Ah, 2020 – the year of COVID. What words come to mind when you think back? Some of those words may be work-appropriate, others maybe not so much. For me, it was the year of the pivot: constantly finding innovative ways to continue to get work done.
I work for a Regional Fire Authority in Washington state. We provide the Fire and EMS services for four cities and two fire districts. The administrative work done here supports our first responders; so every action counts, and many tasks are mission-critical. Finding ways to get the work done in the most streamlined and timely manner is important.
When most of our staff began telecommuting 100% at the height of COVID, an issue I quickly noticed was that getting approvals and signatures on contracts was quite the task. Back and forth emails, Teams calls and messages, and locating which file was the “final” draft proved to be time-consuming, in an already frantic time. We didn’t have a policy in place for how to route contracts through a defined approval process and get them to the Fire Chief for final approval and signature. And we definitely didn’t have a way to do this without being in the office together. So, I decided to create one.
The first thing I had to do, which I highly encourage of anyone starting a brand-new project, is to sit down and ask yourself some critical questions – for me these were:
A streamlined, well-documented, user-friendly process for routing contracts/agreements for the Fire Chief’s signature.
Our Executive Staff members and our organization’s attorney.
Now the latter question includes people who are VERY busy and have huge workloads, so I kept that in mind the entire time I put this process together. As an Administrative Assistant (now an Executive Assistant, as of this writing), I gain satisfaction from knowing I make my team members work lives easier. Also, the easier it is, the more people will do it!
The second part of the process was to research and learn. There are many programs out there that allow electronic signature, so I had to sift through and educate myself on the capabilities of each and how they would integrate with our current systems. I ended up choosing Adobe Sign, for the ease of use and the minimal learning curve associated with it. It’s worked so well for us that we now use it for many other documents that need signatures as well.
The final product I created is a Contract Routing Sheet: a fillable PDF that I send to all approving parties via Adobe Sign along with the contract/agreement attached. Each person reviews it and can then initial off and add comments if needed. The final recipient is our Fire Chief, who signs the document, and then it comes full circle back to me so I can make sure all parties involved have a copy for their records.
Since implementation, we’ve had no issue with contract routing or tracking, and I’ve received very positive feedback from the end-users.
As an Administrative Professional, you most likely wear a few different hats, and you’re aware of what works and what doesn’t within your organization. I guarantee the things that run smoothly are because they have specific, repetitive, and documented processes that people follow. Identify areas in your workplace where there are procedural gaps, or where tribal knowledge or “that’s how it’s always been done” methodologies are used. And then step up and find ways to put procedures in place. Documentation makes your work life easier, but it’s also necessary for succession planning.
I had no experience with electronic signatures prior to this project, except receiving the occasional DocuSign document and “clicking here to sign”. I used tutorial videos to determine that Adobe Sign had the functionality we needed and to teach myself how to use it. Don’t be afraid to teach yourself a new skill and utilize the vast ocean of resources available for free, or through trusted sites such as asap.org.
Administrative Professionals are the key to smooth day-to-day operations for most organizations. It is a special role where you know the ins and outs, the who, the why, and the what. Use this to your advantage! Find areas that can be improved and propose solutions. Often, the leaders of our organizations hear all about the problems; use your unique skill set to be the one who offers solutions.
About the Author: Jessica Steward has over 10 years of professional Administrative experience, most recently being promoted to Executive Assistant for a Regional Fire Authority. Jessica values continued education and loves being the “go-to” person for her team. Outside of work, Jessica enjoys spending time with her boyfriend and two sons, exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest where she was born and raised.
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