Office Prodedures This material is gathered from over 20 years of experience working in various office environments. The tutorial consists of eight topics. Use the Table of Contents to move to the main topics, and the Index at the left to move to specific topics or return to the Table of Contents. A Knowledge Test just for fun is included at the end.

Table of Contents

  1. Positions and Duties
  2. Confidentiality
  3. Image
  4. Sexual Harassment
  5. Hazard Communication
  6. Phone and Office Etiquette
  7. Business Letters
  8. Proofreading
  9. Indexing and Filing

1. Positions and Duties

Administrative functions in a business are indirect costs of producing income. Like the inner workings of a giant clock where the ultimate product is the correct time, office employees provide the support network that brings a product or service to market. Positions and duties change and grow with the business.
     The first step to performing well in any job position is to be clear about your duties and responsibilities. If a job description is not provided, you may want to create your own. This is not only more helpful than scattered notes, but will ease the transition for the next employee in a similar position and allow coverage when you cannot be at work. Secretaries in particular may want to create a Desk Manual.
     This list of office duties will assist you in creating a job description.

Example job descriptions:

Administrative Secretary to the president of a medium-sized business:
The administrative secretary to the president generally works with little or no supervision, so must exercise accuracy, judgment, and resourcefulness. Duties are many and varied and will include the following responsibilities:
- As personal secretary to the president, the administrative secretary will attend, record, and maintain meeting minutes; place outgoing and receive incoming telephone calls for the president; prepare trip itineraries and make transportation and lodging reservations; assist in researching, gathering material, and drafting reports and correspondence; proofread, obtain signatures, attach enclosures, and mail correspondence; maintain personnel records of members of management; make and record appointments; act as office hostess; read and sort mail.
- The administrative secretary to the president acts as office manager with the following responsibilities: hire, supervise and maintain files on other office secretaries and clerical support staff; research and requisition purchases of office equipment, furnishings and supplies; arrange for and supervise maintenance of offices and equipment; act as president's mediary in office situations; prepare and maintain office budget in conjunction with accounting department.

Receptionist for a small medical practice:
Receptionists work as a team under the direction of the office manager to divide and handle the following duties: answer telephone; schedule appointments; pull medical files for patients scheduled each day; greet patients and verify medical records; maintain filing system; enter new data in patient records; make follow-up calls on missed appointments; create bills from physician's appointment record; receive and record patient payment.

Data Processing Specialist in a job order office:
Specialists in the Data Processing Center work independently under the supervision of the Data Processing Center Manager. Specialists are trained in the use of all word and data processing software used by the company. Jobs are collected from an in-basket and completed based on priority and instructions. Completed jobs are placed in an out-basket where they are collected, proofread, and disposed of by the manager. Specialists must record jobs worked on, track time from start to finish, and take notes on any questions or problems.

2. Confidentiality

The holding of confidences is a matter of daily living. Whether personal confidences or business confidences, we are all, at one time or another, entrusted with the secrets of others. When it comes to business matters, however, the keeping of a confidence is not just the matter of keeping neighbor Jill's liaison with the milkman, Bill, under wraps from Jill's husband, Bob.

No matter what position you hold in a business, it is your responsibility to keep all information you learn about that company to yourself. As an office employee, you are likely to have access to quite a bit of information that your employer would prefer you not pass around, even information that seems, to you, to be non-sensitive. If you feel the need to talk about "what happens at the office"—and most of us do—share that need with someone you trust implicitly or someone else at the office.

Loose lips sink ships and gossip poisons the atmosphere.
This not only applies to information specific to the company, but also information about any of the company's customers. If you work in accounts receivable, medical offices, accounting offices, or legal offices, you are very likely to be privy to information that should be forgotten except as it applies to doing your job. I am sure you would want the same respect and consideration given to your own information. When you feel the need to discuss an interesting situation, be very careful to do so in such a way that the parties involved are ambiguous.

3. Image

The image you present says a lot about the office, the business, and you. This is particularly important if clients or customers have access to your workspace. Make a good impression with cleanliness and neatness. Avoid extremes in hairstyle, makeup and clothing. Be whoever you are while outside of work, but while you are at work, present the proper appearance for that particular office. When looking for work or beginning a new job, always err on the side of the conservative.

