February 18, 2021

Tips From an Office Manager, Expect the Unexpected

When I first started working at CWG, I had zero knowledge of what takes place in an architecture firm. Words like specifications, addendums, bid doc’s, change orders (just to name a few) had never entered my vocabulary until I started here. At first, that was overwhelming because the design industry is complex and has a lot of small nuances and acronyms. I felt like I didn’t even know the language they were speaking.

Quickly, I realized that my background in medical billing would help me transition into my new role as the Office Manager at CWG. In both worlds, you need to be organized, able to prioritize various tasks and work with multiple levels of management and clientele alike. Since I was comfortable with these skills, I was able to do the basic elements of my job right away while I continued to learn the technicalities of the architecture and design world.

This year marks my 9th year with CWG, and I’m still learning.  Being an Office Manager is an ever-changing multitude of jobs rolled into one. One moment you could be printing specs & drawings and the next creating contracts, processing accounts receivables and payables, working with contractors, owners and clients, or scanning documents. When you walk through the office doors, your day has the potential to be completely different than what you expected, which is why I love my job, it’s never the same.

Even though each day is prone to change, here are five things to expect as an Office Manager in an architecture firm.

  • You are the ringmaster of the circus:

My office could be characterized as the command center where order is maintained. Keeping track of architects, engineers, designers, contractors, and consultants is no small task and it is dependent on effective communication with all team members. The best trick I have is to check in frequently and remain flexible, but firm. Some creative people can struggle with timelines and deadlines, so I discuss “to-dos” with the team often to make sure nothing gets missed.

  • You will be the face (or voice) of the office:

I am the first point of contact when the phone rings or someone walks in the door, so it’s up to me to make a good first impression. Whether its a prospective client or a client we’ve worked with for decades, it’s my job to make sure they feel welcome, taken care of, and are connected with the person who can best assist them.

  • You become a “Type A” organizer:

The list of supplies and tools our team needs to get their job done is ever-evolving. I make sure that all supplies are kept in stock and stored in appropriate areas so that staff can easily access them. I label the storage cabinets, so time is saved searching for items needed. Every week I check in on the inventory regularly to stay on top of things that need to be replenished.

  • Your brain becomes a large filing cabinet:

One main function of my job is keeping a database of all past and present projects. CWG has been in business for 60+ years and we have thousands of projects that I keep track of. Detailed record keeping is important because a firm could be held liable if there are any defects in the building for over a decade after substantial completion of the project. We also use past projects to win new work, so it’s important that we can easily access information like cost, size, and general project information from completed jobs.

If you’re curious, here are the details of this process: Every new project that comes in our door must be assigned a unique project number, have a project folder created on our network, and be set up in our primary billing software. Once a project is complete, I take the necessary steps to ensure that each principal and project manager have placed all appropriate project information into the project folder (this is easier said than done). This includes everything from Construction Documents down to emails about the project. Then I work to electronically archive the project as well as all hard copy materials. After this is done, each box is given a number for identification and logged into my storage list.

  • It’s not just answering the phone and making copies:

As an Office Manager, you must be willing to learn new things and improve upon existing skills. I remember when I first started, one of the first things I had to do was help write proposals for new work, in the architecture world these are called RFQ’s, RFP’s, 330’s, and 115’s. In my previous employment, I had never had to something of this nature and it was one of the more challenging tasks I had to learn. This is just one example of the type of thing that may be thrown at you. With a lot of hard work and a little patience, I can now navigate these proposals relatively easily.

When I first started, I was so nervous, but I learned quickly that hard word work, willingness to learn, and asking a lot of questions goes a long way.  If my time at CWG has taught me anything, it is that organization, flexibility, and communication are arguably the most needed skills in an architecture office. Whether you’re an Office Manager, Architect, Interior Designer, or Engineer, these skills will help you be more successful in your position. To me, being organized means having a system in place to keep track of the day-to-day operations and information that flows thru the office with the flexibility to adjust to the daily changes.  It is this diversity in the job that keeps it interesting, and I have to say it is a job that has allowed me to learn so much about a field that I might never have known about had I not taken a chance in getting out of my comfort zone.

Naomi Pocklington, CWG Architecture Office Manager