Who will answer the bell?
September 16, 2010 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Need help with administrative staff reception duties during receptionist's lunch hour.

We have 5 girls total in our office that handle administrative work. One of the girls is the receptionist and when she leaves for her hour lunch, each girl is scheduled to answer the phones during that absense on a specific day. The phone will ring in everybody's office and the girl scheduled for that day will answer it in her office. The problem is no one is manning the front desk and the solution so far has been that one of the two girls closest to the front desk run up there when the reception bell is rung. This is causing resentment because two girls have to man the front desk, while the two other girls are oblvious.

One solution that has been suggested is to have each girl sit up at the front desk for the lunch hour during their scheduled day to answer the phones. This is pretty much a wasted hour for the girl sitting there since she can't use the computer, do any real work.

We need an alternative solution. Should the two closest girls just suck it up? Or is there something no one has come up with?

posted by TLCplz to Work & Money (26 answers total)
Why can't the person covering the front desk use the computer? At our company, the IT department set up the reception desk so that the back-up receptionist can log in to her own account.
posted by something something at 8:03 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yup, fix it so that the person at the front desk can use the computer.
posted by emilyw at 8:04 AM on September 16, 2010

Every place I have ever worked - and I've temped on and off for about 10 years so I've worked at a lot of places - has used the "other workers cover the front desk on a rotating schedule during the receptionist's lunch hour" method. 9 times out of 10 the front desk is busy, so it's not like the replacement isn't doing any "real work." Even if it's not busy, is that one hour once a week of "wasted" time so horrible? Let the poor "girl" read a book.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

I am a receptionist. While I almost never actually take a lunch, when I do, either someone sits at my desk (computers are set up so anyone with a user name and password can log on) or I put a little sign up that says "If you need assistance please see NAME." Then there are directions to that person's office. We rotate so everyone can have the same amount of FUN covering the front.
posted by rachums at 8:11 AM on September 16, 2010

First of all you should probably hire adults and not children to staff your office. (Oh they're not children? Then don't call them "girls"). Create a financial incentive to staff the front desk - maybe the equivalent to 1 hour at their normal pay rate?
posted by fermezporte at 8:17 AM on September 16, 2010 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: lol sorry about the "girl" issue. I am one of the girls so it just came out that way. We've been asked by management to come up with a solution. There is a meeting tomorrow and I was hoping to wow everyone with a brilliant alternative.
posted by TLCplz at 8:21 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Either fix it so the woman at the front desk can use the computer, or allow that person to read or do work that doesn't require a computer, etc.
posted by elpea at 8:21 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

On preview, oh I see.
posted by elpea at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2010

The alternative solution is to see the business of having a receptionist as a paid by the hour thing. The resentment comes from the inequality of the system and the sense that someone has to give up their free time for the company.

I.e., you organise the rota for whichever group of people you have to do it. And you pay them an hour's additional wage to man reception and for giving up their lunch hour.

Or if cash is tight but labor less so, you organise it so that whoever does the hour's stint on reception does an hour's less work that day.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:35 AM on September 16, 2010

The easiest way to solve this is to set up the front desk computer so that all the administrative staff can use it -- give everyone an account, or connect it to whatever centralized user management system you may have. If there's no computer there, is there a spare one IT can set up? Or maybe if there's a laptop people take on the road that you can use for the hour?

If none of that is possible, would you be able to work out an agreement such that everyone promises to bring in a lunch one day a week and then eats it while minding the front desk? In return, they would get to leave an hour early or take an extra-long lunch on another day or whatever. Whether this is acceptable depends heavily on your office culture - at the last place I worked, this would be perfectly fine (and was what they did occasionally), but I know a lot of offices would find this highly unprofessional.

Or you could put up a sign saying "Closed 12 - 1 for lunch. See XX in office YY if you require immediate assistance. Thanks!"
posted by wsp at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2010

We have exactly the same situation here at Big PharmaCo, so I think I maybe able to answer this for you. Of course, it all depends on how cohesive your admin team is. Ours tends to operate with the understanding that we all pitch in, so YMMV depending on the admin team (and office politics / drama) in question.

Our receptionist and the HR manager organise and send us a quarterly spreadsheet every quarter that outlines everyone's lunch backup duty schedule. They work it around our vacations - oh, right, we all keep the admin shared calendar on Outlook updated with our out of office / busy days as well. No one resents this, it's just part of our job.