Clean and organize your work area before leaving each night. While working, it is good if your workspace looks busy, but things like sloppily piled papers, file folders hanging out of upright open files, and open drawers are indications that you lack attention to detail.

Companies spend a great deal of money in the development of image. The employees of a company are just as much a part of presenting that image as a page of letterhead. It is part of your job to promote your company and respect its values, ethics, and image. Should you prefer to appear haphazard, informal, disorganized, trendy, or flighty, you will need a remarkably good grasp of your subject to gain the respect and attention of an audience. If you are untidy at home, that is okay! You can, and will, learn to be neat at the office.

4. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious issue in the workplace, so we will briefly address that subject. You have the right, as an employee, to work in an environment free of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This really should come down to respectful consideration of others.

Examples of sexual harassment would include:

When you feel uncomfortable with something that is going on in the office, ask the person causing your discomfort to please stop, remove the offending material, or whatever the case may be. Many times people do not realize others might be offended and approaching them in a non-threatening manner will likely yield a positive response to your request. If you are uncomfortable approaching this person, then speak to someone who can intervene for you, usually a supervisor. If you have followed all reasonable courses of action and are still having problems, contact the Human Rights Commission in your state. Employers are required to post this contact information for all employees, so you should find it on the employee bulletin board. Or call the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1-800-669-3362.

Remember this works both ways. Respect the wishes of others as you request they respect your wishes. For more information, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's page on sexual harassment.

5. Hazard Communication

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides "right to know" laws for working with hazardous materials. Most businesses are required to have a hazard communication program which provides employees information regarding any hazardous materials they may be working with or around, how to protect themselves, and what to do in the event of an accident. Many states, cities, or counties have their own laws regarding hazardous materials, which may override the federal hazard communication laws, so this is by no means consistent with all businesses. If your company has such a program, all hazardous materials will carry a warning label and a material safety data sheet (MSD) for that product will be available in a file. MSDs are developed and provided by the chemical manufacturer.

Although hazard communication applies mostly to those working directly with hazardous materials like chemicals, others working nearby may want to be aware of the possible situations and where to find appropriate information, particularly if working in a manufacturing building. Also, be aware of labeling on commonly-used office products. A bottle of "white out" (liquid paper) will probably carry a warning label saying "WARNING: Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal . . . flammable. Keep out of the reach of children." Toner used in copy machines or laser printers, cleaning solutions, and any number of other items should not be overlooked.

The same caution applies to use of office equipment. Use common sense. Do not attempt to open, fix, replace parts, or refill supplies in equipment with which you are unfamiliar. Ask your supervisor or a more experienced worker to show you how to safely operate the equipment. Pay attention to warning labels. Your employer cannot and should not be responsible for injuries sustained because you neglected to follow the precautions stated.

For more information, visit this page of OSHA Frequently Asked Questions.

6. Phone and Office Etiquette

Office Interaction

I recommend you address supervisors, and sometimes fellow workers, in your office formally unless and until you are requested to do differently. This may seem rather victorian, but the mere act of formally addressing professionals in the office maintains an atmosphere of respect, inhibits overly personal conversation, and helps keep you from slipping up when a client is within hearing range. Begin from this perspective and relax as indicated by that particular office atmosphere. If you are inclined to be overly friendly and gossipy, then you might continue to reserve your right to maintain that formality if it helps you maintain your discipline while at work.

If you have a problem with another office worker, it is always best to try to discuss it directly with that person before taking it to a supervisor. You would want the same respectful consideration. Do not criticize and gossip about a particular fellow worker with other workers. Criticism is not a bad thing, but it is ineffective if not directed at the problem. Blowing off steam is fine as well, but this should be a temporary situation. If someone is doing something that consistently annoys you, tell them. Do not simmer and build up resentment about it, because you will come across as defensive and angry and that will just add to the problem. If you continually have problems with the way your supervisor gives instruction or addresses you, then let him or her know. You cannot work efficiently when you are under stress due to personality conflicts or poor instruction. Always ask questions if you do not understand something. We all take in information and process it differently. If you can find some aspect of a person you can relate to, you can get along with them better, and oftentimes clearing the air by voicing your concern will help tremendously toward improving relations.

