30 November 2007

How to ensure confidentiality

Most of us work in a cubicle and it is easy when people come by to see what is on your computer screen or on your desk. Some things you work on are confidential and are not for everyone's eyes (including your co-workers). Here are some simple steps to ensure confidentiality:

  • File documents, don't leave them lying around
  • Turn paper over on your desk
  • Don’t talk to others about confidential information
  • Clear screen and lock computer

Always lock your computer when you leave your desk area!

Organizing a Conference

Organizing a conference can be fun! Really! I enjoy it. The only problem is, you usually have to organize the conference and still do all your other work and that makes for some pretty hectic days leading up to the event. You definitely need to be organized!

Start with a good To-Do list. I am convinced that with a good To-Do list you can organize just about anything! Some things that should be on your To-Do list are:
  • Fix date and finalize speakers. Until these things are done, you can't move forward.  Usually it will not be you who needs to do this, but you might have to nudge the person in charge.  If you have your To-Do list completed you can show them all you need to do and until the date and speakers are fixed, you can't move foward.
  • Book venue and organize food.  I wrote an article about reading contracts that would be useful for this stage of your planning.
  • Prepare the invitation list.
  • Arrange for promotional materials if you are providing any to your participants.
  • Determine what supplies you will need.*
  • Arrange for printing of materials and binding.  If this is done onsite you might want to give your mailroom staff a heads up it is coming down the pipes.  If you are having it done with an external printer then you should meet with them and decide exactly what your requirements are.  They are the experts and will be able to assist you.  If you are doing it yourself block some time in your calendar to do this and if you have a large boardroom block some time there as well so you will have enough space to put everything together.
  • If there are invited guests you need to create an invitation or draft a letter of invitation. You can do a merge from the invitation list to the invitation letter as well as to the address labels. Block some time for yourself to go over the invitation list to verify names, titles and addresses.  Proofreading is essential as you don't want to spell their names wrong or put someone down as a manager when they are the President.
  • Send invitations and start an RSVP list so you can keep track of who is coming.  If you are having a dinner, then you will need to know their food choices and if there are any food allergies that you need to be aware of. 
  • You can also use the RSVP list at the registration table to check off names as people arrive.
  • Prepare name tags.  You can put the name tags on the registration table in alphabetical order for people to pick up with their meeting packages and any promotional materials you have for them.
  • If you need to advertise the event, contact a local paper or if it is going in a professional magazine, organize that so it will be advertised well in advance.  You may also want to post it on your company website and will have to arrange that with the appropriate person in advance to have that done.
  • Prior to the event send an email reminder to invited guests to make sure they are still attending.  You would be surprised how many come back and say they now can't attend, especially if it is a free event.  They tend to remember more when they pay for it.  This is very important if you are ordering food for the event.  The hotel will give you a date that you have to confirm your final numbers, so you should do this before that date.
  • Deliver all your materials to the venue if it is off site.  If it is on site, have them all prepared and ready to hand out.
  • Materials you will need at the registration table such as pens, a pad of paper, highlighter, black marker, extra name tags and holders, yellow stickies, phone numbers for all the speakers and key contacts, cell phone to call said speakers and key contacts if they have not arrived on time or if you need assistance.  The hotel concierge is a good person to have on speed dial.
  • The hotel will normally provide complimentary pens and pads of paper for the participants, but have that on your list to check with them.
  • Signage to direct participants to your event if needed.
I like using a timeline To-Do list so I can see everything I need by when.  For an article on how to do that, click here.

In my early years of being a secretary I didn’t want to have anything to do with organizing a conference or any event. Everything seemed to go wrong when I did! I organized a Departmental group meeting once and when we got to the hotel they had no record of my reservation. Fortunately they were able to accommodate us, but I had the feeling I was jinxed when it came to organizing.  With the To-Do list, things have changed.  I know exactly where I'm at in organizing the event.

I love the planning, organizing and especially the interaction with the people who are registering. The day of the event is great as you get to meet the people you have only met by email. As you are handing out name tags you can finally put a name to a face and greet them on behalf of your organization. It is nice to see all your hard work coming together and everything going smoothly. Of course you are madly scrambling behind the scenes to make it look that way to the attendees!

Each time I organize an event I learn something. One dinner event I organized I must have been having a chocolate craving when I chose the menu items. For our first snack I ordered some chocolate chip cookies.  After a great meal the dessert was served – a rich chocolate cake. Break time came and I looked and there were chocolate crunch bars. Now when I set up menu items I get the help of the hotel event co-ordinator. They are a great resource to assist you in picking meal items, determining how much to order, suggesting table set up and just about anything to do with your event. They want to assist you to make it successful.

I am always preparing for the next event so if something about this conference didn’t go as nicely as I would have liked, I make a note of it on my To-Do list to remind myself for the next time. You can be sure that I put NO CHOCOLATE! after that last one.

*Notify your Mailroom staff (or whoever orders your supplies) of your needs so they will have enough in stock when you need it. There is enough to worry about when organizing a conference without finding out at the last minute that the supply room doesn't stock more than 100 name badge holders and you've confirmed for 250!  If you are responsible to order the supplies, have a template of things you need when you plan a conference so each time you can go through it and be reminded of what you need.

