With more than 200 other administrative assistants in her building, Ilja Kraag sees admins working away in their “own little boxes,” independently figuring out how to tackle tasks that an admin at the next desk may have mastered long ago.
“I always feel it’s such a waste to have everyone reinventing the wheel,” she says.
So she decided to share some of her “best practices,” especially for common tasks, such as scheduling meetings.
At Kaiser Permanente, the physicians don’t use online calendars; nurses maintain the schedules.
So when assistants need to schedule meetings that include physicians, they have to work it out by phone or e-mail. “I would get these e-mails saying, ‘Can you give me the availability of your boss within the next two or three weeks?’ I’d think, ‘No, that’s wasted time. There’s a better way.’”
Kraag, who works in the legal department, set up a PowerPoint for Kaiser’s internal web site with the hope of spreading her systematic approach to scheduling meetings:
Don’t skip the basics. Ask when, where and how long the meeting must be, and who must be there and who is optional.
Kraag warns other assistants, “Sometimes you will be asked for the impossible. Learn to speak up if certain time frames are too short. Learn to negotiate. It will improve the quality of your work and lower your stress.”
Stick to a template when sending an e-mail meeting request. Provide the topic, time, place and list of attendees, and then propose possible meeting dates and times.
Kraag usually writes, “Please provide me with several dates and times, so I will not have to bother you more than once.”
Use consistent phrasing in e-mail subject lines. What works for Kraag: “Please read and respond: re AMROG meeting,” “Scheduled: 10/02/09 AMROG meeting,” and “Confirmed: 10/02/09 AMROG meeting.”
“Use the word ‘urgent’ as little as possible,” she says. “Remember, most of us schedule administrative meetings, not surgeries.”
Stroke their egos. Kraag says, “I’ve found that certain e-mail phrases just work better.”
Example: “I often write, ‘If we need to schedule this meeting on a date you are unavailable, would you be willing/able to send a proxy to speak on your behalf?’”
“It gives them an option of saying yes or no. In the beginning, I might have said, ‘This is the day most people could attend.’ It didn’t leave them with any options. You could almost hear them bristle.”
Kraag still receives those requests for her boss’s schedule for the next two or three weeks.
Now, she says, she teaches them right then and there. “I refer them to the internal web site. And most of the time, people are happy,” she says. “It’s not only good for me; it’s also good for them.”
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