When the quarterly schedule comes out, each individual is responsible for trading out for any meetings / offsite days we happen to be scheduled on for lunch. If we call in sick on a day we're booked for lunch duty, it's our responsibility to let the HR manager know. Stuff gets traded around, and we let the receptionist know who's her backup for that day. We also fill in for random odd breaks (days that HR goes out to lunch, etc...) on a first come, first served basis. Our HR manager mediates any conflicts that arise, but they really don't tend to come up all that often.

No one is exempt or "too important" to fill in, either, that's just bullshit. Everyone's busy, and everyone can take one hour out of a day to back up the front desk, unless we are just physically not there. We have 9 admin staff onsite, and even the 2 of us who are Executive Admins do lunch duty.

This is all subject to the understanding that the receptionist is part of HR, so the HR admin is the first responder for any conflicts or backup duties that can't be otherwise filled. If no one is available, the HR manager fills in, or they get a temp to come in and back us up. Which sounds kind of silly on the face of it, but remember this is a fairly big site, so we have a pair of temp clerical staff who are always on call at Kelly Services for stuff like this and the random odd data entry / filing job too, so *shrug*.

It works well here. Our temp clerical staff both happen to be admin retirees from the site who don't mind filling in on odd days, so maybe we just have a completely optimal situation but it does really run smoothly.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:46 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

My office has a weekly rotation to cover the front desk receptionist for lunch. We can use our own login for that computer, do work that doesn't require a computer, or choose to read books or magazines (or if you're me, screw around on my iPhone).

It's kind of boring and it wreaks havoc with the rest of my day, but you know what?

I suck it up because all the support staff in the organization have to do it. Teamwork!
posted by elsietheeel at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2010

I once worked in an office that had this problem, and the solution was a rota for all of the junior staff, regardless of department (this was a company receptionist, not a specific department's receptionist). The junior staff member who sat at the desk any given day was given a flex hour -- for a long lunch, a shorter day, a later starting time. Some people saved their flex hours until they could take an entire day off, although that was discouraged. Perhaps that would work with your administrative people.
posted by shamash at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2010

oh and the computer issue for us is a non-issue. The front desk computer is always logged in as "Reception".

I usually either bring down a stack of invoices to review/approve, or a pile of records management stuff to code for scanning, or else read a book on my iPhone if/when the phones aren't busy. There's enough coming and going through our front office that it's a welcome break from being in my office. I actually love it, it means I get to SOCIALIZE! With scientists! and engineers! and smart guys! Or else read and answer the odd crazy phone call. My colleagues always make the same joke that "woah, we must be in serious trouble now if Legal is in charge" when I'm up there (I'm the legal admin).

if you haven't already guessed, I love my job :)
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:54 AM on September 16, 2010

You could also opt for 1:15 lunches 4 days a week instead of a long lunch/leaving an hour early, if management can't afford to "lose" someone for an entire hour at a time.
posted by wsp at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2010

I think this is a framing issue.

First of all, this is an extra job which is shared between everyone in the office. That means it needs to be truly shared: everyone gets their turn at shoveling the same crap.

This means that everyone has to have equal time at the front desk. The two women working closest to the reception desk are getting screwed by your current arrangement, and they know it.

Second of all, you say that the hour is "wasted" if they sit at the reception desk, because they "can't do any work." This is untrue. They ARE doing work. Reception desk work. Which is to say, the same work the receptionist does.

Are they expected to do reception desk work AND their own jobs as well? That's unfair, and a sure recipe for resentment.

My guess is that it's the women themselves who are protesting that "my hour is wasted if I sit at the desk." Rest assured this is just a way of protesting the job that makes it sound like they're really super great employees.

What they're really saying is, "sitting at the reception desk is a crappy job that I feel is beneath me." Frankly, they're not wrong.
posted by ErikaB at 9:13 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

What they're really saying is, "sitting at the reception desk is a crappy job that I feel is beneath me." Frankly, they're not wrong.