Even the smallest things I put on my To-Do list. You think you will remember, but you are so busy on the day of the event that unless you have it written down you can forget. You need something you can check off to make sure everything is in the box going over with you to the conference.

25 November 2007

The Importance of the To-Do List

"A former boss of mine got me started using the To-Do list some time ago and even though I wasn’t too keen on doing it in the beginning I quickly realized its value. Every time we had a departmental meeting we would bring our To-Do list so she knew exactly what was “on our plate”. With the To-Do list we now had a clear and concise way to gauge if we were able to take on new projects and how many we could handle.

It was also helpful to me as an assistant as I could refer to my To-Do list to let my boss know where I was at on a project and how my schedule looked. Many times you can’t remember exactly what you have “on your plate”, but with a To-Do list, you know exactly what you did – what you have to do - and what the status of each item is. Once an item is complete, strike it off the list!

I also found the To-Do list very helpful when arranging seminars or conferences. Since these types of events usually deal with the same things, i.e. booking conference rooms, catering, audiovisual, etc., you can use the same To-Do list as a precedent and update it with the new conference planning items for each event.

What works for me may not work for you, but however you want to do your To-Do list, it is important to have one. Suggested headings could be Priority - Date - Item – Complete, or just put items in a table or list randomly; whatever works best for you and is easiest (so that you will use it). The important thing is to get things “written down”. I don’t know what I would do without my list…and I thank my boss for “making” me do this so long ago…

For more information on the To-Do list click here."
Submitted by Lynn Crosbie, Administrative Assistant

24 November 2007

Metadata: What is it and why is it important for the assistant to know about it?

I overheard some assistants talking in the gym the other day. They were saying their IT person was bugging them about metadata. They concluded they were not going to worry about it and would press the Delete button on the IT Department’s email. They reasoned if they didn’t understand it, there was nothing they had to do about it.

What is Metadata and should we be concerned?

Metadata has been defined as "data about data". Information that is embedded in a document that can tell a user information about how the document was created. Including information your company may not want someone else to see.

In Wikipedia’s definition they give some of the metadata risks, which I think is an important aspect as it pertains to the assistant.

“Metadata risks
Microsoft Office files include metadata beyond their printable content, such as the original author's name, the creation date of the document, and the amount of time spent editing it. Unintentional disclosure can be awkward or even raise malpractice concerns. Some of Microsoft Office document's metadata can be seen by clicking File then Properties from the program's menu. Other metadata is not visible except through external analysis of a file, such as is done in forensics. The author of the Microsoft Word-based Melissa computer virus in 1999 was caught due to Word metadata that uniquely identified the computer used to create the original infected document.”1

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (Government of Canada) have developed a fact sheet on metadata and the risks and how to minimize those risks in this link.2 I would suggest every assistant read it.

Some of the risks are:

Hidden text that is not visible to us, is actually visible in metadata. What you thought you were writing in private ‘for your eyes only’ is visible to anyone who checks the metadata. This could be potentially embarrassing or worse to your company.

When track changes are used someone who checks the metadata will know all the revisions made and deleted. Is this something you want someone to see outside your organization?

Any comments that were put in a document, even though you deleted them are still embedded in the metadata. For instance your boss could have put in a comment “Find out how this is done?” as a note to himself to do some research on a subject. This could be embarrassing to your organization if not seen in the proper context, especially if it is written in a document being sent to a potential client and you are looking to get their business.

If you use a previously saved document as a template for a new document be aware that all the old information is still embedded in the metadata. Including company names, personal information, medical information, patient names, financial details, etc.

There could be financial risks to your organization by overlooking metadata
  • Fines and financial penalties could be levied against your company
  • Your company could lose a potential client.
  • It could be embarrassing or worse to your company
Read this interesting article entitled “Hit send...and regret it”3 to get a better idea how serious this could be to you and your organization.

When your IT Department sends an email alerting you to the dangers of metadata and what you need to do as an assistant to minimize the risk to your organization: Do not press Delete! Read it and act on it! As is quoted in the article “Hit send...and regret it”, it could impact your job.

"If we find out if somebody was negligent in the work then yes, of course we have to look at some disciplinary action...".3

I hope this article has given you something to think about. I definitely will be asking my IT Department for more information on what I can do to protect myself and my organization.

1 Wikipedia the free enclycopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metadata, (accessed November 24, 2007)
2 Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Fact Sheet, The Risks of Metadata, http://www.privcom.gc.ca/fs-fi/02_05_d_30_e.asp, (accessed November 24, 2007)
3 ZD Net Australia, Ferguson, Iain, Hit send...and regret it,
http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/communications/soa/Hit-send-and-regret-it/0,130061791,139220866,00.htm, (accessed November 24, 2007)

Did I send that out like that?

Because email is so quick to SEND it is very important to read it over and proof it.

I make the most errors in email when I go back and change a sentence, add something, take something out and if I am not careful it goes out with errors: The sentence structure is wrong. The tense is not right. It doesn't make sense anymore!