Some people need very explicit detailed instruction, while others can intuit what you mean. Some people need to give detailed instruction, others do not want to do that. The ones who do not like to give detailed instruction often know exactly what they want, but not how to express it. This becomes clear after you have completed the requested task and they point out specific faults in the work. My advice to you is to take it in stride. Do the work, accept the criticism, think about where the problem was, and how the instruction was inadequate. If you can voice the specific problem, you can then request to speak to this person regarding how they give instruction and perhaps reach a mutually beneficial resolution.

There are a couple of behaviors to watch for in yourself. One is becoming defensive, either when being criticized or when you have made an error. Becoming defensive is a form of protecting yourself from presumed abuse. The key word here is presumed. Make sure your reaction is not out of proportion to the situation. Many of us typically look for a place to lay blame when things do not go as expected. We are all human and that means we are not infallible. We will make mistakes. There will always be plenty of blame to go around. Accept that fact and you will be one step closer to eliminating that possibly volatile reaction that can cause further friction in an office.

I often hear about supervisors venting anger at employees. This venting can have a temporary beneficial effect on employee productivity because most of us prefer to avoid uncomfortable situations. For that reason, we will work harder to seek ways to avoid our supervisor's anger, giving the impression that, hey, yelling actually works. Except, it does not. This supervisor has issues and will continue to yell, regardless of employee efforts to stem the great red tide. When employees realize there is nothing they can do to avoid an uncomfortable situation with this supervisor, they will expend the least effort to get the job done. Productivity will fall to its lowest possible level. If you have a supervisor like this, I recommend you try to find a new position.

Client Interaction

Never argue with another office worker, talk about customers or clients, gossip about your personal business or another office worker's personal business, in front of clients or customers. If you are responsible for any front-line customer relations, the image you present affects the client's or customer's view of the entire business.

Never ignore a client or customer who walks in the door. Always acknowledge his or her arrival. If you are on the phone, eye contact and a smile would be sufficient. If necessary, put the person on the phone on hold for a moment to address the client or customer, if just to say, "Please have a seat, I'll be right with you." This is better than having the client standing over you while waiting for direction. Keep the client's comfort and well-being uppermost in your mind, treat them with respect and they will sing your praises to the boss and others, even though you may not always hear it yourself.

Phone Etiquette

This may seem extraordinary, but I have seen it done. Never pick up the phone and immediately set it back down because you are overrun with phone calls, customers, and paperwork. This really does not leave a very good impression in the mind of the client or customer who was on the other end of the phone. Never make personal calls from the business without permission and do not get involved in personal phone conversations while clients are within listening range.

7. Business Letters

Most letters contain five parts:

1. Heading

This consists of the name of the business and the date. Professional firms have printed letterhead, so you only need to add the date. Left margin placement will depend on the body style. Example of a heading:

                 Homer's Nut Factory
                   66 Peanut Lane
                 Pistachio, CA 09826

                 September 1, 19--
2. Introduction

This consists of the address of the person to whom the letter is written, and the salutation. This is placed at the left margin. Example of an introduction:

Barbara Chestnut
509 Cashew Boulevard
Almond, ME 04356

Dear Miss Chestnut:
In the address, use professional titles when appropriate. Several proper forms of professional titles are:

For attorneys: Mr. John Blank
               Attorney at Law
or
               John Blank, Esq.
               Attorney at Law

For doctors:   Dr. John Blank
or
               John Blank, M.D.

The salutations for these titles is in the form of:

               Dear Attorney Blank:
or
               Dear Dr. Blank:

In formal business letters, the colon is preferred following the salutation. Although a comma may be used, this indicates a less formal address and is more suitable to letters of a social nature.

3. Body

The body of the letter contains the written communication. Body styles can be paragraph, block, or a mixture of both.

A paragraph style letter uses indents (5 spaces) to indicate the beginning of each new paragraph. Example of paragraph style:

     Replying to your letter of recent date, we are pleased to quote
you a price of 10 cents per pound on our premium walnuts, a sample
of which we are sending in this package.
     Thank you for your inquiry. We trust our company may be favored
with your valued order.

