Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Receptionists: Just Another Budgetary Item To Cut

DOES A KEY CARD READER SMILE AT YOU?The next casualty of the recession: Receptionists, who are, as one expert quoted by the Wall Street Journal says, a "a nonproductive use of a person." (That the person who proffered said opinion is a management consultant resulted in me making one of those laugh-cry-sneeze sounds.)

Not only does the the lack of a receptionist mean the demolition of yet another rung on the entry level of the corporate world's ladder, it can cause some awkwardness on the part of visitors.

Yet, in a still-sputtering economy, and within a modernizing work culture that increasingly eschews the more hierarchical elements of traditional office life, employing a full-time receptionist whose sole job is to greet visitors and answer phones in a reception area that can cost more than $50 per square foot per year is going the way of two-window offices and three-martini lunches.

That means more workers are using key cards to enter their company's office space, and more hapless visitors, once greeted with a warm smile and beverage offers, now having to announce themselves over sometimes bewildering phone or intercom systems.

But those "hapless" types will just have to deal! Social Darwinism, baby! After all, just look at what the management consultant who tsk-tsked "nonproductive" workers reaped when he fired his front-office person!

Before moving to 1540 Broadway, MorrisAnderson had an office near Grand Central Terminal, where Miller employed a full-time receptionist complete with proper reception area. "Quite frankly, for the most part it was wasted space," says Mr. Miller.

Mr. Miller's trade-off saved him at least $10,000 a year. He now relies on a part-time administrative assistant who sits in the bullpen, with a good view of the entrance, and who, in between phone calls and visitors, keeps busy with other tasks.

"The money saved may not seem like a lot, but you know what, it's somebody else's bonus," says Mr. Miller's broker, Robert Stella, of CresaPartners.

Or health insurance for the part-time administrative assist–hahahaha, just kidding.

[Photo via Michael Pujals on Flickr.]

31 Comments / Post A Comment

David Roth (#4,429)

The "More Nimble" tag is brutally accurate. Sob/barf accurate.

BadUncle (#153)

Well before its tumbling slide, Condé Nast began brooming receptionists. Which made meeting with someone there extra awkward. With luck, a security guard might be eating lunch near the elevator, and would be able to call.

Besides, who needs reception areas for virtual (aka "pretend") offices?

Mackenzie Kelly (#8,235)

Just another sign that the boorish louts are taking over.

deepomega (#1,720)

This is very complicated for me! E.g. "That means more workers are using key cards to enter their company's office space, and more hapless visitors, once greeted with a warm smile and beverage offers, now having to announce themselves over sometimes bewildering phone or intercom systems."

Is it… am I supposed to regret that workers are no longer greeted with beverage offers? Because I'm not regretting that.

djfreshie (#875)

@Deepomega (and @DMcK below):
Totally agree. I've never worked for a company that hired a genuine 100% receptionist-receptionist. It's always just another employee with a special mix of decent-to-high good looks, and spare time. Or Receptionist = Office administrator. I can't imagine a situation where you couldn't find someone else to work the door. Is there someone that stares at a computer all day and doesn't need to make phone calls often? Pay them extra to sit at reception. Nobody needs a drink upon entry to an office unless you are trying to sell them your services, in which case…probably some beverages would help. But not always. Anyways, a little extra to one employee saves paying a full salary and benefits to someone else.

Also, fire your management consultants. Everybody in your employ is a consultant. Ask them to consult for free. Here's some other ideas: probably 50% of your office are capable of graphic design of some kind, and a few are probably really good at it. Stop hiring out of office people. There are always people within any company who can do the stuff you are paying tens of thousands of dollars to handle outside of the office. It is ridiculous. Stop asking outside people to tell you what is wrong with your company when everyone on the inside have years of experience working directly with the things that are wrong with your company. That is what employees are for. They do stuff for you and you pay them. Why is it so hard to realize that paying non-employees for anything (unless utterly necessary) is a waste of money right from the get go.

Anyways, fuck receptionists.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

ARRRRGH! Those people are not capable of graphic design, they are capable of using Papyrus pasting gifs into Word and horizontally scaling text! In other words they are capable of UNSPEAKABLE EVIL.

ImThraxx (#6,661)

I'm with DoctorDisaster on the graphic design thing. Unless you work for like an ad agency or something, the people on your staff are not very good.

Also, on the topic of consultants vs employees, consultants are very useful when the question at hand is "how many employees should we fire and also which ones."

Traditionally, employees are not very good at answering that question. But maybe things are different where you work!

djfreshie (#875)

Some I agree, are complete bunk. But there will be at least one or two, even in a small company, who have done professional design before. Also, I have seen some of the worst designed garbage come from outside hires. We once hired an outside firm to rebrand our company and rename it and they gave us the WORST ideas ever. The worst. Everything ended up (including our awesome new logo) coming from in-house. There are employees, I promise you. Totally agree that you will have a lot of people say "I design" and they give you 7 different colours of comic sans. Fair enough! But that is why you ask to see examples.