If you have gone back and made changes to an email, read it over once again before pressing SEND to make sure it still says what you want it to say.

21 November 2007

Winter Blues

This is not my favourite time of year. Between adjusting to the time change, going home in the dark and the colder temperatures (especially up here in Canada Brrr!) it can be a pretty dreary time.

I am finding I am tired and that is being reflected at work. It is hard to get motivated to do the filing (which is a boring but necessary part of our job), but even more so at this time of year.

What can we do to get our energy levels up?

Some things I have found helpful are:

  • Get plenty of rest. Especially with the time change, our bodies need time to adjust.
  • Try to get some exercise during the lunch hour. Just getting outside for a walk is refreshing as the sun is usually shining at that time of day and it is a good thing to get away from your desk and have a change of scenery and change of pace. I like to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day at the gym, but a good brisk walk is great too.
  • Try to eat healthy. I have seen some people with some pretty yummy looking homemade soups for lunch.
  • Eat more fruits. We need the Vitamin C in the winter.
  • Get the flu shot. Some offices have a doctor attend at the office to administer the shots which makes it very convenient.

We had our first snowfall today. Even though winter is not my favourite season, I have to admit it was very beautiful and peaceful looking when I looked out this morning with all that fluffly snow that had fallen.

Christmas is around the corner!

The other night I went to a fundraising event that IAAP[1] were participating in for our local childrens' hospital called Trees of Hope. Some of our chapter members were busy decorating a tree. There was a group singing carols. I on the other hand was eating bread pudding and other Christmas goodies and just wandering around looking at all the creative ways the different groups were decorating their trees.

IAAP's tree was decorated with things like CDs, pens, large paperclips. Files were laid out under the tree with to-do lists here and there. They did a really good job decorating. It was a great way to support a charity and to be visible in the community.

[1] International Association of Administrative Professionals, http://www.iaap-hq.org/

20 November 2007

Chatty People: Getting Back to Business!

You are trying to get an important project completed and a co-worker comes along wanting to chat. We have all experienced this at some time or another. How can you handle it and continue to have good working relationships with your co-workers?

There is always going to be some social interaction and joking with each other - it can help to relieve some of the stress of a busy office. Afterall, we spend the most time with the people we work with and we want to develop relationships with each other so we can work more effectively together. But we also need to get back to work!

A good suggestion from someone I know is if someone is settling in for a long chat, try some body language and stand up. Standing up shows you are needing to go somewhere. That body language may be enough to get the message across.

You can continue to work as they are chatting and they should get the hint.

If all else fails you may just need to tell them you are busy and really have to get back to the task at hand, but you would be happy to talk to them at lunch or a break.

What if you are the chatterer? Try to recognize the signs that your co-worker just does not have time to chat right now. Don’t take it personally if they need to continue working and can’t talk. We are at work to do a job and that is our first priority. Socializing can come at lunch time, breaks or work social get togethers.

First things first:What to do first when you get in in the morning?

There are so many things we need to check when we first come into work in the morning: voicemail, email, regular mail and faxes and couriers. What should we do first?

I have been finding it is important to check my voicemail first thing. Email at least can be flagged as urgent, but your voicemail you have no idea until you listen to it how important it is, so best to check that first.

Then I check my email. I usually start from the bottom up and go through the emails, unless something is flagged ‘Urgent’ then I go to that right away. Be careful though and watch for the same subject line as you may answer an email and find another email further up that says “please ignore my previous email”.

Faxes and couriers have to be dealt with on an ‘as received’ basis as usually they are sending the information that way because there is some urgency to it.

Then lastly it comes down to opening and sorting the regular mail and the junk mail and distributing it appropriately.

Do you have a job or a career?

The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines Career as “the job or series of jobs that you do during your working life, especially if you continue to get better jobs and earn more money...”. A Job is defined as “...the regular work which a person does to earn money”.[1]

Some questions you can ask yourself are:

Do you decide on a job because of availability, money or a wise career choice?
Hopefully the money and wise career choice will go together.

Do you go to work just for the paycheque or for the satisfaction of a job well done? Or a bit of both?
Let’s face it, we all need money, but is our whole purpose just to get a paycheque and go home or is our goal to earn the best salary we can make while advancing in our career?

Is your job challenging?
Are you looking for ways you can improve your performance? Are you looking for innovative ideas on how you can fulfill your role? Are you open to making changes?

Are you investing in your career?
Do you upgrade your skills? Do you read books on topics of interest to your career, do you subscribe to useful feeds and e-bulletins.

Do you consider yourself a professional?
Most, if not all, of the people I have worked for have been a professional in their field. One of the givens is they join their professional association for their particular area.
Are you a member of your professional organization? Do you invest time to further your career? Do you network?

Administrative Assistants have professional associations they can join. Do you know about them? Can they benefit you, can you benefit them?

Many professional organizations are looking for professionals to submit articles for publishing in their newsletters and magazines. They recognize we are experts in our field and they want to hear from us. How do we see ourselves?

