Does a distributed company need an office manager?

An office manager is an obvious hire for any company. The very definition of an office manager implies that there needs to be an office. Thus if you have one, after reaching a certain size there is no question whether you need a person, who provides day-to-day comfort and maintenance of the working environment. But when it comes to remote or distributed companies, the question is not that easy to answer. And since Atwix is a distributed company with both remote-only and in-office employees, we decided to share our experience with having an office manager, who manages more than just a physical office. This is what we are going to learn from Ksenia, our office manager.

Ksenia, what were your expectations of your future work when you applied for this position?

As it is obvious from the job title, an office manager is responsible of any operational process in the office. While the teams have their own processes and management rules, I was expecting to be in charge of making the office environment comfortable. It is very important to have all equipment ready for work, to make sure that the office infrastructure is working well and to have some special treats in the kitchen for our colleagues. You can’t even imagine the power of a tasty cookie over the productivity of your fellow teammate ;).

Now are your job expectations fulfilled?

Yes! But I can say I didn’t expect that my job would be that broad and interesting. When you start working you always want to do your work well, and you search for new ways and opportunities for improvement. For example, I realized that it is important to have constant communication with the team. When you have lunches together, it is easier to catch the needs and wishes about office and company improvement. This is also very important for remote workers, so I try to also maintain communication with them and incorporate more activities that can bind the team together. We do charity projects, and you can participate even if you are far away. It is very important for maintenance of the company’s culture. Recently I’ve realized that I need to improve my skills and knowledge to be even better at what I do, like deepen my knowledge in psychology. I am sure, my responsibilities will grow with my skills.

How is your role connected with remote workers?

You have to realize that an office for a remote worker may be any imaginable place – from a comfortable home to a lively cafe. But this means that the culture and communication should be maintained across the team no matter of a location. This is why I always try to be helpful to any team member. If his laptop has broken, I will be the first person to react and help with sending him a new device as fast as possible. Thus, the person can focus on work rather than fixing problems with hardware.

I also maintain certain work process documents. For example, I am in charge of keeping track of vacations and days off for all our employees. I come to help when keeping all the documents at one place and up-to-date, making them available for anybody from Atwix to access at any time. Especially, since we are present in multiple locations and countries, we decided to get away from sticking to set national holidays and give an opportunity for anybody to take additional days off at any time, if their team is OK with it. It can get complicated, when nobody is in charge of keeping all information together.

Do you have any responsibilities that are outside the office scope?

Yes, I do. It is very important to maintain good communication among all team members. While it is easy to have a friendly environment when people see each other daily at the office, my role is also to make a connection between cities and countries where our remote employees work. Yes, there is a working communication within a team. I, on the other hand, try to improve informal communication across teams and locations. For example, every Christmas we do a Secret Santa event. Gifts are delivered across borders and the informal connection between employees improves, even if they are far away from each other.

I am also in charge of organizing our annual offsite, where all our employees gather to spend time together. It is the most important event of the year, as it may be the first time you meet your teammate in person and connect with him or her. It is also a great opportunity to give a chance for a team to interact in an unofficial and relaxed atmosphere and learn more about each other. It is a very important team building experience. Last year we had a marvelous experience of joint activities in the mountains. Right now I am in the process of preparing our next offsite. It involves a lot of work and planning. But I can say, it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.

Imagine that there was no office, do you think there would be a need for an office manager?

Perhaps the position would be called differently :) But I am sure it is needed. Especially, when your team is big, many problems or needs arise. And there has to be somebody, who takes care of them. Of course, somebody can volunteer, or everybody would be responsible of solving his own working problems. But I think that a good company should take care of their employees, so that everybody can focus on what he does best. And then somebody like an office manager would take care of equipment, supplies, company events, etc. I believe it contributes a lot to the company’s culture.

While today’s offices are constantly transforming and are no longer cubicles with a lot of noise around, the responsibilities of an office manager are also changing to fit the needs of many companies that benefit from the distributed workforce more and more.