Also, I beg to differ. It is my experience that outside consultants know nothing of motivation and productivity within the company. We know that no employee is going to suggest that they, or their friendlier coworkers, are easily shed. But is it really that hard to run a critical assessment of the company or department you run/manage?

LondonLee (#922)

Christ, even some of the actual designers where I work don't know how to design well.

scrooge (#2,697)

I guess the Doc is a consultant graphic designer?

JHenryWaugh (#212)

Anyways, fuck receptionists.


DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

yes fine full disclosure i'm a designer who is also underemployed.

I can agree that it's the sort of thing that cuts both ways. I have worked with people who had good instincts but no experience with the tools, and I have been stepped all over by people who claimed to be design experts but displayed the worst taste imaginable.

Asking an existing employee to do your design can work if you're lucky, but it's risky. And if you care at all about avoiding office drama, be prepared for inexperienced designers to get psychotically invested in the stuff they come up with.

djfreshie (#875)

Fully agree with all of the directly above. But we're talking about businesses cutting costs specifically, and when it comes to cutting costs… it is always easier than everyone imagines it would be. (And also, for a company to hire an employee as designer without seeing some examples/credentials first…well, that's a bad idea and they deserve the Papyrus.) But it's certainly the same risk to have your accountant who's been designing band logos, posters, and T-shirts since high school, or the marketing assistant who took design classes in college… design firms have experience dealing with clients, true, but employees have experience being employees, and you're their boss. And they work where you work.

Obviously, if there's no need to cut costs, hire anyone you want! Research a good designer and totally hire them. A very good freelance designer might be a million times better than your assistant.

But a lot of business go to big firms, and a lot of those firms' employees are barely more experienced than someone who's been doing design work in their spare time for years. And you'd be surprised how many people do design work in their spare time, especially the Millenials. It's most!

djfreshie (#875)

I don't know how I got from receptionists to designers…I think my point is that if businesses are trying to cut costs, the solution I have rarely seen in my short life, but that I'm starting to see more often and that works phenomenally, is hiring employees to be more than one thing. You don't need receptionists, you need someone to work reception. Instead of hiring people to do things that do not make up a full day's work, 5 days a week, until forever, hire people in the company to do that stuff and pay them more…but less than it costs to pay a brand new employee to work 30% of the day on one project that will be done on Wednesday anyways and the next project doesn't come til next Monday. It's cheaper to pay one person to do more, than to pay two people to do less.

DMcK (#5,027)

I sincerely hate to be the "contrarian"/"Devil's advocate"/asshole here, but at least for smaller businesses (such as the one I work for) this kind of thing makes a good deal of sense. We didn't need no management consultant to figure it out, neither. (And nobody got fired: she quit and we just decided not to re-hire.)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

That punchline is a real kicker.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

It's not a mixed metaphor; it's mixed martial arts.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Have you been saving that one? Because I LOVE IT!

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Nope, spontaneous!

HiredGoons (#603)

"modernizing work culture that increasingly eschews the more hierarchical elements of traditional office"

Pretty much THIS.

Baboleen (#1,430)

The last company I ever worked for with a full-time receptionist was way back in the 80's at Prime Computer's Corporate Headquarters. It was a huge building, and the receptionist was also the operator. A person walking into the building definately would need direction. She earned her pay.

deepomega (#1,720)

To compare, we have a receptionist at our 20 person company. Our current one is now half office manager ever since our office manager quit, but before that it was just phones and saying hi to visitors. Our office is half of one floor. No directions needed.

scrooge (#2,697)

I guess you could just have the meatspace equivalent of those phone menus. "If you know the name of the party you are visiting…"

or a Minority Report retina reader.

I have two windows! Small ones…

With bars on them…

But still!

fabulousrobots (#4,880)

God, at my last job we had two receptionists, both well over retirement age and neither did anything. My coworkers and I covered their lunches, which ended up being sitting for 1-2 hours and helping one crazy homeless person who tried to apply for jobs on our lobby computers. One of the women didn't even answer the phone! SHE WAS THE RECEPTIONIST.

seentwagg (#8,810)

Having just spent the last month as a temp receptionist, it seemed like the best solution all around for everyone. I mostly handled the phones, calenders and light office work in exchange for a small but decent hourly wage that constituted my first paying job in NYC. Now that I've got some cash in my pocket i'm ready to move on, and i'm sure they'll be another newbie to fill my spot as soon as i'm gone.

Baboleen (#1,430)

Part of me feels that the receptionist is a job that is gone by way of the switchboard operator. A bygone era.

City_Dater (#2,500)

Every place I've ever worked that had a receptionist, greeting people and covering the main phone lines was the least of her job. It's been pretty rare for a long time to have someone just ride a reception desk with no other duties/skills.
Further proof that the Wall Street Journal and its readership recently arrived here from the 1950s.

That was an interesting blog post. I have read a few similar post about how open source has helped an IT career.

Dissertation Proposal

That was an interesting blog post. I have read a few similar post about how open source has helped an IT career.

Dissertation Proposal

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