Bingo. There will always be resentment because of this. Either everyone needs to share the crap work, or no one should and the reception area should be totally unmanned (i.e., no one jumping up to answer the bell every 10 minutes). Since I'm guessing the latter isn't an option, it sounds like working out a rotating schedule for covering lunch is the best way to go.
posted by pecanpies at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2010

Either your IT department should create another account on that machine (they won't be able to see anything in the other one, don't worry), or you need another pc under the desk and a KVM which is a switch where you press a key or button and the monitor now shows the other pc. They are cheap and easy to use. If all the stuff they need to work is on there own pcs, they can remote desktop to them, it is easy to do, your IT department can help with this.
posted by meepmeow at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2010

Frankly, they're not wrong.

I have a serious and fundamental disagreement with this attitude. Why is being the front desk receptionist, or filling in for them, any more or less of a "job", or more or less of a "crap job", than any other job on our plant site? I know this is maybe not the norm in Corporate America, and I'm not trying to say unicorns fly out our butts or anything, but we do the best we can to try to make the guys who dump chemicals into vats, and the person who answers the phones, feel as needed and vital to their job as the guy who sits in the corner office. No they don't get paid the same, but we have a pretty high level of job satisfaction at our site, so something's going right, and I think it has to do with the fact that we treat people like adults and like their jobs are important ones, no matter what.

I'm dead serious. Those of you who treat front desk duty as a shit job are pulling a class warfare type of job discrimination that is biting you in the ass because the perception then becomes standard that this job is somehow "unworthy" or "beneath your dignity". BULLSHIT. Seriously, fix this sort of crappy classist attitude amongst your staff and you will go a long ways towards having a healthy work environment.

I mean, fuck it, if our senior environmental engineer can man the phones when the receptionist had to take a pee break (and this has happened during a slow day when no one else was around), then by Jove, it's good enough for you.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

Are you asking the other employees to forego their lunches to sit at reception, or are you asking them to take lunch an hour later one day a week? One is reasonable, the other isn't. Get a computer there, and set up a rota that each person will have a late lunch once a week and a second time once a month.
posted by jeather at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2010

Are you asking the other employees to forego their lunches to sit at reception...
if this is the USA we are talking about, then this is technically not a legal option, FWIW.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2010

I agree that they aren't wrong, so long as these two women are required to work this task unequally. if everybody is getting equal time on the front desk then it's completely fair.

The arrangement, as it stands, is unfair to the employees, and they know.

In my view, it's not the job duties, but the division of labor that is 'beneath' these two employees.
posted by bilabial at 2:32 PM on September 16, 2010

In my view, it's not the job duties, but the division of labor that is 'beneath' these two employees.

Right, and if that unfair division of labour is coming about due to the perception that this job is "beneath" others, well then...?

we can take this in recursive circles forever, but in the many places I've worked on various admin teams, the only times front desk assignment has really worked well is in the situations where that crappy "but that's not my job!" attitude isn't ever allowed any traction. It's kind of a chicken-and-egg theme, maybe, but there you go.

IT departments, for what it's worth, generally have the same struggle with help desk backup staffing. Ask me how I know this. No one ever wants to be the peon answering phones. Making it so that it's everyone on the team's responsibility, and having it so that even management understands the job and is willing to chip in if necessary, makes it a lot more palatable, and less of a 'peon' job. Not only will the HR manager back up the receptionist if need be, but our IT director can and will answer the help desk if no one else is around, and moreover, he's capable of actually fixing stuff if he needs to.

That's basically how it works well. Good managers can and should even be happy to do the frontline base level type of tasks in their departments from time to time, if only so that they can make sure these duties are functionoing like they are supposed to.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:00 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

As far as not being able to use the computer at the front desk, would some kind of remote desktop solution (like the Remote Desktop functionality built into recent versions of Windows, or VNC, or one of the many other pieces of software) work so that the person manning the front desk can be "virtually" using their own computer while sitting at the receptionist's computer?
posted by Emanuel at 3:56 PM on September 16, 2010

As a receptionist, I would hate to think that the co-workers who fill in during my lunch are this upset about it! It does help that I take pride in my job and management treats me with respect. I hope that my co-workers are willing to do the same.

If the receptionist helps others with their work, or helps the office-at-large run more smoothly, why shouldn't everyone help the receptionist?
posted by Agatha at 5:22 PM on September 16, 2010

if this is the USA we are talking about, then [foregoing lunches] is technically not a legal option, FWIW.

Not correct, lonefrontranger. Meal periods are not provided for by law in many states, meaning that employees in those states have no legal right to a lunch break.
posted by pecanpies at 6:55 PM on September 16, 2010

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