Do you believe that what you do is important and is making a difference to your organization?
You are an important part of the team and your skills are needed to effectively complete a project or job. Many organizations recognize this and show their appreciation by including you in their successes by thanking you and acknowledging your contribution. But whether your organization does or not, it is how you view your role that is important to your career.

[1] Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionaries Online, (accessed November 19, 2007)

17 November 2007

Return to Sender: Who do you return it to?

Most business envelopes have their logo and business address pre-printed on the envelope, but if you are in a large organization with many people sending letters out every day, how will your Mailroom staff know who to give the envelope to if it comes back Return to Sender? A good tip is to put your boss's initials under the logo and address on the envelope. Then if the envelope is returned your Mailroom will know who sent it and can return it to the proper person. This is especially helpful when you are doing a large mailout as there is usually some mail returned.

Another reason to put the author's initials on the envelope is if the Mailroom staff notice your envelope is missing part of the address or name. With the initials on it they will know who the author is and can return it to be corrected.

Email tip for mass email mailing

If you are sending a large mailing to contacts from different companies, a good idea is to put their email addresses in the b.c.c. section and then send it. That way nobody will see who else is getting the email or have access to their email address. This is particularly important in a business mass email mailing.

I had a personal experience where I copied many of my friends and acquaintances on an email. One of those recipients then took the names from my list and started emailing my contacts for sales purposes. Lesson learnt, but if that had been a business email the consequences would have been greater.

Some companies have firewalls to try to control the mass emails that come into their organization. By sending mass email mailings their organization's firewall may start to recognize your email address as spam and not allow any future emails to get through.

To avoid this problem some companies contract their mass mailings out to a marketing company who will email it on your organization's behalf.

Another Outlook Calendar Tip

Here is a good tip if someone calls you wanting to check your boss's availability on multiple dates in the next month or so. Instead of going to each date one at a time you can view them all at once. Here's how:
  1. Go to your calendar "Day" view.
  2. Holding down the Ctrl key, and selecting from the small calendar (the one that shows the full month), click on the dates you want to look at i.e. January 5, 9, February 5, 7. (To go to the next month, continue to hold down the Ctrl key and click on the arrow that brings you to the next month).
  3. You will now be able to see them all and know what your boss has scheduled on each of the days at a glance.
If you are checking consecutive dates all in one week...hold down the Ctrl and Shift key and click on the first date and while still holding down the Ctrl and Shift key, click on the last date. For example February 1 and February 4, you will then see February 1-4 at a glance.

Submitted by Lynn, Administrative Assistant

16 November 2007

Licking Envelopes May be Hazardous to Your Health?

There are a few urban legends out there about licking envelopes. The first one I heard was the one about someone licking an envelope that was laced with cyanide on the glue and the person died from it. The second legend is the one about the woman who licked the envelope and her doctor ends up pulling out a live cockroach from her tongue. Of course, these have all been verified as urban legends and are not true.

Are there real health risks to licking envelopes? I think the only real risk may be if your Mailroom has a preference on whether you seal an envelope or leave it open to go through the postage machine to be sealed? They may be annoyed if you don't follow their procedures, but other than that I could not find any health risks associated with licking the glue on the envelope.

I personally do not like licking envelopes because of the taste of the glue and because of the possibility of a papercut. Those papercuts hurt!

Here is a new one I heard: "There is a Calorie in every lick of the envelope". I will leave that to you to investigate.

P.S. Before passing on these urban legends, check on http://www.hoaxbusters.com/ to verify if it is true. E-mail people at their home e-mail address, not work and ask before sending. Not everyone appreciates getting these types of e-mails.

You may feel like it, but don't!

As an assistant I have always been amazed when someone has called me wanting to speak to my boss and then has been rude on the phone. The Administrative Assistant is typically the door you have to go through to get to the boss.

I would not recommend using your position to make things difficult for someone trying to reach your professional, but it just has never made sense to me when people have done that. So how should you handle the situation?
  • Be professional. Speak calmly to the person and do the best you can to reassure them that you will give their name and number to your boss.
  • Don't take it personally. I would give the person the benefit of the doubt and would assume that they normally would not behave like that. They are probably under a lot of stress due to a deadline or a situation that may have happened and they are taking that stress out on you.
  • Ask if you can refer them to someone else in the office who may be able to help them.
  • Don't argue.
  • If you were unable to resolve the situation, tell your boss. Don't keep this information to yourself. Tell your professional and let him or her handle it.

Did I Save That???

Save your documents regularly. Using the quick key Ctrl S makes it very easy to do. Get in the habit of saving after every few sentences (or sooner).

Another good reason for using Quick Keys:
What would you do if your mouse stopped working and you had open on your screen multiple documents and emails and you didn't remember if you had saved all of them. You wouldn't want to press Ctrl Alt Delete as that would boot you out of the program and you would lose any unsaved data. A good tip my sister gave me (as this happened to her recently) is to use Alt F4 or Ctrl F4 to close the documents, as it will close each of them individually and if the document hasn't been saved you will have the opportunity to save each before closing?

Alt F4 closes the program and Ctrl F4 closes the document.

