Emily Brantz

Ok, I have to come clean. I have been triangulating and think it is time we had an honest conversation about remote work and your administrative team. During the pandemic, firms moved their people to remote work but in many cases, remote work applied to “everyone but the admin team.” And, because I am a firm administrator who works 100% remote, my little voice has been saying:

  • Why not?
  • Do you think administrators are unworthy?
  • Are we less trustworthy?
  • Is our health less important?
  • Are we not as valuable to your firm’s success?
  • Don’t we deserve to benefit from remote work?
  • What’s to stop us from leaving to go somewhere else where admin can work remotely and feel more valued?

I get it, my inner dialogue may be too harsh, critical or too quick to jump to conclusions. I’ll work to lessen my intensity for the rest of this post, while we address the questions I’ve raised and common objections we’ve heard. After all, your administrative team should be delivering real value and included in your remote work programs.

Objection: Admin have to go into the office to manage our paper processes.

{insert blank stare here} If paper is the reason your admin team are required to come into the office, there is a bigger problem. COVID-19 showed us all how crucial it is to be truly digital, with the initial fears that paper might serve as a transmitter for the virus and administrators and firm leaders all had to leave the safety of their homes to trek to the office to move paper, especially paper checks for deposit. NextGen clients and talent have entered the majority in the workplace and they want a digital experience. Natural disasters like disease and large weather events are becoming commonplace. We have to become increasingly paperless and not penalize our admin teams for our lack of paperless processes (unless you empower them to work with service line and operational leaders to solve this).

One place to start is the mail. Begin by evaluating how much, what type and how often you receive paper mail. If it is “junk” mail and of no importance to your firm, why have your admin in the office to be there to toss in the trash every day? Remove your firm from junk paper mail by submitting a request to the Direct Marketing Association (DMAChoice) click here for their website and more information. Need another option? Sign your firm up for the USPS Informed Delivery where they scan your mail and send a picture of each piece in your email. This will tell you when and if someone needs to go into the office to retrieve it.

Objection: Communication will suffer if our administrators work remotely. In particular, the phones will come to a halt without admin being there to answer them.

Phones systems and cell phones are not emerging technology. If you rely on someone sitting in your office to forward or connect calls like an operator, please re-evaluate this immediately. Not to be too snarky, but even my 90-year-old Grandma knows how to use a cell phone. If you still want to have a “main” line that people call, try switching to cell phones or exploring VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or a cloud-based phone system, like Nextiva or Zoom Phone. If you are looking for more in-depth information on VoIP, check out this article from U.S. News. Whatever direction you chose, implement it by the end of the month… yes, it is that important.

Objection: What if I need immediate help from a member of the admin team for something? It’s easier to access them if they are at the office.

Using the office paradigm, you most likely would walk up to your administrative staff person’s desk, call them, or find them in the office and ask for their help, right? Being remote is not much different except you are not in the 3-D paradigm. Instead, you are going to “walk up to them” by messaging them on Teams or calling them on your firm’s new remote office phone system or cell phone. By agreeing to clear accessibility and response time guidelines, which my partner Tamera Loerzel explained in detail here, your administrators can be as accessible and responsive – or even more relatable –  as they have been when in person.

Objection: How will we train our administrators if they aren’t in the office?

This is a very common remote work objection for all roles, not just administrative. You can train and develop others remotely the same way you train other staff – by holding video calls, sharing screens and asking a lot of questions to test for understanding and uncover any areas that need more work. Don’t forget to record the training sessions using your online platform, so those being trained can access the recordings at a later date to reference. Then, set up regular check-in times with your trainees to answer any questions that come up. If you need more strategies on remote onboarding, read my partner Renee Moelder’s recent article All Aboard! 15 Principles for Getting Remote Hires up to Speed.

Objection: Our administrative people use copiers, binding and assembly machines and other equipment that is only available in the office.

Remember our earlier discussion of the need to go paperless, or truly digital. A lot of the office equipment found in your offices pertain to paper-based deliverables that should be phased out over time. Clients can access their tax returns via an online portal, so paper-based assembly should be happening less and less as partners and managers reset client expectations around the “new normal” where things are mainly paperless. Reliance on these expensive office machines should be quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Objection: Some of our administrative people seem to struggle with change and/or technology. So how do we make it work for them?

If an admin is unwilling to change or exhibits behavior that is blocking an important initiative within your firm, this isn’t really a remote work challenge, it is a behavioral problem. And, if members of your admin team are unable to keep up with changing technology, it may be time to make some team trades. While we want to be loyal to our people, they have to keep upskilling and reskilling to ensure they can keep pace with the technology and other changes needed to remain competitive.

In the ConvergenceCoaching®, LLC 2020 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey, Kathy Sealman, the HR Director of Richey May & Co., LLP, noted, “Pre-COVID, we weren’t convinced that Admin staff could work remotely. But we have been pleasantly surprised by how effective and efficient they can be working outside the office.” And, we 100% agree. Your admin team can be effective remotely when you let go of your traditional 3-Dimensional paradigm and reimagine your business processes, fully deploy digital technology and trust your people to rise to the occasion. I hope you’ll empower them to make it happen.

Emily

P.S. Do you have an objection I didn’t address above? Comment below or email us at info@convergencecoaching.com. We’d love to address them!