as you will use it the most but again you will get colleagues asking you to hand them their printing or assume you will fix it when it has broken.
I hope you found my Do’s and Don’t useful, I’d love to know if you have any survival tips for our fellow assistants out there!
My final ‘don’t’ or at least ‘try not to’ is this… Try not to give your colleague a hate filled stare when they have the flu and are spreading their germs all over the office… okay well don’t let them see you anyway!
You can follow me on twitter: @PracticalPA
When I first started working in London in 2003 one of the key initiatives for most companies was corporate social responsibility and more specifically making the office environmentally friendly. Throughout the early years of the last decade it was imperative that we all made a conscientious effort to ‘go green’. Nearly ten years on and a worldwide recession still in full effect the conversation seems to have taken a back seat or is it simply so ingrained in us that we are all just environmentally friendly without realising it? As an assistant I often felt that keeping the office green was mainly my responsibility, so much so that during my time in one company I did email my colleagues a list of things that would help them to do their bit for the environment. I found the list in my ‘things to keep’ file the other day and thought I would share it with you all. The list is fairly obvious to me and probably everyone now, but at the time it was quite thought provoking…
1. Turn off all your electronic equipment before you go home. 2. Don’t keep your electronic equipment on if you are not using it – if your mobile phone is fully charged remove it from the charger 3. Recycle any waste paper using the bins provided 4. Print documents double sided to save paper 5. Recycle scrap paper for notes / doodling etc 6. Use the stairs instead of the lift – it is good for fitness too! 7. Think before you print – do you need to print out your emails? 8. Use the mugs in the kitchen instead of the plastic disposable cups… remember to wash the mugs up after you use them though! 9. Can you conduct a meeting via WebEx or conference call rather than travelling to meet clients 10. If you do have to travel can you take public transport rather than a cab?
What do you think of the list, it is eco-friendly basics isn’t it? I do wonder how many of these activities we actually do now without thinking or if ‘going green’ has stopped becoming part of the office dialogue. Do you carry out these activities in your every day work? Also do you feel that the responsibility of keeping the office green still belongs to the support staff in the company and if so, what schemes have you implemented?