31 December 2009

Office Confidential: Just for fun to start your New Year off with a laugh

These are excerpts from a presentation I gave to my local International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) Chapter dinner meeting.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did in the telling...

When I told my boss I had started a blog and was naming it Laughing All The Way to Work, he didn’t get it and said, "That doesn’t sound very professional Patricia." So I explained that it was similar to the phrase, laughing all the way to the bank. I told him it was a blog to give tips and to share my experience in the office in the hopes that it would help and encourage others. I felt if we were prepared and equipped to do our jobs, it could seem like we were laughing all the way to work...but I also like to have fun at work too.

MONTY PYTHON: One of my former bosses said at times working with me was like being in a Monty Python movie... My current boss says we get along like a house on fire. With references like these how can I lose?

ASSWORD: I had only been working in my new job for a few weeks. I was sitting at the front desk to relieve the receptionist when my boss walked by and asked what the password was on a site he needed to log into. The password was LRGPassword, but I told him to remember it was case sensitive and started to spell it out for him -- "Capital LRGP and then..." but stopped when I realized what the rest of it spelled. He looked at me with a knowing smile and said “Yes, Patricia, continue...”

ONE WORD CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING: It’s amazing how one word can change the whole meaning of something. I booked one of my former bosses on a flight to Toronto. I printed his e-ticket and had everything prepared for his travel. When I arrived in the office the next day I had an urgent voicemail from him saying, “PATRICIA! Who the hell is Linda and what is her name doing on my ticket?” Linda (our travel agent) was obviously having a bad day. She had put her name down as the passenger and my boss’s name as the agent. No doubt, he had a hard time explaining to the airport authorities that he was indeed the one who was supposed to be on that flight.

This boss also prided himself on being self sufficient and liked to type his own letters. I thought it was wonderful until I read one. He relied totally on Spell Check so you can imagine what typos were missed. He was a lawyer and in this particular letter he was writing to a prospective client. He wrote in one sentence that he had "expensive experience" instead of "extensive" and in another wrote "tits" instead of "its." Good thing I checked... I wonder what kind of service the client would have thought he was offering!

HIGH TECH? Years ago, when I worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), I took a training course on a Telex machine. During a break in the class, I was sitting at my assigned Telex and it started typing. This was such new technology back then and I was surprised that it was typing on its own.  I looked down and read, “I AM WATCHING YOU.” Which seemed a little spooky, and then it signed off --“GOD!” I must have had a complete look of astonishment on my face. Then I heard the snickers. I was the only woman in a room full of police officers who had conspired to play a trick on me. Needless to say -- it worked!

I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO WINNIPEG! Again, when I worked at the RCMP, I went on a training course for a machine to do criminal record checks. In those days it wasn’t a computer where you could see a face on the screen, but the information was printed out on paper and if you wanted a photo, it came in the mail a week later. Definitely not like the CSI shows of today. For fun, one of the officers asked me to put my name and birthdate in to see what came up. Well, apparently, there’s a hooker in Winnipeg by the name of Patricia Robb and with the same birthdate! For the rest of the day they kept teasing me, “Are you sure you have never been to Winnipeg?”

LOOK UP, LOOK DOWN: While an EA was talking to the CEO, her skirt slipped down and landed at her feet. Now how would you handle that situation? (I bet they never asked you that question at a job interview).  This girl didn’t bat an eyelash and quickly reached down and pulled up her skirt and continued talking to her boss as if nothing had happened. I can imagine what her boss said to his wife that evening, "Honey, you will never believe what happened at the office?"

AIRPORT RESTROOM: My friend was very tired. She had been commuting from Ottawa to Toronto and was on her last flight of the week. At the airport she went to the bathroom, but when she went to wash her hands afterwards, she couldn’t seem to get the sink to work until she realized the problem -- it was a URINAL! She quickly scooted out of the men’s washroom.

