Swap Jobs with Your Receptionist

It’s my belief that you can’t truly understand your business unless you’ve experienced it from the ground up. While you may pore over profit-and-loss statements, immerse yourself in the interview process, and personally lead the sales and marketing efforts, you haven’t done a damn thing if you haven’t worked at your reception desk for a full day.

I’ve been job swapping with my employees for several years now and have spent full days as a junior account executive and as an account executive in our New York, London, and San Francisco offices. My experiences gave me a first-hand, bird’s-eye view perspective of what life was like as a Millennial working in a fast-paced public relations firm (as well as enabling me to make some systemic improvements that streamlined processes and made my employees’ overall workplace experience a tad more enjoyable).

After living their lives for a day, I was convinced my lower-level account managers worked far harder and endured more stress than I do. But, even their lot seemed easy in comparison to the pressure-cooker life led by our New York receptionist.

Within the first half-hour of sitting in the receptionist’s chair, I felt as if I’d been transported to the inside a Mortal Kombat-type video game. The switchboard phones were ringing off the hook, messengers were coming and going, and clients and prospective clients were sauntering up to my desk and asking to see John Doe or Jane Smith immediately. As all this was going down, I was also being asked to make copies for people, prepare conference rooms for meetings, and clean them up afterwards. I also had to place lunch orders for our executives and re-stock the kitchen with food and drink. It was brutal. Absolutely brutal.

I slowly found my groove and actually began smiling as I cheerily answered the switchboard and said, “Good afternoon, Peppercomm. How may I direct your call?”

But, then, all hell broke loose. Because of a sandwich.

I noticed one lonely unclaimed sandwich lying on my desk. I sent an office-wide e-mail asking that the owner of the BLT on rye please come and collect his or her lunch. No response. Around 2:30 p.m., I decided to have fun and give away the sandwich to the first person who could correctly answer a U.S. presidential trivia question. About 15 minutes after handing over the food to the employee who correctly named William Howard Taft as our nation’s heaviest president, the elevator doors opened and a very upset woman (with a food messenger in tow) stormed up to my reception desk.

“Is this the guy you gave my sandwich to?” she barked at the messenger. “Yes’m,” the browbeaten guy replied. She gave me a steely-eyed look and snapped, “So, where’s my food?” I immediately put two-and-two together and realized that the trivia question winner had no doubt just inhaled it. I profusely apologized, explained that I was temping for the day and would be happy to reimburse the hungry woman for her loss. She was quite gracious, pocketed my money and departed with the thoroughly embarrassed messenger who, she made a point of reminding the crowd that had gathered to witness the melee, had been the actual cause of the mishap.

I committed lots of other minor mistakes during the day, but I also saw, first-hand, what a crucial role the receptionist plays within any organization.

The receptionist is the first person with whom a customer, prospective customer, employee, or prospective employee interacts. The receptionist is also the brand ambassador with every one of your vendors as well as being the de facto, go-to person whenever the chips are down and an extra pair of arms and legs are needed.

Working as Peppercomm’s receptionist for a day gave me a subtle, but crucial, peak under the hood of what it must be like to experience my firm as an outsider. As a result, I’ve become much more aware of treating our receptionist as a full peer (if not superior) and ensuring that he continues to adore his work and represent us in the most positive way possible. I’ve also become much more aware of how mediocre, indifferent, or downright rude other receptionists are (and how their attitudes subsequently shaped my perception of the organization they represented).

So, do yourself a favor. Abandon the comfortable confines of the corner office and slip into the shoes of your receptionist. I guarantee you’ll learn something that will make you a better businessperson and your organization just a tad more attuned to service. Oh, and by the way, your employees will love you for rolling up your sleeves and living life in the trenches, if only for a day.