Productivity Tips

How to Run an Office Without a Receptionist | Visitor Management App

Most workplaces have moved away from dedicated receptionists and COVID-19 will further this trend. Here are tips for a great reception-less reception.

Executive Summary

  • Most workplaces have already moved away from the dedicated receptionist, and COVID-19 is likely to accelerate this trend.
  • Modern visitor management systems can fill the void providing a great visitor experience, notifying hosts when they have visitors and collecting valuable data.

Does your office really need a receptionist? Over the last decade many companies questioned the necessity of having a dedicated person sitting at a desk simply to greet guests. In some workplaces, the reception area went empty; in others an employee from another function wound up in a dual role.

Today there is another consideration: How COVID-19 will impact workplace reception areas. Organizations have to plan for lower staffing levels at any point in time, or visitors who do not want any unnecessary human-to-human interactions.

So, what does it really take to be a place without a receptionist?

Reception – A Moving Target

Receptionist is multi-tasking and not helping visitors

Reception expectations have changed drastically over the years. Dedicated receptionists used to be the norm in most offices. Some organizations have few visitors, some have many, but nearly every organization has a number of tasks that need to get done and can’t really afford to have someone sitting idly in between greeting and assisting guests.

Studies show that interruptions – such as answering the phone, greeting a guest or assisting a delivery person – have tremendous costs in the workplace.

Over the years, many organizations have tried to do away with the receptionist.

  • Some guests were (and still are) greeted with tiny, empty lobbies containing only a phone and a directory.
  • Others walk into a crowded open floor plan office and don’t know where to start; they usually end up interrupting whoever is sitting at the desk closest to the door.

In our technologically savvy world of today, some organizations are recognizing that technology is better-suited to handle repetitive work than people are. They are often adding digital visitor management systems to their lobbies and using other technology solutions.

At the same time, many companies are loathe to eliminate the receptionist altogether. To understand why, it is important to explore the different reception strategies available, and the pros and cons of each.

Human Receptionists

The role of a receptionist in great visitor management

Human receptionists come in three major categories: dedicated receptionists, semi-dedicated receptionists and informal receptionists.

A dedicated receptionist is a person whose sole job is to be the face of the organization to greet and assist visitors. Primary duties include:

  • Greeting visitors.
  • Determining the purpose of their visit.
  • Contacting the host employee.
  • Asking the visitor to sign in, if required.
  • Helping the guest find refreshments or the restroom.
  • Assisting with answering guest questions.
  • Giving directions or leading the guest to the employee host or a waiting area.

Dedicated receptionists are few and far between these days. Most organizations recognize that, unless they have a tremendous number of visitors, it is just not cost effective to have someone doing nothing in between the act of assisting guests. Hospitality sector services, like hotels, restaurants and museums, might find that staffing a guest information desk is a good use of their resources.

Most office buildings, manufacturers and other organizations, however, are more apt to use the semi-dedicated or informal receptionist.

A semi-dedicated receptionist is a person with all the duties outlined above who also has additional responsibilities they work on between guests. This person is often an administrative assistant or an office manager. Responsibilities can vary widely. A semi-dedicated receptionist can do tasks like:

  • Data entry.
  • Prepping the conference room.
  • Taking inventory of office supplies.
  • Schedule management.
  • Planning events.
  • Writing newsletters.
  • Taking phone calls.

The list could really go on forever. The one thing a semi-dedicated receptionist might be discouraged from doing is leaving the desk unattended for more than scheduled breaks.

The benefit of a semi-dedicated receptionist is clear: having a human being who gets other necessary work done between guests makes the receptionist position less of a drag on monetary resources.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the informal receptionist. This is the poor soul who has a functional job to do, but happens to sit at a desk near the main door. Those organizations who have done away with dedicated or semi-dedicated receptionists as a cost-saving measure may have inadvertently assigned the role to someone who never applied for it. Guests who don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going will default to asking the first person they find.

This person may find their work constantly interrupted. Not only will their productivity suffer but it is also likely their job satisfaction will low.

The benefits of having a human receptionist are primarily in the field of guest relations. A human receptionist:

  • Traditionally it was viewed as friendlier and more welcoming than a machine.
  • Has the ability to answer questions more robustly and creatively than a computer can.
  • Can physically leave the area to accompany a visitor to a new location.
  • Engages people in small talk to occupy them while they wait.
  • Notices if a person seems lost, out of place, angry or aggressive and can alert someone as necessary.
  • Can perform other necessary work in the case of a semi-dedicated or informal receptionist.

Drawbacks of human receptionists lay mostly in terms of cost and efficiency.

  • Costly: Payroll and benefits are the largest expenses most organizations face, so paying a person solely to greet guests is out of the question for many.
  • Inefficient: Even companies that value a human receptionist may wish to use the person’s time more wisely by having them do other tasks. However, the constant interruptions are a deterrent to giving the person involved, focused tasks.
  • Errors: Receptionists are fallible. They miss visitors. They have to go to the bathroom, leaving the desk unattended. They can get lazy and may not require guests to do all the appropriate check-in steps.

Digital Receptionists

Visitor management system kiosk

In many areas of our daily lives, technology is replacing people. We have automatic car washes and email, dishwashers and self-checkout. Booking a vacation used to be an incredibly time-consuming process, so people used travel agents. While agents still have their place, many people have taken to using online resources to take control of travel plans themselves. In the same way, new technologies are popping up all the time in the field of office services and reception.

Like with human receptionists, there are a variety of possibilities for technological reception.

