Use Good Office Management to Control Chaos in Your Small Business

It's good for your bottom line

Frustrated businesswoman talking on cell phone with paperwork and coffee
••• Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Disorganization and confusion can be irritating, but worse than that, they are bad for business. Think of it this way: As chaos increases profits decrease. The answer? Good office management. Once you start applying seven principles of good office management, you’ll be amazed at the difference good office management makes—and how much more business you do.

1. Establishing Routines

Routine tasks need routine procedures if you want to stay organized and keep things running smoothly. Set up routines for handling paperwork and office systems.

Every piece of paper that comes into your office should be handled once, acted upon, and filed—not haphazardly piled on a desk. Similarly, digital communications such as emails should be prioritized and acted upon immediately, if possible, or flagged for future action.

Office systems, including desktops, laptops, file servers, multifunction printers, and mobile devices, need both administration and emergency procedures. When the system crashes or a computer-related piece of equipment fails, good office management demands that everyone in your office needs to know who to call, what to do, and what not to do.

2. Defining Responsibilities

Good office management depends on people knowing who is responsible for what. People who are accountable are the ones who often get things done.

What would happen, for example, if the purchasing for your small business was done by whoever whenever? Would you be able to find printer paper when you needed it? Putting one person in charge of ordering all equipment and supplies solves the problem and keeps things running smoothly. Have employees email the designated person any requests for supplies, or post a handwritten list in a conspicuous place where people can add what they need.

It’s the same with computer systems administration. You need to have one person responsible for the security of your computer systems and keeping track of things such as accounts, passwords, and software. Using cloud-based systems for office applications, accounting software, and data storage is an ideal solution for small businesses, but you still need to have a trusted person assigned to perform administrative tasks such as adding/deleting users, assigning permissions, etc. for your office to run smoothly.

3. Maintaining Records

Keeping records sounds like the easiest part of good office management—until you consider the need to keep those records both accessible and updated. Make it an office routine. When you get a new customer or client, for instance, it takes only a moment to enter him into your contacts database. Then it will take only another moment or two to update the record after you’ve spoken to him on the phone.

4. Utilizing Space

Take a walk through your office. Is it an example of space management or space mismanagement? Do you have to detour around obstacles or run the risk of tripping over something? When you sit down at a desk, could you actually work comfortably there? Are things logically arranged so the things that you need most are closest to hand?

There are a lot of things crammed into offices, from printer stands to filing cabinets. For good office management, you need to be sure that all the things in the office are arranged for maximum efficiency and maximum safety. Follow the basics of office design to meet the power, lighting, and ventilation needs of your office space and make it a safer, better space to work.

5. Scheduling Tedious Work

It’s too easy to put off things that you don’t like doing, and most business people don't enjoy tasks such as filing, shipping, and receiving, or bookkeeping. Unfortunately, an office, like a kitchen, won’t function well without the chores being done.

If you are a small business owner who’s not in the position of being able to assign whatever you view as boring or unpleasant work to someone else, force yourself to get to it regularly by scheduling time each week for it.

Take a morning or afternoon and spend it making cold calls, returning nonpriority email inquiries, making social media postings, catching up on the accounting, or updating the records. Do this enough weeks in a row and it will become a good office management habit.

6. Delegating and Outsourcing

In a perfect world, everyone would do only what he or she has time to do well. As the world is not perfect, a lot of people do things that they don’t have the time or talent to do well.

Delegating and outsourcing can improve your small business’s office management and free you to focus on your talents, thereby improving your bottom line. A part-time or virtual assistant may be able to handle many of your office or administrative tasks.

7. Prioritizing Planning

Many small business owners spend their days acting and reacting and then wonder why they seem to be spinning their wheels. Business planning is an important component of good office management and needs to be part of your regular office management routine.

Successful small business owners spend time every week on business planning, and many use daily business planning sessions as a tool for goal setting and growth. If you have staff, involve them in business planning, either formally or informally.