SUGGESTION BOX: We had a new woman working in our office and my friend and I were showing her around. My co-worker mentioned that we had an office suggestion box if she ever wanted to put ideas for improvement in it and told her it was in the kitchen. She seemed surprised as she said she had been in the kitchen a few times, but had never seen it. My friend said, “Yes, it’s in the corner by the fridge -- right over the, uh, GARBAGE CAN.”  Up to that point neither of us had realized the significance of its location.  This of course prompted me to write the following thought of the day on my blog, "The location of your Office Suggestion Box can give you a good idea of how important it is to your organization. If it is located near the garbage can, don't expect your suggestions to be taken too seriously."

OFFICE CONFIDENTIAL: I went to the gym after work on a Friday evening, worked out and went back to the office to get my purse. I always take my gym laundry home on Friday to wash over the weekend so on Monday morning I was madly trying to find them while scrambling to get out the door on time. Did I not bring them home? Where were they? I left for work thinking perhaps I had left them in my gym bag at work. When I walked into the office and got to my desk, there they were -- on my desk with my bra sitting right on top of the bundle. Ugh!

Since I got in at 9 and my boss was in an hour before me, I knew he had probably seen it already so decided to suck it up and just go in and ask him. In between spurts of laughter, he said he hadn't been to my desk yet, but I should go and see Anthony as he had sent him to my desk earlier to drop off a letter. I left his office to the sound of his chuckles behind me. What a start to a Monday morning...

HANGERS ON: One morning while walking from the bus to my office building, I noticed a woman in front of me with a coat hanger hooked to the back of her coat. She obviously didn't realize it was there, but I was wondering to myself how she could have sat on the bus and not noticed. I thought somebody ought to tell her, so I caught up to her and it turned out to be someone from my own office. When I told her she thought I was joking, but to humour me she reached back and with a look of surprise and dismay slowly brought out the metal coat hanger. The look on her face was priceless. Of course I had to tell everyone at the office.

I called someone in another office. Her voicemail said “Hi, I’m not at my desk right now, please leave a message.” She didn’t identify herself and I had no idea if I had dialed the right number because I had never spoken to her before. The woman who sat next to me told me I should have left the message, “Hi, call me back.”

At another office I needed IT assistance so sent an email requesting help. I received an out-of-office message from the IT guy saying that he was in Vegas partying, if he won we wouldn’t hear back from him, if not, he would be in on Monday.

BEAUTY SCHOOL DROP OUT:  As many of you know, I was a hairdresser for a few years in the early 90s, but left to return to the office.  Here are a few stories from that time.

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS: When I was in beauty school, I was taught different ways to remove facial hair. I thought I had the best answer when I discovered facial hair bleach. No muss, no fuss and no pain. One day after using it, I was at a children’s club at my Church. A six year old boy was looking over at me curiously and finally blurted out, “Pat, do men have black moustaches and women have white?” Geez!

ADULTS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS: When I was working in a hair salon, if another hairdresser happened to be at the reception desk when a customer came in, they would take their name and say to the hairdresser who had the appointment, "Your Bob is here,"  or "Your Muriel is here," or whatever name was appropriate. I was cutting someone’s hair, but noticed one of my co-workers going to the counter to greet a customer. I was expecting my next customer so I knew it could be him. After taking his name and asking him to have a seat, my co-worker called out, "Pat, your John is here." -- You could have heard a pin drop as all the customers turned to look at me.  When I told my current boss the story, he said, “Good thing his name wasn’t Dick.”

You see, working can be fun. Enjoy your day!

28 December 2009

Now that is dedication...Executive Assistant donates kidney to her boss

My assistant sent me a link to a story about an Executive Assistant in British Columbia, Canada, who gave the gift of life by donating a kidney to her boss.  You can find the story at the following link:  http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/ID=1365276571

That certainly is dedication and remarkably they were a perfect match.  The EA said her family had gone through a similar situation and she didn't want her boss to have to go through what they did so decided to make the offer.

A nice Christmas gift to her boss who is a dad of five children.