The first is what we’re calling gateway receptionists. These are technologies that block access to an area until a host has been reached. Think of the buzzer in the lobby or outside the door of an apartment building. Using these crude systems, the visitor looks at the directory, finds their host’s name, presses a button, and the host is contacted. Either the host unlocks the door remotely for the guest or comes to retrieve their guest. Some offices use a similar technology, either with intercoms or a telephone.

While this technology is incredibly cost effective and generally inexpensive, there are drawbacks.

  • Hosts who are not at their desks or even in the building may not be contacted. If a host’s cellular phone is listed, this may be abated somewhat.
  • Guests left in this manner may feel unwelcome, especially if they are left in the lobby when they require a restroom.
  • Guests who are granted access via remotely unlocking a door may find themselves lost, in which case, they may end up interrupting an employee for directions.
  • Remotely unlocking a door for a guest leaves the guest unaccompanied. It is always possible a guest may enter areas of the building they should NOT be in.

Digital receptionists, sometimes known as digital visitor management systems, are fast becoming a viable option for more offices. These are visitor sign-in apps loaded onto laptops, tablets or kiosks that allow visitors to check in themselves. We’re seeing them more at airports, hotels, doctors’ offices and other offices of any kind.

Depending on the system selected, these systems can perform a number of valuable tasks:

  • Do nearly everything a dedicated human receptionist does.
  • Collect and store valuable visitor information (name, purpose of visit, name of host, contact information as necessary, time of check in and check out).
  • Print visitor badges and take visitor photographs for security and identification purposes.
  • Require visitors to sign important documents, like non-disclosure agreements and waivers.
  • Automatically notify the host employee via a multitude of methods – email, phone, text, Slack – according to the preferences of the employee

Virtual receptionists and automated answering services are some other options organizations are employing. Unlike the previous two methods, these methods are more about answering phone calls and email requests for information than it is greeting visitors at the door.

It is likely we’ve all experienced automated answering services: “To speak to John H., please press 1. To report a problem with your service, please press 2.” They are efficient ways to route calls – assuming the request fits in the framework – and cost less than hiring a person. Some companies are even using artificial intelligence to answer customer service questions.

Unlike automated answering, virtual receptionists are living, breathing human beings who answer telephones, route calls, answer basic questions and schedule appointments. The major difference is they are not onsite. That difference has great benefits for the company’s bottom line. Because virtual receptionists are not onsite and only work when they get a call, they cost a fraction of what an in-person receptionist costs. They learn about the company before answering calls and are dedicated to giving callers a professional experience.

The pros and cons of technology are tricky, and largely depend on the technology chosen. Benefits generally include:

  • Cost effective: costs are usually significantly lower than hiring a person for the same tasks.
  • Efficient: can quickly answer and transfer calls, route visitors and contact people without taking up an employee’s time.
  • Fewer errors: in the case of digital check-in and automated services, there is no human being to mistype a phone number or forget to collect required information.
  • Puts power in guests’ hands: some guests appreciate being able to take care of themselves using check-in kiosks. It can be reassuring to them that their information is entered correctly.

Disadvantages of technology include:

  • Less human: by its very nature, reception technology can feel colder and less welcoming. People appreciate a smile and a voice.
  • Less flexible – in some ways: while most technologies are easy to customize and therefore can be incredibly flexible to help an organization meet its needs, they can be inflexible for guests. They require certain information and, in the case of automated answer services, may not have the right option for a guest to choose. (We’ve all had to press one and five and three forever before we finally reach a person.)
  • Must be implemented wisely: Organizations who employ technology without thoughtfully considering how it is set up may not reap any real benefit. Guests who check themselves in but then get lost will still interrupt an employee. Automated customer service, phone systems or check-in protocols that don’t have options or answers to fit a specific visitor’s situation can be frustrating. The visitor may be angry when they do reach a person, requiring more of an employee’s time to deal with the issue. Other people may simply hang up or walk away and never return.

Can Your Company Function Without a Receptionist?

Here are some scenarios where it will make more sense for your workplace to use technology to greet visitors:

  • You have few visitors.
  • You have a lot of visitors.
  • You wish to collect data about the people who visit your workplace. For example contact information, parking space or the reason for their visit; the considerations are endless.
  • You want to collect eSignatures on a non-disclosure agreement, waiver or other legal document.
  • You need to run background checks on your visitors.
  • You want to capture visitor photos.
  • You might face an audit.
  • You want to serve your visitors the way they want to be greeted.
  • Your visitors will go into a queue to be seen.
  • You want to present your organization or coworking space as modern.
  • You want to build your CRM database.
  • You want to automatically send surveys or thank you emails or text to your guests.
  • You want to increase productivity of your workplace.
  • You need to be prepared in case of emergency.
  • You want to save money.
  • You want to reduce the spread of COVID-19 or other illnesses.

Conclusion – Running an Office Without a Receptionist Is Easy

It should be apparent by now that most workplaces have adopted a solution very different than the dedicated receptionist of the past. While some have simply ignored the visitor experience, others have gained efficiency using modern visitor management solutions.

Consider the technological possibilities. They are not all a one-and-done. It is always an option to use multiple technologies to complete the best job for your company.

  • Make a digital visitor management system your gateway reception; door locks could be unlocked remotely after the employee is notified by the system.
  • Combine a visitor registration app with a virtual assistant or automated answering service.
  • Consider having a digital system to supplement your human receptionist to free up as much of their time as possible. The best of both the human and technological world.

Regardless of what approach you choose for your workplace, it is likely technology can help your office function more smoothly.

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