Submitted by Lynn, Administrative Assistant

Blue, black or red ink? Which is better?

A good tip for signing a document is to sign it in blue ink. If you sign in black it is difficult to tell which is the original and which is the photocopy. I would never recommend signing a document in red ink.

I prefer it if my boss uses blue ink to make revisions to a document. I find I can notice the changes better than with black ink. I don't like revisions done in red ink as I can't see red very well, but that is a personal choice for me, others may prefer it.

I had one boss who would make revisions in pencil. I think I started needing glasses after working for him. I would not recommend using pencil.

Quick Tip
How can the assistant influence their boss to use a colour of pen that is easier on the eyes? I only provide my boss with blue pens. Problem solved!

Nuts, Bolts & Jolts by Richard A. Moran: BOOK REVIEW

This is just the neatest book! Richard Moran has a saying for just about everything to do with your career, the boss, general life at the office and even business travel. It is fun to read and humorous, but also has some great advice.

It is written for both the employee and the boss. He has captured office life to a tee with his sayings. He obviously has been around and knows what he is talking about.

I used this quote for my thoughts for the day last week, but it is worth repeating.

"There are at least two people you should never offend: your boss's assistant and your boss's spouse. Either could make your life miserable."

Smart man!

I enjoyed it a lot and would give it a 5++.

He has another book of office sayings called, "Fear No Yellow Stickies" and both can be purchased at Amazon.com.
"Fear No Yellow Stickies" is a smaller volume and could fit in your purse or back pocket to pull out and use whenever you want to wow someone with a brilliant saying. I have it on my desk at work and have had many people comment on it and pick it up for a quick read.
Happy reading everyone!

10 November 2007

I Gave at the Office! Charities in the Workplace

I remember as a child my sister and I used to go door to door to collect for a charity. They had an information sheet all of the volunteers were supposed to read before canvassing and I still remember one of the things that was written on it. It basically said that this charity did not collect from people at work so if the people we canvassed said, “My husband gave at the office” we were to explain that we did not collect for this charity at the office.

Now fast forward to today. Workplace charities are becoming very popular and the charities are benefitting. We really are giving at the office!

Here are some ways I have seen charities supported in the workplace:

The United Way Campaign

  • There are office campaigns to raise employee awareness of the programs offered by The United Way
  • Employee-organized functions to try and raise money: silent auctions, bake sales etc.
  • Contributing through payroll deductions
  • Employers can participate as well by making a donation to match what their employees raise or offering a day off to employees who contribute a certain amount etc.

World Vision, Foster Parents Plan, Samaritan's Purse (Christmas Shoebox Program)

  • Sponsoring third-world children through office donations

Global Tragedies (Katrina, Tsunami Relief efforts, Earthquakes etc.)

  • We are part of the global community and it is great to see offices playing a role in helping when there is a need

Run, Walk or Cycle for the Cure

  • We can be involved by sponsoring our co-workers in these events or participating ourselves


  • One office I worked for was involved in a local Habitat for Humanity build. Many people contributed either through donating prizes for raffles, donating money, baked goods for a bake sale or donating their time working on the build. It was a real group effort with everyone doing something to help.
  • School functions: buying chocolate bars to support school programs.

Dress-down Fridays (50/50 Draw)

  • paying for the privilege of wearing jeans on Friday to support local charities like The Mission, Snowsuit fund, Salvation Army etc.

I believe when we are contributing to worthy causes as an office our organization will become more visible in the community we live in and that's good for our business and for the charities!

We should never be made to feel any pressure to participate in workplace charities, it should be voluntary only!

Calendar Tip

Your boss has a teleconference scheduled and is out of the office and will be joining the call on his Blackberry. An email was sent with what the client wanted to discuss including particulars about a matter. In order for your boss to have all the information he needs for the call, drag and drop the email into the calendar meeting date. He can then view the information he needs before the meeting from his Blackberry.

Quick Tip

If you have put an email or comments in the meeting date I always recommend typing (SEE BELOW) or (OPEN TO READ COMMENTS) in either the Subject or Location box. If they are not in the habit of opening the meeting date they may not realize it is in there.

Other things you can put in the comments section would be:
  • call-in numbers if it is a teleconference
  • agenda
  • address/directions to get to the meeting
  • confirmed attendance list with phone numbers (especially if your boss is the Chair)
  • and any other information you think would be helpful

Free Food! Or is it?

A friend was telling me when they have food brought in for meetings they almost need an armed guard to watch it. Once they left a food cart in the hall right outside the meeting room. The food was to be brought in after the presentation to the guests. The mayor was in attendance, the media and local celebrities. The Chairman announced at the end of the presentation that refreshments and goodies would be brought in. When they went to get it from the hallway the trays had been picked clean.

Just because there is food on a tray doesn't mean it is meant for you. Always ask before helping yourself. As in my friend's example, it could be very embarrassing to your organization.

9 November 2007

Recording Your Voicemail Message

To avoid stops and starts when recording your voicemail message. Write out what you want to say and then read it and it will flow better.

Good tip from Susan Adams of my office as she was listening to me fumble through recording my voicemail message.

