An Admin’s Guide to Rebooting during COVID-19

For those of us in Office Management or Administrative positions the thought of getting back into the office can trigger feelings of both joy (yes! finally!) and fear of the unknown (it WILL be different, after all).  For the indefinite future, COVID-19 has radically changed the way our world and our offices operate.  Most offices, no matter their function or industry, have had the advantage of working from home but, eventually, people will be going back to work (except, Twitter apparently) and it is on us admins to make sure it’s done seamlessly. Based on questions posed by my peers in forums and conversations with friends, I’ve gathered some emerging best practices and ideas on how to get your team back to work safely—or, as some have put it, build your “reboot” strategy.   

Below are the thoughts and ideas I’ve picked up in my own research for a harmonious transition back to the office.

Initial deep clean – Prior to return, have a deep clean completed, with a focus on disinfecting.  Depending on your set up, there are a bunch of options for this but your standard cleaning company should be up to speed by now on how to accomplish this for you.  Continue to have deep cleans done weekly for the foreseeable future.  Basic disinfecting procedures should happen daily (surface and high touch areas especially).

Airflow – There is a lot of evidence that keeping the air fresh and moving plays a great part in lower transmission numbers.  When possible keep doors and windows open.  Additionally, you could request that your HVAC systems have their fresh air intake adjusted higher, and filters changed often. Fresh air is also linked to higher productivity, it’s a win-win! 

Ensure that your team knows the plan – Circulate a plan in advance of re-entry with details on how your office re-entry is being conducted to ensure everyone is safe. I personally recommend sending an official plan that must be signed before returning to work.  You can usually do this via a service like Hellosign, or a people operations programs like Bamboo HR.  This ensures that they have read or at the very least acknowledged all of the new rules in place.

Create/purchase signage – Right now people don’t know what to do in most situations that used to be natural to them. The more information and guidance they have, the better.  Set your team up for social distancing success by having posters explaining social distancing rules,  visual markers on the floor around workstations, and elevators to clearly define the amount of safe space recommended.  Arrow markers to suggest how team members are expected to walk in common areas and which entries and exits to use.  Be sure to use wording like “please avoid” and “it’s advisable”) instead of the negative (e.g., words like “do not” or “not allowed”).  This is all very taxing on us humans, the more empathy and positivity you set around your office, the happier your team will be.  People need guidance right now, it’s comforting.  

Have “too many” sanitation areas – Set up hand sanitizer stations or wipes within eyesight from every seat within the office, as well as in major walkway areas, kitchens, elevators, and near conference rooms.  Make sure everyone knows where they are by creating maps. Use only waterless hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes. Have a no gloves rule!

Practice social distancing within the office, where possible – It is recommended by the CDC to ensure that all employees have a proper social distancing (six-foot) distance from each other during the workday. Keeping work-from-home days 100% optional is an obvious way to achieve this outcome.  I would also recommend not requiring anyone that has to use public transportation to come into work.  Another option is to have alternating work-from-home days, enabling everyone to work 1-2 days per week from home. You can do this using a staggered seating chart method, color-code your seating chart for days of the week. Enforce the rule that eating can only take place at your desk. Taping off every other stall in multi-stall bathrooms and cover the urinals with “out of order” signage.  Tape off smaller conference rooms and if you’re employees share desks – do away with that immediately.

Have mask rules – Follow CDC guidelines for face coverings.  When possible, provide employees with an adequate number of face coverings for the week. However, save on costs by recommending they bring their own! Cloth or makeshift masks should be worn during the day, except when eating or drinking or seated at your desk.  Consider providing “Return to Work” kits as a perk. You could include: The new rules, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a branded mask to start the transition back.

Modify your kitchen, beverage, and snack operations –  Think about how many times someone has to touch things in a kitchen area to get a cup of coffee from a Keurig brewer.  I would recommend temporarily discontinuing the use of coffee stations unless you have a one-point touch machine.  All beverages and snacks provided should be individually packaged. Additionally, temporarily discontinuing the use of community dishware/silverware will minimize contact contamination that would happen by opening drawers and cabinets.

Limit visitors –  Having visitors is something that should be under high scrutiny for at least the first 30 days back to work.  Over time loosen the stance, but you’ll keep everyone’s fears at bay by making this a slow transition.  If you don’t already, implement a sign-in sheet that takes the name, phone number, and details of who they are meeting with for each visitor for proper contact tracing.  If someone in your office becomes sick you’ll want to alert your clients, visitors, of a possible transmission immediately..  Only allow visitors access to certain areas of your office/building.  You can make one conference room for visitors only, etc. Are you hiring? Interviews should be 100% virtual.

