What is work?

Often when speaking with people I notice an interesting phenomena. They will tell you that dealing with paperwork and administration is the real work. They draw a sigh of relief that at last they do not have to do deal with people and can get on with ‘some real work’. I find this difficult to understand.

Many years ago when I was still a banker (yes, I know, it is a bit of an embarrassment) I would spend a couple of days in the office to get some paperwork done and by the end of the first day I would feel really useless. So I would invariably spend the second day on the telephone (this was long before emails) and spend time making appointments. By the third day I was out on the road again seeing customers, prospects, even other bankers. Only then did I feel some work was being done.

How this desire to get on with administration reveals itself very well in the hotel industry. My worst experience was when I arrived at a hotel in London in the late 80s at around 11.30 at night. It took me 45 minutes to check in, as the counter staff spent much time talking to each other, filing paperwork and generally letting the queue of people wait. By the time I checked in I asked for a discount on the phenomenal price of the room as I had lost 12.5% of the time I had available to occupy it. The clerk was not amused, but completed the paperwork diligently.

In the 90s, when the queues at the hotels here remained the same, I attended a conference held at a hotel in Orlando, Florida. Not the largest one in the area, but reasonable in size, with 750 rooms. During my three days there I never ever saw anyone waiting at the front desk, so I asked the manager how this was done. The answer was simple. In the first place they managed away as much traffic as they could. Coaches were dealt with on the coach, so when people arrived they had their keys and off they went.

People checking out got their bills in their room. If they agreed, which most did, they could simply leave and their credit card would be charged accordingly.

Anyone making a beeline for the front desk was picked up en route by staff monitoring the floor. If the floor staff was getting busy, anyone in the back office (which had a one way mirror) would drop their paperwork and assist the floor staff. Their philosophy was that administration and paperwork could be done later, when things were quiet again.

Of course the requirement for data has increased to obscene levels, and data is gathered through paperwork. What has also increased to equally obscene levels is the number of systems available to us to reduce paperwork and to automate processes. In reality we should have more time to deal with customers, prospects, suppliers; deal with people in general. It is the interaction with people whether face to face, on the telephone or even through social media which will move our businesses forward. So leave the admin to quiet times and automate what you can.

Dealing with people constitutes work, not the admin. That is just a necessary evil – a bit like filling in a tax return.

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