Life Lessons From The Reception Desk

“Oh my god! I’m so bored I can’t bear it.

Bare it*

Bear? Bare? Oh who gives a shit”

I am typing furiously to my colleague, my fellow receptionist who is currently manning the desk at our other office. MSN Messenger is still a thing and takes up 90% of my working day.

I want to cry. I’ve spent the morning stacking Coke cans, ordering pencils and refilling the fruit bowl.

“I HAVE A DEGREE!” I type.

“So does everyone else…but not everyone else can stack the Coke cans like you, you’ll always have that” she responds. True to form she is straight to the point and full of wit. She will be my life-long friend I decide, it is destined.

At 32 I have been lucky enough to have had a very varied and challenging career to date. Lessons were learned.

However, the lessons I refer back to repeatedly all seem to come from one period in my life, when I was in my first job working as a receptionist at a busy advertising agency.

At the time, I most definitely thought my role was a mere stepping stone on route to a career which was more creative (naive with a touch of post university arrogance I didn’t realise how good I had it) and I had absolutely no idea how important the experience would be.

I get that not all receptionist jobs are necessarily junior but when you yourself are junior sitting on a reception desk is one hell of an eye opener. You get to see a side of people you would never normally see and develop skills the average employee does not possess.

Outside of my reception duties, I spent most of my time soothing crying executives in the corridor, knowing when to ‘surprise’ a team with coffee (when morale hits a real low point) and being an odd type of confidant to senior staff who trust you because you are regularly included in important meetings because – WHO ELSE WILL MAKE THE COFFEE?

As a receptionist it is likely you will get to know far too many secrets. People become weirdly immune to your presence because they either tell you everything or forget you are even there…

You will develop ‘reception face’ – this is what my friend and I called it. An expressionless look which only the trained eye can recognize. It was useful then when someone asked you to do the most ridiculous task that is in no way your job but you know you’re going to do it anyway because hey, you want them to see that can do attitude. You just do it with ‘reception face’.

For example, through default rather than job description, you become the person that has to save the day when things go wrong. Like when three months’ worth of rubbish has built up inside the office and the building manager refuses to move it, it becomes your responsibility.

You, yes you, will have to clean up your colleague’s waste that stinks to the high heavens, with a smile. You will have to, load up a lift with the help of an intern who looks on the verge of vomiting, as you demonstrate your leadership skills by opting to be the one who joins the bags of crap in the lift as someone needs to actually press the ‘down’ button. You will then spend hours flinging the rubbish into a skip hoping that no one you know walks past, spotting you clapping as you congratulate the intern on a great bag-of-crap throw.

When you return to your desk, the Lord will test you. You will be greeted by an angry email from a Senior Designer who is just furious that the nice box of treats you sometimes buy for the loos is missing tampons this month.

Then, you will have to stack cans of Coke.

You learn how to do all of this whilst trying to balance working your way up. If, like me, you merge into another role gradually you will still be making the coffees for the meeting you are now in and hoping someone doesn’t challenge you on the lack of sanitary protection mid-meeting…now that is a real battle field.

But it is only when you leave your reception job that it all starts to sink in. To this day I remember those lessons, still have that life-long friend and can still stack a Coke cans like a BOSS.

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