Try to make “high touch” items, no touch at all – Adopting a hands-free experience in all of these areas is not always possible but ideal.  You can take lids off trash cans or make sure they are auto or are controlled by a foot pedal.  Use antimicrobial or nanoseptic tape covers on door handles in high touch areas. For high-touch shared office supplies (think: whiteboard markers, HDMI cables, etc.) ask that folks take their supplies to their desk and to meetings as needed – like we used to do for classes in high school.

Last but not least, be kind to yourself.  This is hard, this is new territory for every one of us and a lot of us are on the front lines to keep our teams safe.  It’s a ton of responsibility, and your feelings are valid.  Reach out for help if you need it (reach out to me if you don’t know who to talk to!).  Our teams need us, and we can’t be there for them if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first. 

Have more ideas that I didn’t mention?  Drop them in the comments section!

5 Communication Pointers for Administrative Professionals in 2019

Gone are the days of consistent face to face meetings between administrative pros and their managers.  The world of tech has made it incredibly easy to reach out and talk to anyone, at any time, without leaving your seat and while this can have an incredible impact on productivity, the cons cannot be ignored.  It is impossible to know someone’s mood, tone, or demeanor via text or chat or email and as a result, it’s left up to the imagination — which isn’t always a good thing.  

Recently, I challenged myself to learn more about communication styles and approaches — below are tips I learned along the way and have implemented into my daily life.  It didn’t take long for people to notice either. 

  • Exclamation points are loved by Gen Z.  I was trained and educated to believe that exclamation points were aggressive and often misinterpreted as yelling, unless it was at the end of Happy Birthday! Or Merry Christmas! You didn’t use it in business communication.  Well, apparently times have changed! Exclamation points are in!! What was once an aggressive addition to an email is now viewed as “happy”,“cheerful”, and “inviting.” The next time you sincerely “can’t wait” for something, throw some exclamations on it to show your excitement!!!
  • Say Hello before jumping into what it is you’d like to accomplish.  When you physically walk over to someone with the intention to ask them for something, you aren’t just going to walk up and say “stapler,” right? You’re going to say hi first, maybe ask about their day or small talk.  Treat your inbox conversations just as you would a conversation in the real world. Start your chats, IMs, and emails with Hey! Good Morning! Doing so will set the right tone for a helpful interaction vs one where someone might you’re rude or abrasive. 
  • Never assume someone’s intentions. If you are getting the vibe from a digital conversation that the other person is being cold or inflexible, unfortunately it could be your own feelings or imagination getting in the way.  Before reacting, ask the person to hop on a call or walk over and talk to them, if you’re able to. Sometimes this is all you need to do to completely avoid a clash. It’s completely impossible to be 100% sure of someone’s tone without seeing or hearing them.  
  • Don’t just say no to an idea. No one wants to feel like their idea is a bad idea, even if it is one.  If you’re being presented with an idea, project, or task you think may not work out – ask the presenter questions.  “Did we look at this possibility?” “What about this obstacle?” etc. Let the person presenting you with a thought answer these questions without shooting them down.  It may already be flushed out, or you may help them realize some quirks they had overlooked. Either way, no one is going to respond well to the word “no” well if it isn’t presented properly. 
  • Manage your messaging.  Find out as much as you can about how the people you are communicating daily with prefer to be communicated with. How do you find out?  Ask! Identify the kind of information the person likes. Do they want just the facts? Do they prefer anecdotes? Paragraphs? Delivering information in the other person’s preferred style of communication will ALWAYS make your words more effective.

Technology isn’t going anywhere, if anything we should all be prepare for even less physical interaction in business.   Polishing up on digital communication skills should be a priority for all of us in front facing roles.

I hope these tips help you & if you have any that can help me, drop them in the comments!

4 Signs You’re in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship at Work

4 Signs You’re in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship at Work

If you do a quick Google search for abusive relationships you’ll find an abundance of articles on personal relationships – but very few on what it’s like to have an abusive boss, or what to do if you have one, or how to recognize an abusive situation in the workplace.  When people think of abuse in the workplace, typically what comes to mind is sexual harassment, wage discrimination, and things of that nature – but what about emotional abuse? What about bullying? Why are so few people talking about that?  I can only speak for myself when I assume that it’s fear, which I realize now is in an of itself is just an extension of the manipulation.

This blog post has been writing itself in my head for a very long time.  Except, every time I sat down to write it, I backed off because: “what if he reads it?”“what if he knows it’s about him?”“what will he do if he does?”  HOLY CRAP! Right?  In my mind I can see the look my current boss would give me if I had counseled this out with him and asked him if I should write this.  Fact: having a great boss (actually multiple great bosses) is how I realized how truly screwed up this past situation was.

A quote by Anne Lamott has been popping up repeatedly in my brain without instigation, and I can take it only as a sign that I should be writing this right now, because someone else needs to read it – in her book “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life“ she says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

THEY. SHOULD. HAVE. BEHAVED. BETTER! So, here I am.  