19 December 2009

Meetings Plus: Taking them offline

I organize a lot of meetings in a day, week, month; heck, even into next year.  My boss is very busy and in demand to go here, there and everywhere.  So how do I keep them all straight?  My first plan of action is to take them offline as much as possible.  I have so much e-mail traffic that the more I take offline, the better I am able to keep track and oh what a relief it is to delete it out of my Inbox once I have responded to the e-mail.

When I receive an initial request for a meeting, I use a meeting form and write down the information I need: who is requesting the meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting, where it will be held and a phone number or an e-mail address and dates that are available.  As I hear from the different parties I can put a check mark or an X whether they are available or not.  Once a date is finalized I put it in my boss's calendar and confirm the meeting with the other participants.  If the meeting is internal, I send a meeting request, but for external meetings I tend to just confirm with them the meeting details by phone or e-mail. 

Sounds easy so far, and sometimes it is as simple as that, but normally it goes back and forth and back and forth again and again, but I never worry about it because once I take it offline, I am not trying to track down e-mails on who said they were available since I already have the information written down.

I also have what I call a Scheduling Bin and I put all my meeting forms in there.  It is located by my phone and near my computer, so whether I get a phone call or e-mail, it is within easy reach.  The good thing about keeping them all in a central spot is I always know where the paperwork is and can easily grab it when I need it.  Much easier than searching in Outlook and less stressful.

When a meeting is finalized, I put the scheduling sheet in a completed file.  My boss's meetings tend to get resurrected often and what I think is a final date will come back because someone had to go out of town on urgent business, or one of the key participants is ill and can't make it or they just decided to change the date, so it is handy to have this file where I can go and revive the meeting.  After the meeting happens, then I can safely throw it in the recycling bin or shredder as appropriate.  Another benefit to writing it down is if your boss asks you to cancel it or to quickly tell you when the meeting is, you can look at the sheet rather than trying to search for it in your calendar. 

I tend to keep my scheduling sheets in chronological order and each morning I go through them to see if there is any action I need to take, i.e. follow up to ask for an agenda or see if I can start scheduling.  There are some meetings that are currently on my radar for next summer and beyond, but I still have a sheet for it and move it up the pile as the date for planning gets closer.

Once the date and location is finalized, if it requires flight and hotel, then I put a travel sheet on top of the meeting sheet and start to go through that checklist to see what I need to do, from getting the passport ready, contacting the travel agent and arranging for a purchase order, etc.  I don't want to miss a step so always go through the checklist on the travel sheet.

Taking it offline is a neat trick a friend of a friend of a friend showed me.  Never underestimate what you can learn from other assistants.  There are a lot of good organizing tricks out there and whenever I find one that works, I pounce on it and it becomes something I can't work without.  Keep a lookout what your colleagues are doing.  Most people are happy to share when they have found something that works.  Learning from each other is a necessity.  By the same token if you have discovered something that works, let others know so they can benefit too.  After all, the goal is to have an efficient office and it works better if we are all working together to make that happen.

See on the blog sidebar under Meetings for some electronic meeting scheduling sites such as doodle.com and other tips.

12 December 2009

On the job tips for new Admins...

I started this blog to share the knowledge I had picked up over the years either from other administrative assistants, my bosses or from trial and error. Here are my top six things I would recommend you do well:

  1. Write it down
    When your boss asks you to do something, write it down, send yourself an e-mail reminder or put it on a sticky note, but if you don't write it down it will get lost and probably not get done.  You may think you have a good memory and why bother, but there will be so many little things come across your desk that it is easy to forget and writing it down is a good habit to get into.  It also eases your boss's mind when they see you write it down, it gives them confidence it will be taken care of.
  2. Bring Forward System or Using Tasks in Outlook
    Have a system to follow up on items your boss has asked you to do or things you know you need to do. This can be as simple as having hanging file folders marked from January to December and then you just put items in the appropriate month that you need to bring forward for your boss. I put a sticky note on it, or write, the day I will need it, i.e. bf Dec. 15. I love this system and at the end of each day I go through my folder and pull out what I need for the next day. I also use Tasks in Outlook to follow up on electronic items. If I send someone an e-mail asking for something, I drag and drop the the e-mail into my Tasks and set a reminder for when I want to follow up. It is easy and I never lose track of things.
  3. E-mail
    Always ask yourself why you were copied on an e-mail. Is there an action that you need to do? Is it for your information or something to put in your tasks to do later? My boss will sometimes cc me to keep me in the loop of what might be coming up. I read it and either put it in my tasks to follow up on it or take the appropriate action. I have daily meetings with my boss so sometimes I print the e-mails that I have questions on and put it in a folder and then we go through each item and he lets me know what, if anything, I need to do. If he is travelling, I send it by e-mail, but it has been my experience that I will get better results with a face-to-face meeting.  He can ignore e-mails, but it is hard to ignore me :)

    When you are copied on an e-mail, read the whole message, don’t just skim it. There could be a message for you. i.e. My boss will send an email with a cc to me and on the last line or buried in the message he will write something like “I have copied Patricia to set up a teleconference at a mutually convenient time.” So it is important to read the whole message.

    If you are sent an email with a request to do something either asap or later, did you do it or have you diarized it to do it later? Do you track your e-mails by either putting them in folders, or in your tasks? If your boss has to continually go back and ask did you do this or that, then they may as well have done it themselves in the first place.

    If you have been asked to do something and don’t fully understand what is expected of you, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes e-mail is not the best way to communicate and it needs to be followed up by a phone call or face-to-face short meeting.
  4. Letter mail
    OUTGOING MAIL: If you are given a letter to finalize for your boss's signature, make sure you put the correct date on it and read it over for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Print it on letterhead with the appropriate sized envelope and ensure if there are any enclosures, they are attached. Put it in a folder for your boss’s signature in completed form, i.e. envelope clipped to letter and attachments. If you are waiting for attachments, but need to have it signed because your boss will not be in the office by the time you get the attachments, prepare it for him or her for signature and put a sticky note on the letter to remind yourself to attach enclosures or make copies for anyone you are copying on the letter, but also to let your boss know you know it needs to be done and have reminded yourself to do it.

    If you are sending the letter by regular mail, courier or registered mail, make sure you have the proper postage, courier slips or forms filled out.  I usually put a sticky note on it for that as well.

    INCOMING MAIL: As with e-mail, you should read the letter to see if there are any action items for your boss (or yourself) and diarize them or put the appropriate dates in the calendar.

    MAIL LOG: Keep a log of mail that comes in and goes out. For incoming mail, if your boss delegates it to someone else to respond to, put who it was sent to and what action is to be taken in the mail log and then follow up to make sure it has been done.
  5. Telephone
    Always work with your boss on what their preference is for taking calls and messages, but here are some things that have worked for me.  Do not let a caller know where your boss is. Just say that they are unavailable and take a message. If they say it is urgent take their name, telephone number and purpose of their call and tell them you will give your boss the message as soon as possible. If your boss is away from the office on business or vacation, it is all right to say they are not in the office, but you can take a message for when they return. The information will normally be in their out-of-office assistant already, or on their voicemail so it is appropriate to give the information, unless stated otherwise by your boss.

    If a person calls to speak to your boss, and you are responsible for taking their calls, ask for their name and telephone number, but I always ask them for the purpose of their call. If they do not want to give it, that is fine, but at least you can say to your boss that you asked.

    If a person calls wanting a meeting with your boss, ask for their name and telephone number and the purpose of the meeting request. Let them know you will need to check with your boss and will get back to them. I always ask my boss if he wants to have a meeting with this person or would a teleconference be sufficient. Sometimes your boss will pass this on to someone else to do or not want/or be able to meet. You will then need to get back to the person. Never say your boss doesn’t want to meet with them, but rather that they are unable to meet with them and would they like to leave a message with your boss. Sometimes if you know your boss does want to meet with a particular person, you can go ahead and schedule it for them at a mutually convenient time and e-mail your boss to give them a heads up it is in their calendar.
  6. Drafting a letter
    If your boss asks you to respond to a letter on his or her behalf, draft it as if your boss was going to sign it, i.e. have it set up properly with the date (or [Insert Date]) and the address correctly filled out and then either send it by e-mail or print it for his or her review. Draft it to the best of your ability and include the letter you are replying to when you give it back to your boss, so he or she knows the context of your reply.