Block style is frequently used as it is easier to read. It is almost always used in formal letters. Paragraphs are separated by a blank line with no indents. Example of block style:

Replying to your letter of recent date, we are pleased to quote
you a price of 10 cents per pound on our premium walnuts, a sample
of which we are sending in this package.

Thank you for your inquiry. We trust our company may be favored
with your valued order.

The body of the letter should be centered vertically on the page for a balanced appearance. Extra blank lines to accomplish this may be inserted between the date and introduction only.

4. Conclusion

The conclusion consists of the complimentary close and the signature. Left margin placement depends on the body style of the letter. Example of a conclusion:

Sincerely,



Mr. John Shell, Manager
Homer's Nut Factory
Some complimentary closes:

Sincerely,
Very truly yours,
Respectfully yours,
Yours truly,
Respectfully,

Be sure to insert enough blank lines between the closing and the signature for the actual handwritten signature of the letter writer. Four lines are usually sufficient.

The letter is completed by notations indicating the preparer and signer of the letter, enclosures and copies. When preparing a letter for someone else, always include their initials in uppercase letters followed by a slash and your initials in lowercase letters as shown in the examples to follow. Include the fact that there are enclosures. You may also want to note the nature of the enclosure(s) if not indicated in the letter. Finally, be sure to note who received a copy of the letter. These notations provide a permanent record.

Following is an example of a complete paragraph style letter. The heading remains centered. The left margin of the conclusion is placed at approximate center.

                 Homer's Nut Factory
                   66 Peanut Lane
                 Pistachio, CA 09826

                 September 1, 19--

Barbara Chestnut
509 Cashew Boulevard
Almond, ME 04356

Dear Miss Chestnut:
     Replying to your letter of recent date, we are pleased to quote
you a price of 10 cents per pound on our premium walnuts, a sample
of which we are sending in this package.
     Thank you for your inquiry. We trust our company may be favored
with your valued order.

                    Sincerely,
 


                    Mr. John M.Shell, Manager
                    Homer's Nut Factory

JMS/ebc
Enclosure
CC: Ronald D. Homer, President

Following is an example of a complete block style letter. The date portion of the heading and the conclusion are at the left margin.

                 Homer's Nut Factory
                   66 Peanut Lane
                 Pistachio, CA 09826

September 1, 19--

Barbara Chestnut
509 Cashew Boulevard
Almond, ME 04356

Dear Miss Chestnut:

Replying to your letter of recent date, we are pleased to quote
you a price of 10 cents per pound on our premium walnuts, a sample
of which we are sending in this package.

Thank you for your inquiry. We trust our company may be favored
with your valued order.

Sincerely,



Mr. John Shell, Manager
Homer's Nut Factory

JMS/ebc
Enclosure
CC: Ronald D. Homer, President
5. Superscription

Finally, the superscription of a letter is the address on the envelope. The envelope should be addressed per U.S. Postal service guidelines. Addresses are given in all upper case letters. No punctuation is used. States are abbreviated. Include the 9-digit postal code, if available. Certain words have standard abbreviations, such as avenue (AVE), street (ST), lane (LN), west avenue (W AVE), etc. Addresses are read from bottom to top, so this should be taken into consideration when addressing. For example:

ATTENTION OR NAME OF PERSON
BRANCH OR DEPARTMENT
NAME OF COMPANY
SUITE OR APARTMENT NUMBER
STREET OR POST OFFICE BOX NUMBER
CITY STATE AND ZIP CODE

All addresses in the U.S. should go to either a post office box, a street address, or a rural route number. Rural routes are accompanied by box numbers. The rural route box number should not be confused with the post office box number. A post office box is located at the post office of delivery, while a RR and Box are located at the recipient's residence. Visit your local post office for information on correct mailing addresses. Examples of correctly typed addresses:

MARY BROWN          JOHN HENRY PRESIDENT       ALEX BURTON
3305 WABASH AVE     WALLPAPERS INCORPORATED    RR 1 BOX 10
PORTLAND ME 04240   22 FIRST ST                PORTLAND ME 04210
                    PO BOX 55
                    W PORTLAND ME 04210

8. Proofreading

Although word processing programs can perform many of our proofreading needs, we know that final spell checking and grammar correction is still in the hands of the proofreader. Developing the ability to detect keyboarding errors is the first step toward becoming a skilled proofreader. Common errors in keyboarding include:

Follow these simple steps when proofreading work:

Some people are better at proofreading than others, but it is a skill that can be improved with practice.

