Offices are undergoing necessary changes in design, but there are side effects.
Receptionists have always played a central role in the office experience: they’re the first person a client or staff member sees when entering the office for the day, and the last person they see when they leave. But between more companies cutting their office real estate and others overhauling office layouts and scrapping reception areas, could it be that the role of the receptionist is becoming obsolete?
In some cases, the role might be completely nixed. Even if a company is operating on a hybrid model, it might opt for replacing a human with technology instead. For example, The Receptionist is a visitor management system that makes the check-in process completely automated, which could leave receptionist positions in the dust.
However, in other cases, people are leaning in to the importance of a receptionist for the future of work. In some cases, these roles are being rebranded with a new title of “Director of First Impressions.” That’s because, in the pressure to make the office more appealing for staff to return to, employers are putting increasing emphasis on the workplace entrances.
“It’s having someone who is really visible to the company and the people working in the space,” said Samantha Lewis, associate and interior designer at Gensler. “It’s hiring people that are people people, that really understand your needs.”
Office designers are also putting the reception area at the forefront heading into 2023. Turning this area into more of a welcome area than a sterile, scan-your-badge-and-go, is something that experts say will bring offices to the next level. But the human touch is critical in creating that atmosphere. Just like when checking into a hotel, a receptionist can set the tone for the entire stay, the same can be said for those individuals that greet and direct people to the right place in an office entrance.
Job listings for “director of first impressions” often include requirements for lobby presentation qualifications, such as ensuring the client cafe is presentable. Candidates are also required to be energetic, outgoing and friendly, and apt at setting a positive tone for visiting clients, in addition to classic receptionist skills like answering calls.
“Some employers prefer the title ‘director of first impressions’ to make the job more appealing to job seekers, attract talent in a tight labor market, and emphasize to candidates the importance of building a rapport with clients, visitors, and other customers,” said Sinem Buber, lead economist at job marketplace ZipRecruiter. “Employers want to make sure the employees prioritize ‘being the face of the company’ among all job requirements.”
“A lot of it is communicating, like saying we have a really big client coming in today,” said Lewis. “It’s someone who is available to help throughout the day, whether it be making sure that they have beverages set up, or that technology is working, or just having someone you recognize day to day when you come in.”
Lewis has seen that instead of just checking people in and answering phone calls at the front desk, receptionists today have a prominent presence in the workplace that helps out throughout the day instead of just upon entrance.
“That’s what’s going to elevate your experience at home versus your experience in the workplace,” said Lewis. “We’re trying to help our clients understand that their employees are valued guests at all times.”
Mary Commisso, office coordinator at corporate catering company ezCater, was hired to shape the in-person working experience. “I could make the office experience my own and didn’t need approval for every little decision,” said Commisso. “I was hired because they trusted me to own the office experience, not just because I could complete certain tasks they needed fulfilled.”
Commisso also helps host ezCater’s ezTogether weeks, where remote employees can travel to an office for a designated week each month to collaborate in-person. When hundreds of employees show up for that week, she’s there to help them navigate the office, answer every question, and plan special events like happy hours.
John Dooney, a Society for Human Resource Management knowledge advisor, doesn’t think the receptionist job will disappear anytime soon, although that could change depending on the industry. With companies focusing on security measures, the first person someone might see when they walk into an office might be a security guard, who then calls down a receptionist. Either way, though, the receptionist is who offers the warm welcome.
“Every time new technology comes out, folks think ‘oh well the reception job is going to go away,’” said Dooney. “It may evolve with a different emphasis.”
However, technology has really only aided in helping receptionists reach their maximum potential. Instead of spending time on mundane tasks that can be automated, they are helping ensure employees are comfortable and assisting with larger items that might range from travel planning to maintenance and scheduling.
With more employees returning to work, the receptionist also serves as a familiar face, offering a better experience compared to if there was no one sitting at the front entrance. “People had to get used to coming back to work and receptionists were there to help answer questions like where office equipment may be or where to sit,” said Dooney.