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Receptionists – Back in Business

13 Jul 2021

Emma Anglim

Are employers doing enough to ensure that they have adequate reception cover once they start returning to the office? Emma Anglim takes a look at why receptionists could be in short supply.

In the turmoil since March 2020, one thing was clear. Jobs with the highest physical proximity were the ones most likely to be most at risk. From the Covid virus as well as redundancies or restructuring. The role of office receptionist was no exception!

With everyone working from home, there was very little need for a physical presence in buildings. Security, maybe IT or the odd person popping in for more IT equipment but that was the extent of it. Therefore, the role of office receptionist, the go-to-person who directed callers, welcomed visitors, booked meeting rooms and organised deliveries or taxis, essentially became redundant for many organisations. Where possible, those individuals were moved within the company to administrative positions where they could still answer client queries or assisting HR with employee engagement campaigns and social distancing guidelines in those areas where a physical presence was required by some staff. But by and large, there were no requirements for an office receptionist and companies were keen to cut costs where they could without affecting the day-to-day operations of the business.  However, the recent loosening of restrictions has meant that some companies are back in the office for the summer while the majority of organisations are making solid plans to return to a physical working environment by September of this year. What does this mean for receptionists?

Returning to the office

Planning a return takes time. Employers understand that any return is contingent on government recommendations and restrictions. But they still have to plan for an eventual return so that means either re-structuring or hiring again. That’s where the problem lies. A good receptionist is worth their weight in gold. Quite often they’re the first person from the company that a client interacts with and therefore can be seen as a frontline ambassador. They’re the ones who greet visitors to the premises, direct phone queries, they’re the ones who know where everything is, where the best places to order lunch delivery, what meeting rooms are booked and when. They’re literally the bedrock of the company so when planning a return to the office, they’re a priority for employers to put in place first.

Inherent challenges

The challenge presented by this is that many of those former receptionists have now branched off into other jobs due to necessity, whether with the same company or another. They’ve become accustomed to the flexibility of working from home and don’t necessarily want to go back to working as receptionists particularly when most organisations are planning a hybrid way of working for the initial return. Employers are also looking at costs and may want all their staff in on particular days whereas other companies are flexible on allowing people to choose their days when they’re in the office. The latter will need reception staff 5 days a week and the former only 2 or 3. It still will mean a scramble at the last minute to secure high calibre staff and with many people taking advantage of the summer months to go on staycations, those staff may not be available to interview, putting the ability to have someone in situ in September at risk.

So what’s the solution? We’re advising our clients to start planning now for a September start to ensure that they have cover in place. Employers should decide what works best for them; full time cover or hybrid working and then work out the job spec from there so that there are clear parameters when compiling the job spec. We’re constantly being asked about safety guidelines for those returning to the office particularly for those in public-facing roles. Many of our clients have already or are planning on adjusting their reception areas with plexi glass screens, arranging careful scheduling of visitors and deliveries to minimise the amount of people in the reception area at any one time. They have also arranged additional cleaning resources. Virtual training and on-boarding are also in place to get any new staff accustomed to systems prior to coming into the office physically. Many companies have taken the time to implement new systems so it’s important for existing staff to be au-fait with the systems before expecting new employees to become familiar with them so that they have additional support in place. These are all things to consider when bringing in new reception staff. We would also advise clients to listen to feedback from their reception and office support staff on how their Covid measures are working on as they’re often the ones dealing with any problems.

That said, hiring a receptionist post Covid times is very similar to pre-Covid times. Employers need to be very aware of both soft and technical skills needed when interviewing. A reception post isn’t the “easy role” that some people may think it is. It takes a myriad of skills including being technically proficient in the standard MS Office Suite including MS Word and Excel. They also need to have great communication skills as they’re dealing with multiple visitors to the office as well as constant phone calls.   They also need to have a genuine interest in the organisation, know the people as well as the culture. Great receptionists know the company inside out!

 

Emma Anglim is the Commercial Director of Brightwater’s Business Support division, placing office support staff (including receptionists) into roles on a temporary, contract or permanent basis. If you need assistance on hiring a receptionist or indeed are looking to make a career move, contact Emma on Linked In or by email