What is an office manager? Key duties, responsibilities, and skills for the role
The office manager is an important yet misunderstood role. They wear many hats, and they’re the ones putting out (figurative, hopefully) fires at the office on a daily basis!
But much of the office manager’s work is behind the scenes, which leads to confusion about their exact responsibilities.
If you want to hire an office manager but aren’t sure how to define the role or which skills to look for, then keep reading. This article will dive into the role, responsibilities, and skills needed to succeed in this position.
What is an office manager?
As their title suggests, office managers are in charge of the physical work space. That means they strive for a pleasant office environment, but their top priority is making it a safe and healthy place for employees to work.
In parallel, their other main responsibility is to assist with managing the company’s administrative and operational affairs. They ensure that day-to-day operations run smoothly.
Office managers fulfill a critical role in the company. Now that businesses have started to embrace hybrid work models, many companies rely on them to keep the office an inviting and stimulating work environment.
There’s no single definition of office manager. In fact, they could also be called:
Chief Happiness Officer
Office happiness manager
Before we dive into the details, keep in mind that this article will cover general concepts of office management, but it’s not an exhaustive list of all the potential responsibilities that come with the role.
The office manager’s role and responsibilities
The office manager’s overall duties vary depending on the company. But no matter the company, the person in this role must be familiar with local labor laws and regulations or legal requirements that relate to the workplace. This is non-negotiable.
Small companies rely on office managers for just about everything, whereas large companies can hire a team of office administrators who each have their own distinct scope within office management. Sometimes they only have administrative duties, and other times admin is just one small part of their to-do list.
Their responsibilities can be broken down into two categories: hard services and soft services.
Hard services: building maintenance, security, offices, desks, phones, equipment, chairs, building rent, employee safety, anything that is technical.
Soft services: snacks, events, catering, office furniture, decorations, anything that’s not technical.
Let’s examine the role of the office manager, from small startup to huge multinational.
Office manager responsibilities - small companies
At new companies or startups, the office manager is often one of the first employees hired. When there are no Finance or Human Resources teams, the office manager takes care of tasks related to these departments.
In these cases, the office manager handles much more than just the physical office space. They perform a mix of hard and soft duties such as:
In the absence of a full finance department, it makes sense that the person in charge of administration, the office manager, would take care of payroll.
Many opt for payroll software to stay organized. Payroll can get complicated quickly, especially with tax laws that change yearly. Using an automated payroll solution or software will help manage this time-consuming and laborious task.
HR duties also fall within the office manager’s scope at small companies. This could mean hiring responsibilities, such as filtering job applications before handing them off to the relevant manager, or welcoming new hires on their first day and organizing their onboarding.
Just like for payroll, using software or online HR solutions helps save time. Or, they can outsource human resources. A good office manager will know when it’s time to call for backup.
In very small companies, or before a growing startup hires any dedicated finance team members, the office manager usually handles company financials. This could include accounts payable, bookkeeping, and general accounting. They also often work with an outside provider for tax or FP&A needs.
And because they’re typically not a trained finance or accounting expert, companies may hire a fractional CFO to take care of high-level duties.
Finally, the office manager manages the office space.
Maintaining a good relationship and regular communication with the building owner, finding and negotiating with providers and contractors, overseeing any installations or renovations, buying and replacing equipment, scheduling routine maintenance, complying with health and labor laws…the list is long. Office managers are tasked with managing pretty much everything that has to do with the office environment.
Office manager responsibilities – medium-sized companies
At medium-sized companies, office managers’ duties revolve much more around the physical office space, because HR and finance tasks are handled by dedicated teams who are experts in their fields.
Nevertheless, they still have plenty to do. Their duties could include (but aren’t limited to):
Booking meetings and handling scheduling (internal and external)
Welcoming visitors/organizing visits
Putting on in-office events (parties, all hands, internal team building events)
Handling all mailing, shipping, packages, and deliveries
Ordering and maintaining office supplies: desks, chairs, pens, computers, large and small equipment
Providing administrative support when needed
Onboarding new employees, ensuring smooth IT setup
Managing the facilities: dealing with maintenance and building management, decorating, finding and negotiating with contractors and suppliers, managing contracts and monthly bills
There’s definitely overlap between the office manager’s duties at small and medium-sized companies. But as we’ll see, the scope gets narrower at large companies.
Office manager responsibilities - large companies
At the biggest companies, there are several office or facility managers per office. Each person is dedicated to just one domain within the “hard” or “soft” categories. It’s less likely that an office manager at a large company will handle administrative duties that are not directly related to the office itself.
And while it sounds easier to be dedicated to just one type of service, that’s not the case. The bigger the company, the larger the offices, and the more space there is to manage. Plus, more employees! With these larger offices come bigger budgets and bigger projects.
Top skills for office managers
As you can see, office management can mean different things depending on the company. But there are common threads that unite all variations of this role, and certain skills that will help candidates succeed.
So what skills should you look for in an office manager?
Late delivery? Surprise leak in the ceiling? An overflowing toilet? Office managers must be excellent problem solvers who can adapt quickly to the surprises that inevitably pop up throughout the day. Adaptability is key!
What makes the office manager role exciting is also what makes it challenging – no two days are alike and it’s almost impossible to predict what the day may bring. Someone who can adapt to changing situations will be well suited for this role.
When those aforementioned surprises arrive, the office manager should be able to effectively communicate any changes in plan. Whether via Slack or email, or old school methods like posting notices on a door or community board, they must clearly communicate the issue.
Messages shouldn’t leave employees scratching their heads. Simple, plain language is key, and it’s best to avoid euphemisms or professional lingo that’s not accessible to everyone.
Communication needs to include all the relevant information while remaining concise. People are busy and don’t want to read a novel; the message should get to the point quickly.
Often, the office manager works with many people across the company, but is a one-person department themselves. This means that they’re responsible for making decisions and working autonomously.
Proactivity and autonomy go hand in hand; office managers can’t wait around for things to happen. Rather, they must think ahead and be proactive about anticipating problems and their eventual solutions. Oftentimes, this must be done without the support of a full team, so office managers have to be confident and autonomous in their decision making.
Office managers deal with money…a lot. Yet their role doesn’t call for them to be perfect finance experts or CFOs either. Even if they’re handling payroll and some light finance work, budgeting doesn’t always come naturally.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that they stay on budget is to use a free budget template, like the one we have at Spendesk. (We also have a version for Notion users.) It’s much easier to plan for the month and achieve objectives if they have full visibility over their office budget.
Find the office manager skills your company needs
Office managers keep the office, and therefore the company, running smoothly. Excellent office management makes all the difference in internal employee life.
If you want to hire an effective office manager, then make sure your job posting and recruitment process emphasizes candidates who are adaptable, autonomous, good communicators, and able to manage a budget. If they fulfill this criteria, then you’ve already got a great foundation to build upon.