Catalyst

Redesigning the role of support functions

Alpana Parida | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on December 31, 2015

Help! There is a flood of e-mail, most of it entirely unnecessary, to deal with daily SHUTTERSTOCK/SANJOIRI

Secretaries need to be trained to manage office life — and mail — in today’s connected age



There was a time when secretaries were taught typing, shorthand and drafting official correspondence. They learnt to maintain appointment diaries and deal with travel agents for booking tickets and hotels. They facilitated management teams and helped the smooth functioning of an organisation.

In our digital times, it is faster to use our phones or laptops to book tickets or update a calendar than it is to remember to give directions to the administrative support staff. More and more managers are managing these functions themselves through apps that help behaviour of instant choices and alternatives available and quick decision-making.

So who is rethinking the role of the secretaries today? What is the new need that needs to be filled?

Everyday, I open my inbox to see an avalanche of e-mails. First, there is the great need of everyone to mark everyone else as CC on all emails. Second, there is a tonne of email selling some service or another, due to unwitting subscriptions to those while navigating some site or making some online purchase. Lastly there is the flood of spam. My most unproductive time is to clean this mailbox out. Everyday. There is a need for a new generation of secretarial schools that teach mail-box sifting, unsubscribing from spam and burying the CC mails.

These could additionally teach basics of connectivity – setting up conference calls both video and audio, setting up multi-time zone meetings, managing miles across airlines and reward points across credit cards, as well as managing online payments. Managing passwords (on non-sensitive websites), managing contact lists across devices and analysing expense statements could be a few other tasks added to this list.

Design thinking is a way of life — and needs to permeate all aspects of our changing worlds. I find that the role of administrative staff has either disappeared or has not kept pace with this changing need. A bright secretary has learnt a lot through his/her initiative. It is time to bring the secretarial schools back.

Published on December 31, 2015
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