The Floater Assistant - From Their Point of View

As promised, here is the article from my co-worker who worked for a period of time as a replacement assistant. I enjoyed reading her side of the story.

"Put yourself in the shoes of the professional you will be working for. They come into the office everyday with a list of things that need doing, and that “magic fairy”—you know, like the one at home that refills the toilet paper roll, and mysteriously returns dirty clothes to their clean state—goes quietly through her (or his) day completing each task required. Then one day, the “magic fairy” takes a vacation, and those daily tasks are taking longer to accomplish, questions are being asked, and your mail is not where it is supposed to be. What is going on? How can this be? How can I possibly function without my right-hand girl (or guy)?

Floaters beware! You have a tough job ahead of you. You are to effortlessly slide into the chair of an assistant who knows the likes and dislikes of her/his professional by heart. The assistant knows where the files are, the order they are filed in; and who the contact for each file is. He/She understands the “chicken scratch” referred to as writing, and they have set up their computer and desk area to suit their particular needs. As a float, here are a few tips I think you will need to remember in order to succeed at your job:

1) Be cognizant of the fact that you are a temporary replacement. The desk you are occupying is not yours. Please, do not rearrange a desktop, or snoop through drawers unless the assistant has given you her permission to do so.

2) The computer at the assistant’s desk should be regarded in the same way as the desk itself. Do not change the settings, or desktop picture or colour scheme.

3) No matter how good you are at your job, YOU are not the professonal’s regular assistant. A good majority tend to pass you only what is absolutely necessary while their assistant is gone.

4) Take the time and sit down with the assistant you are going to replace. Ask questions. Keep the following questions in mind:
a) What are the assistant's computer and voice-mail passwords?
b) Is there anything coming up that you need to be aware of (travel arrangements, meetings etc.)? Do you have all the information you will need?
c) Where is your active file list kept? Is it up to date?
d) Where are your filing cabinets? Are there any active files kept in a separate place?
e) How do you want your e-mails handled?

5) There is a lot of information for you to learn and digest. Be sure to write instructions down, and leave yourself “cheat sheets”.

6) Ask the Assistant if there are any “time consuming but not experience heavy” jobs, he or she would like accomplished while away. If there are any odd jobs that he or she would like completed now is the time to do them, as it makes your day more productive. The days can be very long if you are not busy.

7) Filling in for another Assistant does not mean it’s time to surf the internet and catch up on your personal e-mail. That is unprofessional!"

Submitted by Darlene Hale, Administrative Assistant (former Floater Assistant)

3 November 2007

When Using Your Cell Phone can be Bad Manners

Our technology is moving ahead full speed, but it seems our etiquette is lagging behind. Every time we turn around there's another article on etiquette. Do we need it? Why does all our good etiquette sense go out the window just because we are a cell phone?

Some employers are even considering banning cell phone use at work because of our poor etiquette.[1]

What is it about the cell phone that we just have to run for it when it rings? Why does it seem so urgent when we get a call on our cells that we interrupt our conversations to answer it? Is our technology moving ahead of our good manners?

Soap Opera Transit

A phone rings on the bus and everyone looks down and reaches for their cell. There are a lot of conversations going on, but no one is talking to each other, we are all on our cells.

Think about what you are saying on your cell and what people are hearing. Does everyone really need to hear about all your troubles with your boyfriend and more importantly, do you really want everyone to know all your private business?

Remember everyone can hear your phone conversations when you are on a cell. Consider this, are you unknowingly leaking confidential work information, not realizing you have a busload of people listening in on your conversation? This may be a breach of your confidentiality agreement with your employer. Be careful!

Smile You’re on Candid Camera

Camera phones are banned in lockers and change rooms in gyms for obvious reasons. It is an invasion of our privacy. But what about in the workplace or on public transit? Never take someone’s picture without their knowledge or consent. In the workplace it is a definite no-no. Here is an interesting article "New Phones Raise Privacy fears" on this subject.[2]

Is that your phone ringing?

Some people have set their phone rings to some pretty strange ring tones: A baby crying, someone screaming or the whole chorus of Dancing Queen. When their cell phone rings they wait for the whole ring to be completed. Why do we have to hear your whole cell phone ring? Please just answer the phone.

Practice Good Manners

Use good manners when using your cell phone. You would not think it good manners if someone butted into your conversation with your co-worker, so treat your cell phone the same way. It can wait! Or if you are waiting for an urgent call, excuse yourself and say this is an urgent call that you’ve been waiting for and you must take it.

Text Messaging

Text messaging when you are having a conversation with someone is like "talking behind their back”. How would you feel if while in a conversation with someone the person you are with was texting a message to someone else - perhaps even texting about you!

Can’t you see I’m on the phone

Actually No! With the increasing use of hands-free cell phones in the office and on the street it is often impossible to tell if someone is on the phone.

We have all seen it. Someone is walking down the street involved in an animated conversation, seemingly with themselves, and then you notice they are talking on a hands-free cell phone. Or your boss is in his office on his hands-free cell and you start to speak to him and he is wondering why you are interrupting his telephone call.

