The In-tray Debate

As a Virtual Assistant I am frequently asked to visit my client’s offices.  Last week, one of my clients had the opportunity to reorganise their home office and wanted to use our admin support services to ensure their office ran efficiently from the start.

We were discussing how the office should be set up and what new equipment they were going to need to ensure they are able to fulfil their own admin support role.  We also discussed their current internal procedures and which procedures need to be enforced, which procedures needed to be amended and tweaked and how to conjure some additional procedures to ensure the business ran smoothly.

It was an interesting discussion as we seemed to spend most to the time discussing how they should use their in trays, the importance an in tray could play in improving their own admin services, which would inevitably lead to improved customer services and communications, one of the business goals for this quarter.

Every small business and Entrepreneur has an element of providing admin service to their client’s, whether it’s keeping records of purchases, sales or financial documentation.  One of the fundamental tools available to help improve the admin support role is to use an in tray.  The top in tray is generally used for work that needs to be completed within a certain number of days.  The middle tray is used for work in the process of being completed that the bottom tray for long term projects.

Our discussion evolved around the use to the top and middle tray.  We discussed what is deemed to be important and what needs to be placed in the top tray for immediate action and what is considered to be in the process of being completed and put in the second tray.  My client argued that, in theory, if you have received some form of correspondence, via the post, email or over the telephone than the task at hand is already in the process of being completed as the person sending the correspondence has already initiated the task/job; so the correspondence needs to be placed in the middle tray.  The top tray would be for any correspondence that they send out and were waiting for a reply.  As they sent out the correspondence the task/job is already important as they wouldn’t send out any information if it wasn’t needed or requested.

The role of a Virtual Assistant can be a tricky one, as you have to gently inform the client that just because they sent out some information it isn’t necessarily important to the recipient.  Although there is some validity in my clients in tray theory, I suggested that just because someone has initiated a task, this doesn’t mean that the task needs to be completed instantly; you need to ascertain the importance of the task to the business goals.

We finally agreed on the principle that ‘the needs of the business should come first’ and if any correspondence is generate or received in the business then the importance of the correspondence would be judge by how the task/job associated with the correspondence would be beneficial to the business and those of the businesses objectives, goals and strategy.

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