Office management is generally described as organizing and administering the auxiliary, day-to-day chores of the front office—chores that are often the responsibility of an office manager. Possible duties of an office manager include ordering and purchase approval of office supplies and services, hiring and supervision of front office workers, handling customer service, managing accounting functions, and analyzing sales—but office management can be virtually anything the company owner wants it to be. According to chief executive officers responding to a survey from Inc. magazine, good office management and office managers are the grease that keep the wheels of business rolling smoothly. In a similar vein, an author in Medical Economics magazine wrote that the main function of an office manager of a medical practice is to "free you [the doctor] from hassles and let you concentrate on medicine."
There is no traceable history of office management. The job of "office manager" is generally found in smaller companies where the owner depends on a single person who performs a variety of tasks to keep the office functioning. As a company grows into a corporation, office managers seem to disappear, while other departments such as purchasing and human resources expand. The office manager is usually not considered to be a member of the management team. She or he probably would not participate in management strategy sessions on how to increase sales, but would participate in sessions on how to cut operating expenses.
In the area of supplies and services, an office manager is usually responsible for buying short-term supplies such as photocopy paper, envelopes, and letterhead, longer-term purchases such as telephone systems, and other ongoing necessities such as making sure the postal meter has enough postage. This person usually handles the company's service purchases, such as long distance telephone service and photocopier service agreements. Ideally, office managers will be given the authority to accept bids and negotiate contracts so that they may tell salespeople that they make the decisions. Office managers must also be savvy enough to recognize fraudulent business practices.
Another responsibility of office managers is staffing. They will recruit, interview, and hire employees for the office. Office managers need to know how to select the right people and train them. For example, the telephone receptionist will need to be skilled in telephone etiquette and customer service.
Office managers sometimes take on the role of monitoring customer service. They may listen to calls, or answer the phone themselves. They may also ask the customers directly how the company is doing in this area. They then report their findings to the company owner on a regular basis. They also know enough to turn over particularly thorny problems to the company owner immediately so faithful customers do not become angry if they think the company owner is ignoring them and passing them off to an office manager. The key to being successful as a customer service manager is to convince customers that all collected information—good and bad—will go directly to the president for review.
Accounting functions are often handled by office managers, provided they have some background in handling money, or can be trained to do so. They may keep track of accounts payable and accounts receivable, assign vendor bills to be paid during specific weeks, prepare outgoing bills as customer orders or jobs are finished, and control the company's petty cash. Many office managers are reluctant to actually sign checks, however, as that could make them appear to be a link in the chain of financial liability if the company were to run into financial problems. Conversely, many owners are reluctant to turn over checkwriting duties to their office managers, fearing for embezzlement. Owners who do charge their office managers with this responsibility typically set a limit on the amount of the checks, based on the company's average daily expenses. Some owners also secure fidelity bond coverage for their office managers; a fidelity bond is purchased from an insurance company and will pay the insured company for money or property lost from the dishonest actions—including embezzlement, forgery, and theft—of its bonded employees.
Office managers also frequently take on the job of time accounting, particularly for small service companies such as advertising agencies or law firms that depend on the billing of time as a source of revenue. The officer manager collects the time sheets from billable employees in order to assign the hours to specific jobs. This task is slowly being replaced by software that automatically tracks and assigns time.
A final possible area of responsibility for office managers is to compile and analyze sales information. This might involve calculating the profitability of the company and specific projects or tracking various expenditures. This knowledge is critical to the performance of a company, but too detailed for the company owner to know off the top of his or her head. An office manager performing these duties must be able to retrieve all the necessary documents and be able to analyze the information.
An office manager position can sometimes lead a person up the corporate ladder without a formal business degree. The experience gained from organizing and running the front office successfully can provide a person with a variety of transferable skills.
[ Clint Johnson ,
updated by David E Salamie ]
Greco, Susan. "What Office Managers Really Do." Inc., January 1992, 114.
"Hiring an Office Manager." American Medical News, 27 January 1992, 9.
Patrick, Alan. "How to Make the Office Work." Management Today, January 1993, 54.
Preston, Susan Harrington. "What a Great Office Manager Can Do for a Small Practice." Medical Economics 75, no. 11 (15 June 1998): 62 + .