How do you deal with enraging inefficiency in your office job?
January 23, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Working in an admin-heavy job, in a company which has no real systems. It's infuriating. How do I deal?

I work in an admin-heavy job, but in a company with no systems. I've tried to get people to adopt e.g. Basecamp so people get shared task lists, can delegate efficiently, so things don't get dropped and so you don't end up spamming everyone on a project with hundreds of status update emails, but no-one's interested.

Anything financial is submitted on paper. The electronic document is printed out so that someone in finance can then type it back into their accounting system... We maintain cost trackers separate from the finance team, so the two often don't reconcile.

With no proper revision control or versioning system, managing document updates a huge pain. Remote workers don't have access to our local drives, so they have to ask someone in the office to email them the documents they need (and we office workers have to save down their documents, which sometimes doesn't happen, which leads to much wailing and gnashing of teeth).

The inefficiency - combined with me being lazy, if I'm honest, and demotivated at having to do so much pointless admin - is driving me mad. Any tips?

It also worries me a little because I wonder if I'm really cut out for an office job. Maybe these things are common to all white-collar desk jobs and I'm not going to fit in anywhere...
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's not common to all white-collar workplaces if that makes you feel any better. It actually seems to be pretty terrible and stuck in the 90's.

Find someone who has actual authority and get that person to help you implement changes.
posted by GuyZero at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you are empowered to change things--or can present changes as a "go getting" act of initiative--do that (e.g., "hey boss, I've figured out a way to increase efficiency by 15% without any new expenditures by ....").

If not, you just have to suck it up. There are inefficiencies everywhere. I work in a big company and I am continually stunned by the hoops I have to go through, like filing a reimbursement request online with accounts payable, and then printing and interofficing a copy of the electronic request to accounts payable to complete the paperwork. Why?!? Well, because.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:09 AM on January 23, 2014

You need to do the heavy lifting for awhile. If you want folks to adopt a new system, you have to be the implementer, the advocate, and the person who runs and maintains that system until they see the light.
posted by xingcat at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Whether or not you can get people to adopt Basecamp or anything else depends entirely on where you are in the management hierarchy. If you're really passionate about this, schedule a meeting and try to sell the idea to your manager. It's unlikely to happen otherwise, unless yours is an exceptionally democratic and collaborative work culture. Your coworkers are extremely unlikely to change their way of doing things unless they have been instructed to do so.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:24 AM on January 23, 2014

Here's the thing. You don't have to buy into the madness.

Only accept requests via the system you designate, only deliver information the same way. If someone gives you a piece of paper, tell them, "I only work with electronic copies, please email it to me."

Set an example.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

This depends on how large your office is. Someone above saying you need to do the heavy lifting is fine when your office is 5 people, but if it's 500 requires a full on project proposal, project manager, executive sponsor, tons of time for implementation, testing, training and troubleshooting for something as basic as paperless workflows in accounting.

If you work at a medium/large company that is that horribly backwards and in no way interested in moving into the modern era, then they're a lost cause. They likely do not have a Project Management Office, don't have a strong IT/Accounting leadership and just... won't get to where a sane company is.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Forgot to add:

I'm one of the hardest workers in my office (it is surprising to me that this is true) while still being an overall lazy person. I demand effective systems and streamlined processes. If something wastes time, then it can be done differently to not waste time or duplicate work. It's literally win-win-win-win for everyone. However, the amount of buy-in necessary and initial effort before you see results reaaaaaally ramps up when you involve software.

I spent the last year of my life doing a high level exec support job and I like to think I'm leaving them with a lot more systemic memory and clean processes for tasks.

I remember early on when I, normally so laid back, finally flipped my shit in the mail room because mailboxes were unlabelled, people had multiple boxes, etc. and it was just a "Well, we know where everything goes." IT WAS MADDENING.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you need somebody to set up an internal network (VPN). There are so many benefits, including access of files from ALL computers, its easier to create back-ups, permissions (accounting and management can see this document, but not HR), and general streamlinedness.
Somebody's computer crashes- its okay! Its all on the network!

A knowledgeable IT person can advocate for changes and understand what exactly is needed to get everybody on board.

Basecamp is good. I like it and have used it. But, remember you are sending ALL your information through a 3rd party. If you have confidentiality issues, trade secrets or whatever, base camp is not a good idea. Same thing goes with using 3rd party e-mail. An internal server fixes those issues.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:55 AM on January 23, 2014

Any chance of getting buy-in from someone higher up the food chain? I know in my office, nobody ever wants to adopt a new system (particularly if technology and a learning curve is involved) and no amount of cajoling or reasoning with individuals or even department managers has helped.