Hands-free cell phones are convenient. They have ergonomic advantages, but people who use them tend to forget that we can’t always tell when they are on the phone.

We need to be patient with each other as we learn to adapt to new technologies and be aware of the challenges they pose.

Sandra Muskopf-Hyde, President of the Etiquette School of Ohio, gives us her six basic rules for cell phone use.[3]

"1. Silence the phone or turn the phone off in public places. Voicemail was invented to answer the phone when you can’t. ...

2. Don’t shout. Everyone around you does not want to listen to your conversation. In respect to the person on the other end, keep the conversation private. Step outside or find a private location if you can’t call back later.

3. Don’t multi-task. This includes checking out at the local store or fast food restaurant, walking down the sidewalk or in the mall, and driving. If you can’t give 100% to what you’re doing, step aside or pull over. How many times have you been in line behind one of these offenders?

4. Give 100% of your attention to the people in your presence. For example, dining with others in a restaurant, attending a meeting, completing a transaction at the store or bank, or speaking with a co-worker or client in an office....

5. Turn the ringer volume down or use the vibrate mode.You may love to hear, “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”, but others don’t want to hum it all day when it gets stuck in their head.

6. Phones off in the audience or congregation. This includes theaters, churches, funeral homes, business presentations, and outdoor amphitheaters."

Cell phone technology is great. The conveniences are endless and being able to conduct business on a cell phone when you can’t be at the office is good for business. But let’s not forget our manners. Good cell phone etiquette is just using your common sense and good manners on the way to work, at work and at home.

[1] More companies tell workers to silence cellphones, From USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.
[2] Thornton, Carla, New Phones Raise Privacy fears, http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,113632-page,1/article.html, (accessed October 26, 2007)
[3] Muskopf-Hyde, Sandra, Etiquette School of Ohio, Basic Cell Phone Etiquette, http://etiquetteschoolofohio.com/?cat=23, (used with permission) (accessed November 2, 2007)

2 November 2007

Will you be my Buddy? The Importance of Teamwork and the Buddy System

"People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society."[1]

We have all seen it in job postings, “Must be able to work well in a team environment”. How important is it that we be team players in the workplace?

In sports it is easy to see how working as a team is the way to win the game. How many of us as we are anxiously watching a hockey game during the playoffs are yelling at the television set, “They’re all over the place! Get your act together guys, or you will never win the game!” It is the same principle in the office. I believe that working as a team will not only increase productivity, but will give each of the team members a feeling of accomplishment, working toward a common goal, but if you are “all over the place” then nobody wins.

Meeting Together as a Team

In any company large or small it is important for staff to meet together and communicate with each other. If you work for a large organization it can be even more important as size alone can make communication difficult. The different areas of your organization are all playing a part in getting a job done and in order for that to work smoothly you need to communicate with each other so each of the team members are aware of what will be required of them.

The team model from one of the offices I worked in was the best I have seen especially when it came to the Assistant. They recognized the importance of the Assistant in accomplishing their goals.

We had regular team meetings and in each Department one Assistant was assigned the Team Leader role to represent the Assistants in their group. The meetings included Administrative Assistants, the Office Manager, team leaders from the service areas: the Mailroom, IT Department, Finance, Reception etc. Each team leader was responsible to talk to their team before the meeting to find out what items they wanted brought up, what jobs were coming up and what assistance would be needed. Were there any newsworthy items from their group that they wanted to share, recognition or accomplishments to brag about.

At the team meeting each Assistant would bring their items forward and put the Mailroom, IT Department, Finance etc. on notice of these upcoming projects and needs. The service areas would take note of times they would be needed and could then report back to their team members so everyone would be aware and be prepared.

The team leaders from the service areas and the Office Manager would report to the team new office procedures or software that was upcoming that we needed to know about.

After the meeting each Team Leader was then responsible to pass the minutes of the meeting to their team members. We were then up to date on what each area was doing and if we were having a down time we could offer assistance where we knew the workload was heaviest.

Whether or not you have an opportunity to have team meetings, it is important to communicate with the service areas in your organization and it is always important to communicate with the assistants you work closest with.

The Importance of the Buddy System in the Workplace

We all remember in elementary school going on field trips and being assigned a “buddy”. On those field trips we were responsible to keep track of our buddy and to look after each other. It is the same in the office. When we are working as a team we will look after our team members. Here are some ways Administrative Assistants can work together as a team:

  • Pay attention to what others in your team are doing. Can you pitch in and help when someone is swamped? It is always appreciated when someone can get that photocopying job done while another person sends a fax for us, giving us the needed time to complete that urgent transcription
  • If you need to take an unplanned day off your team members can help by:
    o changing your Out-of-Office Assistant in your email account and/or your voicemail (most voicemail accounts can be accessed from home and you can change the message yourself to indicate you will be away)

    o making sure incoming mail, courier and faxes are looked after

    o offering assistance to the professional whose assistant is away. Letting them know that either yourself or someone will look after anything that needs to be done

    o when you are away it is important not to deadend your voicemail or email Out-of-Office Assistant. If you are not going to be in, always refer the caller to one of your team members (or to the receptionist). Just because you are off that day, doesn’t mean your company is not open for business. Sometimes your phone number or email address is the only contact that person has to your organization.

    o Always check with your team members and work out a strategy for covering for each other

    Some organizations have the advantage of having floater assistants to cover vacation periods, if you do not then it will be important for the assistants to cover each other while on planned days off as well as unplanned days off. If you read my article on the floater assistant you will see the list of dos and don’ts I suggested to make this more productive for everyone. These dos and don'ts would also be beneficial for team members who were replacing each other.

