Hear from a Peer: Admins Share Their Tips for Managing Coworkers

April 12, 2017

There’s just one downside of being that person in the office who knows how everything works and where everyone is: Questions and requests can come at you all day, disrupting your flow and distracting you from urgent tasks. We asked office admins on the Staples Business Advantage InsidersNetwork the following:

How do you stay on task when you’re constantly asked for help?

Erin, sales assistant: “Set some ground rules.”

Erin, who works at a financial advisory firm, says coworkers used to swing by her desk whenever they needed anything — and if she was busy or on the phone, they’d linger until she was free. It was distracting for her and inefficient for them, so she asked coworkers to submit requests via email or drop them in a dedicated inbox on her desk. Gradually, coworkers got used to her system. Now she’s able to better organize both her colleagues’ demands and her time.  

Katie, administrative assistant: “Practice the art of deflection.”

“You’re there to support your team members — but that doesn’t mean you have to be the office ‘Google,’” says Katie, who’s on staff at a university.

Coworkers naturally come to you with questions (“How do I change the ink in my printer?” “Who’s our contact at Acme?”). If you always drop what you’re doing to solve their problems, you’ll never get through your to-do list, Katie notes.

Of course you should help when the request is in your wheelhouse, she says, but suggesting another resource — such as the IT specialist, for instance — can keep you from getting pulled into tasks that aren’t part of your job. The key to pulling this off and preserving your team player status is to make your response polite and helpful, as in “You know who’s the real expert on this? Tom.”

Diana, HR assistant: “Use the opportunity to connect.”

Spontaneous conversations with coworkers can actually help you keep on top of what’s happening in the office, says Diana, who works in human services agency. When someone swings by to make a request — or even to casually chat — take the opportunity to ask whether the breakroom is running low on coffee or if the deadline on that office-wide project has changed again. You’ll quickly figure out who’s in the know about issues you may want to get ahead of. Find the balance of coworker interaction that works for you, she says, and welcome the chance to catch up.

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