It was only when my boss convinced the CEO of the efficacy and financial value of certain procedures, and he started leaning on the general managers, and they started leaning on the sales managers, who started leaning on the sales reps, and suddenly, miraculously, people started doing what we needed them to do.

Maybe put together a report/presentation for someone high up that demonstrates the value of your ideas to the company's bottom line, rather than focusing on the fact that doing things the stone age way is personally driving you crazy and making your job more difficult.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

How long have you been in your job?

I ask because I am an admin in a place that is, admittedly, kind of a hot mess sometimes. But sometimes, there are reasons why things are done on paper, or in a way that SEEMS less efficient at first, and you don't "get it" unless you've been here for awhile. Also, any department-wide upgrade to new technology is going to require EVERYONE to know how to, and be willing to use it effectively. If even one person higher-up than you is resistant to change, then guess what, everybody is still printing out their reports because that's how the boss wants it.

And I've seen other admins come in, complaining about how dumb "the system" is, but they really just got a reputation for being difficult and petulant. So you definitely don't want to come off as the person who just started a new job and thinks they can Fix The Whole Department.

Also consider that the problem might be workload or inefficient management as a whole. If everyone constantly has way too much stuff on their plate, no one is going to want to or feel like they have time to invest in learning a whole new way to do their job.

If possible, I do find that Google Docs/ Drive is a pretty low-commitment entry into basic file sharing, auto saving, etc. (But even then... people who aren't on board will claim they can't figure out how to sign in, and all manner of other things..)
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

I dealt by cashing my paycheck. :)

I'm with nakedmolerats that there may be reasons, even good reasons, that you don't see for the current system.

I worked in an office a few years ago where many processes were paper-based - turns out that the local power plant supplied irregular current and frequently fried appliances / anything not plugged through a UPS. Likewise, the procurement process was a nightmare - because nepotism had been a huge problem, there were lots of checks and balances.

Contrawise, at another place I worked on a project transferring meeting room scheduling to an online system. There was a terrific amount of effort in the changeover - fighting over who could schedule what, if groups could have "dibs" on rooms, technical issues, groups wanting to opt out. They wound up hiring staff to handle scheduling at one conference center. Tech brings its own problems and requires its own infrastructure.

Attempts to constrain how people request things from you will piss them right off. Email yourself if you have to, start a task tracker, but tread carefully with making demands from people who outrank you.
posted by momus_window at 1:37 PM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

1) Make an appointment to meet with with a supervisor. By making an appointment the person will take you seriously.

2) Detail what you like about your job

3) Explain your desire to make things better (more efficient, productive, reduce costs, increase profitability)

4) Talk about your challenges.

5) Ask what your supervisor would do if he/she were in your situation.

If this doesn't lead to something productive then work on polishing your resume, online profiles, and network. Find a new job and leave with the knowledge that you've given it your best shot to improve things but now it's time to move on and look out for #1.
posted by Paalen at 2:19 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

While uncommon, it's not unknown. I've worked with a few "print all the e-mails" guys, but the separate paper accounts make me suspicious. Could there be very cozy fraud going on here?
posted by scruss at 2:32 PM on January 23, 2014

I've been in your exact position and decided that that role wasn't for me. So my advice to you is to stick it out for about a year doing things for them their way. At the end of that year you will know whether or not you want to rise up in the ranks to become the person who makes process decisions, or whether this is not the role for you. If staying there another year sounds horrifying, well, there's your answer.
posted by bleep at 3:44 PM on January 23, 2014

I think the laziness on your part could be considered a positive. Years ago I supervised 30 or so part time employees who kept their own paper time cards. They were instructed to round to the nearest quarter hour, but many didn't grasp that concept. Every two weeks I had to squint at their sometimes horrible penmanship and do MATH (ugh!) to figure out how long they worked ("So, they clocked in at 10:52 and left at 3:19, that means they worked...uh..."). Then I was supposed sign and date each time card, then flipping PHOTOCOPY both sides of them for my 'records'...which of course I never looked at again. The person who had the job before me had saved years and years of these photocopied time cards, most were for people who no longer worked there.

So of course I was all hell to the no, and I researched a low-price time clock software and convinced my supervisor that it would save time, money and my sanity. I had to fight through a bit of red tape with Payroll, but it wasn't long before they were asking me to demo the software and how I used it. Before long the whole place switched over to a computerized system.

I call that a WIN for laziness!
posted by BeBoth at 9:35 AM on January 27, 2014

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