9. Indexing and Filing

Indexing and filing is an important process in any office. Many of these concepts can be applied to filing on computer media as well.

Filing Units

When indexing, the parts of names are divided into filing units which indicate the order of importance in filing. The key is the primary filing unit. Units following the key are numbered as unit 2, unit 3, and unit 4, in order of importance. Words, letters, abbreviations, and symbols are all indexed. Symbols are considered as spelled in full for indexing purposes. Once the units have been determined, the information is ready for filing.

Index Order

  1. Personal names are divided by assigning the surname (last name) as the key. The given name (first name) becomes the second unit, and the middle initial becomes the third unit.
  2. Business, organization, and institution names are divided and indexed as written on letterhead or trademarks. The first word is the key, the second word the second unit, and so on.
  3. Numerical units are filed before alphabetic units .

The following rules will need to be applied when appropriate:

Minor Words

When the word The appears as the first word of a name, it is considered as the last indexing unit. For example, The Antique Auto Museum is indexed as: Antique (key), Auto (unit 2), Museum (unit 3), The (unit 4).

The words the and and when appearing in the middle of a name are not capitalized. For example, Isaac and Son Roofers is indexed as: Isaac (key), and (unit 2), Son (unit 3), Roofers (unit 4).

All symbols except and begin with a capital letter. For example, $ A Day Video is indexed as: Dollar (key), A (unit 2), Day (unit 3), Video (unit 4). Inwood & Ellis Realtors is indexed as: Inwood (key), and (unit 2), Ellis (unit 3), Realtors (unit 4).

Punctuation

Punctuation, commas, periods, hyphens and apostrophes are disregarded when indexing names.

Commas and periods are ignored and the spacing retained. For example, C. B. Johnson Company would be indexed as: C (key), B (unit 2), Johnson (unit 3), Company (unit 4).

Hyphens and apostrophes are ignored and the spacing removed. For example, Air-Sea Rescue Training would be indexed as: AirSea (key), Rescue (unit 2), Training (unit 3).

Letters and Abbreviations

Initials in names are considered separate indexing units. For example: R. L. Thomas is indexed as: Thomas (key), R (unit 2), L (unit 3). Note this is a personal name rather than a business name so the last name is the key.

Abbreviations of names are indexed as written. For example: Wm. Jas. Smith is indexed as: Smith (key), Wm (unit 2), Jas (unit 3).

Acronyms (a word formed from the first, or first few, letters of several words) and abbreviations are indexed as one unit regardless of punctuation or spacing. For example: A.S.P.C.A. is indexed as: ASPCA (key).

Titles

Personal titles (Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms.), when appearing in a name, are considered the last unit. If a seniority title is required for identification, it is considered the last unit in abbreviated form with numeric titles (II, III) filed before alphabet titles (Jr., Sr.). When professional titles (M.D., Dr., CPA) are required for identification, they are considered the last units and filed alphabetically as written. Remember that punctuation is ignored.

Royal and religious titles followed by a given or surname (Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Father Martelli) are indexed and filed as written.

Articles and Particles

Foreign articles and particles are combined with the part of the name following it to form a single indexing unit. Examples of articles or particles: a la, D', Da, De, Del, De la, Della, Den, Des, Di, Dos, Du, El, Fitz, Il, L', La, Las, le, Les, Lo, Los, M', Mac, Mc, O', Per, Saint, San, Santa, Santo, St., Ste., Te, Ten, Ter, Van, Van de, Van der, Von, Von der.