Based on my experience, here are 4 signs (of many) you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship at work.

1. Extreme Micromanagement

In my situation this was constant phone calls, needing to know my every move, and needing constant updates and communication. I’m not using the word “constant” lightly.  I once got yelled at for not taking my phone into the bathroom with me.  

Not knowing any better at the time, I thought this must have just been part of being in upper management, so I allowed it to continue and wrote it off as his “caring too much.”  Sounds like an abused girlfriend doesn’t it? The similarities are astounding.

2. Character assassination.

Character assasination is tricky because it’s not always obvious.  It usually involves the word “always.” You’re always late, always wrong, always screwing up, always disagreeable, and so on. Basically, they say you’re not a good person – or in my personal case – I was told there was “something wrong with” me.

Knowing the difference between character assassination and real constructive critisim is crucial, I didn’t – which is why he was able to pass it off as such.  True constructive criticism will include positive and negative comments and is delivered in a friendly manner vs an oppositional one. It is also typically about a certain action you took or something specific you said – and not about you personally.

Not sure what the difference is?  Here is a great, quick read on it.

3. Lack of Empathy/Dismissiveness

Wikipedia defines empathy as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

A good manager cares about you as a human being.  Don’t misunderstand, they do not have to like you, but the core of every good human (especially those leading other humans) should be empathy.  Not to be confused with sympathy.  I am of the firm belief that you cannot be a good leader without this (learned) trait.  

If you go to your manager with your concerns and instead of them hearing you: you are blown off as irritating, the conversation is flipped and you become the problem, or you’re told your concerns are unimportant – it is very likely that your manager lacks empathy, and it is a huge red flag. Eye-rolling, smirking, headshaking, and sighing while you are speaking are all body language cues that convey the same message.

4. Public Embarrassment.

It seemed my abusers favorite place to get under my skin was in a conference room with all glass windows.  Any time we had a meeting in that room, I knew with certainty he was going to make me cry. Anyone that walked by could see that, could read the body language, and since he was a closet asshole – everyone likely assumed I did something wrong (or at the very least, that is what my head told me).    

He would talk about me with our CEO (and others) in an office with the door open so anyone within earshot could hear.  Once, during a conference call with a group chat where he thought I had signed off, one of his best friends said “good the retard is gone” and they lol’d.  When I told him I saw this, he laughed it off – no one got in trouble and I was told it was a joke and I was “too sensitive” and to “lighten up.”

If your boss corrects you, yells at you, speaks down to you or about you in front of other people – IT IS WRONG.  It’s not acceptable and if you’re able to financially, you should just walk out. I wish I could have.

Just like kids in middle school it’s unfortunate that there are no laws that protect employees from bullying.  I know, because I sat in a lawyer’s office trying to figure out if I could afford to leave. I couldn’t.  Additionally, unemployment typically sides with an employee when they are fired, but if they quit it’s rare that they will win those funds – especially if they are going up against a manager who is likely infuriated that they had the balls to leave.  You also have to worry about what this manager will say to anyone who calls for a reference. So, me, a mom with a small child couldn’t afford to walk away from it – and I can only imagine there are millions of people just like me out there.

I can’t tell you how to fix this, but I can tell you what I wish I had done when I was in the thick of it:

  1. Document everything.  Start a journal, send yourself emails (to a personal account).  Managers like this tend to gaslight and make you think you’re crazy.  Keeping documentation of their abuse will keep you sane and confident that you are seeing things clearly.
  2. Seek therapy.  I should have done this sooner.  Some of the first feedback I received in my new job was that I apologized too much and didn’t trust myself enough.  These are both things I didn’t do before the last job and a direct result of the abuse. Talk to someone unconnected to your home or work about what is going on.
  3. Read self growth books (or listen to audio books to and from work).  I only just started doing this and it’s been a game changer.  I absolutely wish I had done it sooner. Not only do I learn things every day but my confidence is impacted in ways I never even considered. The woman I am now would have fought harder.
  4. Don’t let them see you cry. This is probably the most difficult but most of the people doing this to others are doing it from a source of power, insecurity, or even because they are narcissists – who knows.  Either way, if they know they get to you – they become that much more powerful, try your damndest to hold it in until they are out of earshot.
  5. Tell their boss or HR, ASAP (if you’re able to) this wasn’t an option for me but if it is for you, it should definitely be your first stop.  The documentation will be very important for them, and for you to make a case against the manager in question. Document, document, document!

If you’re reading this it is clear you’re going through it or you think you are and I’m sorry – I know how bad it hurts.  My email (linchpinsociety@gmail.com) is yours to use if you need someone to talk to about it.

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