The office manager can be the power behind the throne in many a business

The first trade exhibition in New Zealand for the facilities management and systems integration industries was held last month.

A large target group for the Facilities Integrate exhibition was office managers, who were able to source suppliers and view the latest products and services to create the ideal office space. The exhibition also showcased the importance and growing influence of office managers as decision makers within a company.

For Karen Marshall, who was office manager at Les Mills International for four years before recently becoming the Auckland manager, it's no surprise producers are targeting office managers.

"The work of an office manager has expanded," says Marshall. "The new exhibition and the change in my title reflects how respected and valued office managers have become."


A search through recruitment ads showed up almost 100 office manager roles throughout New Zealand in varied industries.

You don't need to spend years studying towards a qualification to land a role. Marshall admits doing "very poorly in school" and being "a little bit lost" afterwards, but at the age of 45 has returned to study towards a bachelor of business degree.

She started at the company as Phillip Mills' executive assistant and is the first office manager for the company, which employs 130 staff.

"I could see opportunities in the office manager role that weren't available to me as an executive assistant," says Marshall. "For example, I have more touch-points within the organisation now and I manage two staff, as well as overseeing areas outside of the general executive assistant role."

She spends a lot of time answering email, but also takes the time to walk around the building to get to know its quirks and keep an eye on security, maintenance and cleaning. She may also be out on the road sourcing furniture and says there's no typical day for an office manager, which helps to keep her interested in the job.

One of the most surprising things for her is how much emotion there is attached to seating.

"It's extraordinary. You think you've got it right, but then everything changes and a new evaluation of the workstations is needed," says Marshall. "People might not know the impact we can have as an office manager, but a good one is a huge asset to a business. We've got our eyes on everything."

One of the ways Marshall improves the business is on process improvement, which she is passionate about. It might be having a focus on recycling, or making stationery and toilet paper orders automatic - anything she can do to save the company money and time.


She also thinks up fun things for staff to do during the year. For example, she looked at the weather forecast and spotted a glorious sunny day, so arranged a company-wide pizza and drinks day for staff to sit together and enjoy the weather.

"I can positively influence the business as well as save the business money," says Marshall. "At Les Mills International, I have the freedom to do spontaneous things and to make it a great place to work."

"Phillip Mills is keen on a culture of having fun and of physically creating innovative and funky spaces," says Marshall. "The latest thing from the US is "collision places" in a building and the insights staff get from colliding with members of the team they might not normally see. It can move a business forward. So, we're moving to very open-planned spaces, it's not hierarchical here."

If you'd like an office manager position, Marshall says it's worth considering the role if you come from an executive or personal assistant role because so many skills are transferable.

"Each office manager role is different. Les Mills International is quite special, but in general you need an eye for office layout, problem-solving skills, attention to detail and a high care factor for the staff," says Marshall, who admits if she had good grades, she could have ended up as a forensic scientist.

The career of an office manager can lead to work in all kinds of industries and there's the chance to find the right organisational fit, from large corporates to small businesses. It appears to be a career with longevity and a way to springboard into other roles. And you get a birds-eye-view of the company - as well as, presumably, plenty of office gossip?

"You're not going to believe this," says Marshall. "but I very rarely hear gossip at Les Mills International and I don't have a problem saying that I don't want to talk about something. I sit with HR and it's just not that kind of culture."

Obviously, another valuable skill of a good office manager is to be this discreet.