    A good rule of thumb in writing the letter is to acknowledge the letter you are responding to, i.e. Thank you for your letter of [insert date]. Then state the purpose of the letter, i.e. We are pleased to enclose the requested forms and would ask that you fill them out and return them at your earliest convenience. Then end with a closing sentence i.e. We look forward to serving you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Have the letter properly signed off with a closing such as Yours truly or Sincerely yours and put your boss’s name and title below that. If the letterhead has the name of the organization on it you do not have to repeat it again under the name and title, unless that is your boss’s preference.

    If your letter goes to page two, do not leave the signature line on its own on the second page. Take some text over with it, but you still want the first page to be centred and look good.

    Keep names together, i.e. if a name gets split at the end of the sentence i.e. Edward
    Smith. If you press Control, Shift and the Space bar after Edward and type Smith. They will stay together on one line.

    If the letter has multiple pages, number them, i.e. .../2 at the bottom of page 1 and -2- (centred) , or Page 2, at the top of the next page, and so on.

    Eyeball the letter for appearance and proofread it for accuracy. Do not rely solely on Spell Check. If you say you have attachments, make sure they are there and indicate at the bottom of the letter that you have enclosures. Some organizations like you to list the attachments, i.e. Enclosure: 2008 Annual Report.

    If you are copying someone on the letter, make sure you send them a copy. If you are blind copying someone, make sure that name is not typed on the original letter, as the intent is that you do not want the person to know you are sending a copy to someone else.  [cc = courtesy copy; bcc = blind courtesy copy].
Well that is my brain dump for the weekend.  I hope you find it helpful. Next week I would like to talk about meeting planning and give you some scheduling tips that have worked well for me.

5 December 2009

Do you like what you do?

CONFUSCIUS SAID, “Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.”  How true that is! Here are some ways I have found to enjoy what I do:

Make it a conversation. You are interviewing them too so ask questions. Take notes during the interview so you don’t forget what you wanted to ask. And realize you are not suited for every job or office. If you don’t get it, it wasn’t the right job for you or the right time. I have never regretted any of my employment situations. I keep looking forward to new experiences.

It may not be the perfect job, but you are employed.  I wrote an article awhile back called On the Outside Looking In.  I went through a time of looking for a job and it seemed I wasn't getting anywhere.  Finally I landed a job and have been working ever since, but I still recall that time of not working. 

Respect your boss as a person, but also for the position they hold. It is much better, and we will be happier, if we work well together and that starts with respect and loyalty. The assistant/boss relationship certainly is one of the closest working relationships with some comparing it to that of a work wife.

and find out early on who you can go to and trust. I have a network of assistants that I call friends, although some are just phone colleagues, but we help each other. We are not an island. It works better if you have a whole pool of resources with different strengths to call upon. Makes your work life much easier...

Last year I took a questionnaire to see what my strengths were. When the results were in, I met with the person who administered it and one of the things it showed, other than the fact that I ranked very high in administration, was that I work best on short-term projects where I can see the end in sight. I had never thought about it before, but it was true, I like to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I’ve been able to plan and complete a project successfully. I will have all kinds of energy to work on a project if I know it is ending at one point. But if it is a job that goes on and on with nothing to show for it I get bored. This is an important thing to know. If you know what works best for you and if your job is 80/20 on what you like then you can put up with the small stuff like filing and filling out expense forms.

We do spend more time at work than at home, but we should try to keep a balance and when we go home, we should be in home mode and when we take holidays, stay away from work (remotely or physically).