    The Administrative Assistant plays an important role in any organization and I believe any company that recognizes that will enjoy the benefits from a staff who feel appreciated and acknowledged for the part they play in accomplishing the company’s goals.

[1] - Vince Lombardi, http://www.vincelombardi.com/about/quotes4.htm, (accessed November 2, 2007)

Voting Buttons

Adding voting buttons to your e-mail message is great if you are sending a message that requires people to respond to a question and you want to track the responses.

For example if you are having an internal training session and have a choice of times to attend, you can send an email with the details of the sessions with the choices. For example the voting buttons could be Monday 9 a.m./Monday 3 p.m. The recipient just has to click on the appropriate voting button to respond. Once you make your choice you will be given the option to send the message now or edit it before sending and you can add an additional message if you like.

Another example would be if you are organizing the office Christmas/Holiday party if you need to have an idea on how many will be attending you might want to send an email with voting buttons asking if they are planning to attend the party. The choices could be a simple Yes/No/Maybe for the answer.
It is a quick way to get responses and is very convenient for the sender who can then track the responses. I have set out below how to add voting buttons to your email message and how to track them for those who are unfamiliar with this feature in your Outlook email.

Add voting buttons to a message (Word 2007)

This feature requires you to be using a Microsoft Exchange Server e-mail account.
  • Open a New Message and then choose Options
  • Select the Use Voting Buttons check box, and then click the voting button names you want to use in the box
  • To create your own voting button names choose Custom and then type any text you want. Separate the button names with semicolons
  • Under Delivery options, select the Have Replies Sent To check box (your email address should automatically appear, but if not, type in the email address(es) you want the replies to go to)
  • Click Close, and then click Send
Review tracking results and voting responses
  • Since you clicked the Have Replies Sent To, responses will be emailed to the email address you entered, but you can also check by:
    • Opening the original message you are tracking. This message is located in the Sent Items folder
    • Clicking the Tracking tab (located in top left-hand corner of message) to see responses.  You will see a list of those who have responded and what their vote was.  You can also click Message (located just above the Tracking tab) to view your original message.
Update:Voting buttons do not work on external emails, but they are still good for internal emails. Many times it will be in-house emails that we want votes on from our co-workers.

What will the recipient see:
When the recipient opens the email they will see in the top left-hand corner the voting button with an arrow down.  Click on it and you will then see the choices.  Choose the one you want and you will be given a choice to Send Response Now or Edit Response Before Sending.  Press OK  Your email will now be sent and the person who sent it will see your answer in the Subject line, but as mentioned above, they can also track it from the original message in their Sent Items.

Male or Female: Who to address it to?

I'm sure you have had to send a letter to someone and you just can't figure out by the name whether you are sending to a male or a female. So how do you address it?

I would suggest in the address you put [first name, last name] and then the address and for the salutation I would suggest Dear [first name, last name]:

Lonely Signature Lines

I was taught that you never leave the signature line on the last page on it's own. You either carry some text over with it (at least two lines) or reformat the letter so the signature line fits with the other text.

I would never use less than 11 pt for your font size to make the letter fit all on one page. It is always preferable to use 12 pt.

cc and bcc (c.c. and b.c.c.)

A little history

Back in the 70's, when we typed a letter we would put three pages in the typewriter (yep, we would manually feed them into a typewriter, no computers or printers back then)! The first page was letterhead, the second page yellow and the third page blue. A carbon paper would be inserted in between each and when typed on, it would print onto all the pages. Hence the reason it was called a "carbon copy". Today we still use the cc, but it is commonly referred to as a "courtesy copy", although I have still heard it referred to as a carbon copy.

My memory is failing me a bit here, but I believe the yellow copy was the file copy and the blue was the cc or bcc to be sent out. They were commonly called the "yellows" and the "blues".


Whether you refer to a cc as a courtesy copy or a carbon copy, the most common way I have seen it typed is c.c. or b.c.c., but I have also seen it c:, bc:, cc:., bcc:, c. or b.c.

b.c.c. refers to a blind carbon copy. This would not be typed on the letterhead copy, but would only be typed on the file copy (to have a record on the file that you sent it out to other people) and the copy you are sending to the other person (or people). You would use a blind copy rather than a cc if you did not want the person you were writing to, to know you were copying someone else on the letter.

I was reading an article1 by Kevin Laurence that you might be interested in reading.

1 Laurence, Kevin, The Exciting History of Carbon Paper, http://www.kevinlaurence.net/essays/cc.php, (accessed November 2, 2007)