My Job: EA Office Manager

post by Jonathan_Michel · 2022-05-02T18:18:37.060Z · EA · GW · 7 comments

Contents

  Summary
  Why am I writing this?
  My Background
  Day in the life
    How I spent my time:
    Things I wish I did more of
  Impact
      A back-of-the-envelope calculation
  …and the job can be extremely gratifying
  Skills developed
  Reasons for not doing this
None
7 comments

Summary

I think being an Office Manager at an EA office can be a really impactful job, and I would like to share my experience and give some advice. Part of the reason I’m writing this is that I’m the new Head of Property at the CEA Operations Team, but my previous job was being the office manager, and I’m hiring someone to replace me. If you’re interested, please apply here or get in touch with me if you have questions.

How much you should trust me? I’m biased, but I’m trying to be honest and just share my experience. 

Why am I writing this?

There has already been a bit of past discussion of ops on the forum [? · GW]. The reason I want to add to this pile of writing about operations is that I want to advocate/give context on the specific role of an EA Office Manager — one that oftentimes people underestimate in its importance. There has been some talk regarding EA Hubs and where we should start new ones [EA · GW]. I think that EA Hubs can be very impactful and that a great office manager is a crucial component. An outstanding EA office which makes people more productive and happy needs an outstanding office manager. 

My Background

Day in the life

Last year, I started as the Office Manager of the Oxford EA office, Trajan House. Trajan House currently accommodates the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Future of Humanity Institute, the Global Priorities Institute, the Forethought Foundation, the Centre for the Governance of AI, the Global Challenges Project, Our World in Data, and a number of people working at other EA organisations (such as Rethink Priorities, HLI, LEEP, and OpenPhil). 

At the moment, around 80 EA professionals work at Trajan House, and this number is growing. If you want to get a better sense of Trajan House (including some photos) you can see the office guide here.

Until very recently, the office team consisted of me (as the office manager), and employees of Oxford University working in the reception area and in facilities management. One month ago two office assistants joined my team, so we now have two additional FTEs helping to run the office. As described above, I’m now transitioning out of the office manager role, but the below outlines my week in the position. 

How I spent my time:

 

For a more tangible sense of what I did, here are some specific things I did in the last couple of months:

Things I wish I did more of

Impact

Given capacity constraints, we haven’t come close to exhausting all the things we could do to provide value at Trajan House. An exciting part of the role of an office manager role is training your optimising mindset – noticing small details which are sub-optimal and fixing them.

The main paths to impact of a well run office are:


 

A mediocre office provides space, and perhaps minimal food and supplies. This is already good. But a great office gives people the freedom to not worry about what they need for work, a warm environment in which they feel welcome and more productive, and supports them in ways they did not think were necessary.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation

We ran a feedback survey in Trajan House at the beginning of the year (50 responses). One of the things we asked was “How many additional productive hours do you roughly get from working at Trajan House per week?” (We asked for the 80% confidence interval if people did not want to give a point estimate). The average response was 5.9 hours. Given that there are 50-80 people working at the office on a regular basis, this amounts to over 400 additional hours of productive work per week. Numbers like this need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is indicative that a good office can free up a lot of time

In monetary terms: If we assume the value of an hour of productive work to be $50 [LW · GW] – which I believe is much too low – this sums up to over $1,000,000 per year.

…and the job can be extremely gratifying

Some of the things I really liked about being the Office Manager at Trajan were: 

Skills developed

Also, I think I’ve learned a lot in this job. Given the wide range of activities an office manager does, it is a great role for dipping your toes into many different areas of ops work. In particular, I feel like I improved the following skills:

Reasons for not doing this

 

I would like to thank Will Fenning, Lizka Vaintrob, and Josh Axford for their comments on earlier drafts.

7 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Catherine Low (cafelow) · 2022-05-03T01:36:57.280Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I admit I was a bit sad when Jonathan took this role because I thought he'd do more good in Community Building (my field of work). "Surely an Office Manager couldn't be as impactful!" I bemoaned. But now that I've worked a while in Trajan house my eyes have been opened to the value of an outstanding office manager, and I've had to eat my words (and arrange to move to Oxford so I can work there permanently). So I think this role is surprisingly high value.

comment by rgb · 2022-05-02T18:33:21.270Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I work at Trajan House and I wanted to comment on this:

But a great office gives people the freedom to not worry about what they need for work, a warm environment in which they feel welcome and more productive, and supports them in ways they did not think were necessary.

By these metrics, Trajan House is a really great office! I'm so grateful for the work that Jonathan and the other operations staff do. It definitely makes me happier and more productive.

Trajan House in 2022 is a thriving hub of work, conversation, and fun.

comment by Bella (Bella_Forristal) · 2022-05-03T08:11:16.769Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Adding another comment testifying to the value of Jonathan's work:

I worked at Trajan House for a few months before he started (but left ~as he was taking on the role). I've had the opportunity to visit a couple times since then, and the impact of Jonathan's work is /extremely/ obvious to me. Every issue I'd had with the office was fixed (as far as I could tell), plus a lot more things that I hadn't even thought could be improved. It's a totally different place!

comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) · 2022-05-03T05:16:30.068Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As another anecdote of the value of a well-run office: After working at Trajan for a few weeks during a visit to the UK, seeing how incredible the office was (thanks to Jonathan) I honestly considered moving countries. I'm now inspired to look into whether it'd one day be possible to setup an office space in Australia (please message if interested!). 

comment by Yufeng (Andy) Tao (Yufeng Tao) · 2022-05-04T07:40:42.298Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As someone who had never been to the UK and moved to Oxford for the first time a month ago, I can testify that Trajan House made me immediately feel at home. Jonathan warmly reached out to me offering help on personal life ops things such as bank accounts, SIM cards, and accommodations. Working in the same office room with Jonathan, I have no doubt that he is a lovely person to work with and a great friend to know. I'd be excited to see the office reaching its next level and lots of impacts to follow!

comment by Arthur Li · 2022-05-03T12:17:33.011Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is the "How I spent my time" SE meant to only add up to 95%?

Replies from: Jonathan_Michel
comment by Jonathan_Michel · 2022-05-03T18:47:26.429Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nope :D
Thanks for pointing that out!