Name                    Key Unit   Unit 1     Unit 2
Carmelita De La Cruz    DeLaCruz   Carmelita
Edwin P. Saint John     SaintJohn  Edwin      P
San Juan Travel Agency  SanJuan    Travel     Agency
Jacinthe St. Pierre     StPierre   Jacinthe

Identical Names

When identical names are being filed, the address must be considered for determining further indexing. Addresses are ordered by city, state or province, street name, house or building number. Example:

Name                  Key Unit  Unit 1   Unit 2      Unit 3
Daily Herald          Daily     Herald   Dayton
Daily Herald          Daily     Herald   Toledo
Gold Star Restaurant  Gold      Star     Restaurant  35th Street
Gold Star Restaurant  Gold      Star     Restaurant  67th Street
Gold Star Restaurant  Gold      Star     Restaurant  Holiday Avenue

Cross-Referencing

Cross-referencing should be used when a key index is questionable as main search criteria or methods of accessing records vary between business departments. For example, the main search for records in an office may be based on the last name of clients, however, the billing department often needs to search by client number. A separate cross-reference file ordered by client number is created. These records would only need to contain the client number and client name as indexed in the main file system. For example, the billing department needs to locate the record for client # 40005. They go to the cross-reference file and easily locate card # 40005. The card contains the following information: Baker, Christine, L, MD. The clerk can now go to the main filing system to find the record for Christine Baker.

Filing Systems

Despite the mass of data now stored on computer media, many offices still retain hard-copy filing systems. The system may be organized according to these commonly used methods:

  1. Alphabetic - Records are ordered according to the alphabet. To find "Smith, John," you look under the letter S.
  2. Alphanumeric - Records are ordered numerically. This system is used more often for cross-referencing and on computer media than for main hard-copy filing systems. To find "Smith, John," you need his client number.
  3. Time - Records are ordered from newest to oldest.
  4. Subject - Records are ordered according to subject matter. Subjects might be "Office Equipment," or "Insurance." Individual records within these subjects are still in alphabetic or numeric order.
  5. Geographic - Geographic ordering might be appropriate for a company that does business regionally. Individual records within these regions are still in alphabetic or numeric order.
  6. Colored - Color-coded systems are used in open file cabinets. Colored tabs usually pertain to letters of the alphabet. The records are still ordered alphabetically, but are located by color rather than by file drawer.

There are a couple of basic rules to follow:

  1. Records are filed from left to right.
  2. Records are filed from front to back.
  3. Records are filed from top to bottom.

There are many different filing systems that can be established. Most offices utilize several different filing methods to customize the system to the needs of the particular business. For example, in a firm that performs accounting or legal services, documents pertaining to a single client may be kept in a binder that loads top to bottom. The documents are filed in the binder by date of occurrence, from oldest to latest, so the file contains a complete history of the client. The most recent history is available at the top of the file. Although the file is mainly in order from oldest to most recent, groups of documents pertaining to an event or situation may need to be filed together in logical order, so care must be used with this filing system. The binders themselves are stored alphabetically by client name from left to right and front to back in a bank of file cabinets.

In large offices, documents and folders are frequently removed temporarily by employees in different departments. A method of tracking documents and folders temporarily removed from the filing system must be established. This is usually done with an out folder or out guide that replaces the document or folder removed. Out guides are a single piece of heavy cardboard inserted to replace a document removed from a folder. Out folders are necessary when an entire folder, rather than a document within a folder, is removed. The out folder provides a place to file new records while the original folder is out of the file. Out guides and folders have either lines printed on them for charge out information or a pocket to hold a requisition card. The pockets are preferable to printed lines since the guide or folder would last until it wore out. Once the lines on a printed guide or folder are used up, it would have to be thrown out. Information about who took the file, who requisitioned the file, location of the file, and date of expected return would be entered on the guide or folder depending on the needs of the business.

Filing Tips

Consider common filing errors when indexing, cross-referencing, and trying to locate records. Names such as Francis Charles where the last name is a common first name can easily be filed out of order. If you cannot locate Francis Charles under "Charles," look under "Francis." Keeping filing methods in mind and using a consistent procedure in your office will save time and frustration.

These same rules can apply to files on your computer's storage media. Although programs automatically order records for us, they do so based on the names we give the files or the way we enter the data. Naming your files and folders appropriately will greatly facilitate locating records. Folders are a wonderful thing. Make use of them to keep your files organized. Also, when entering information in a database software program, keep your indexing needs and the software program's indexing methods in mind. For instance, you may want to create a field just for indexing and sorting where you enter information following the rules discussed here.




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