How can you pick out a good person?
How someone enters and leaves the office can tell you a lot. Here’s what you need to look out for.
It’s a Tuesday morning, 9:30 am, and I’m about to sit down with a serviced office company. I’m a bit early for my 11 am meeting due to a timings mix up, very early in fact, so I sit in the reception area and wait until 10:50 to inform them that that I've arrived. 10 minutes early is politely prompt. 90 minutes is a tad overly keen.
I love these moments. I spend this hour and half taking part in some undercover espionage – or research if you prefer. I pick a vantage point with good sight lines around the whole room, typically towards a corner, and make sure not to attract any attention.
I simply sit and watch as people come and go; assessing the vibe of the company I’m about to meet. I learn a lot.
Receptionists, I’ve often thought, and am now currently witnessing first hand, are a hugely undervalued resource. They, as I am now, access the human behaviours that we all often think go unnoticed.
They interact with tens if not hundreds of people every single day. From the good eggs to the rotten apples, receptionists are able to identify personality types far swifter than any other group I have ever come across. I do not understand why companies do not utilise their know how during annual reviews, hiring or whenever a character assessment is required.
So as I sit here and wait, the regulars, those that work full-time in this particular office, come and go. I estimate that roughly half greet the receptionist as they go by. I have noted that the majority of my old work colleagues cum friends are greeters.
The other half march by in silence. They do not acknowledge their front-desk bound colleague. These are typically a more mixed bunch; some are introverts, some more socially awkward, and the others have never been the first on my Christmas card list.
I’m not the first to see this reception test as a useful initial tell into the character of a person. Just last week I was discussing the value of the reception team with a senior partner at a London law firm, when he mentioned they ask the receptionists to note those that do and do not say hello as they arrive. Those that fail in this common courtesy are told they need to shape up in their reviews, and if this happens more than twice then employees are removed from the potential partners shortlist.
How visitors interact is just as interesting as how the regulars interact.
It’s a busy building. As I look around at the soft furnishings, the first visitor arrives. A five foot seven, middle aged man with a good head of dark hair and a briefcase strides across the reception. He has been here before. When asked to spell his unique surname for the visitor’s badge, he rattles off the letters without so much as pausing let alone engaging eye contact. Hierarchical.
The next visitor is determined to make sure the receptionist has typed his surname right. Either he has an unfortunate surname that needs spell checking, such as ‘Cant’, or he is the controlling sort. I note his tie knot, crisply ironed shirt and polished shoes and opt for the latter.
The third guest coldly gives her name before turning to the seating area. She looks comfortable in these surroundings as she removes her coat. When the person she is meeting greets her, she jumps up personifying warmth and charm. She’s one to watch. An operator.
During the 90 minutes I’m sat here, a pattern begins to form among the visitors. The relaxed do as they are told and wait patiently. The nervous stand awkwardly or pace uncomfortably close to the front desk. Potential interviewees I surmise.
The super-anxious fail to wait more than 3 minutes 12 seconds (yes I did time an average) before returning to reception, enquiring if the person they have come to meet received their arrival message. On hearing an affirmative response, they return to their loitering. I’m not sure what to make of these people, but I’m sure the reception team know the sort.
The visitor pass is, in itself, a good guide to personality. When handed the rectangular card with accompanying lanyard, the majority hang it around their necks. I have historically shoved this in my pocket in my bid to demonstrate I’m no corporate tourist and in fact belong here. I wonder what this means to my inner personality. I add this to my mental list to ask a receptionist when the time is right.
When it comes to using the electronic security pass, there is a real mishmash of effectiveness. I would almost say that there is a U-shaped graph for age against skill – the fresh faced and older generation seem to have the most trouble.
Security Pass Issues vs Age
Many fail to listen to the advice given as to where to put the pass on the barrier. I give most credit to those who laugh at their own incompetence, lower marks go to those that glare at the receptionist, seemingly thinking they have been given a joker card instead of a pass. No marks for the pin stripped individual who requires receptionist’s panic button. They are so incompetent that they have to do the walk of shame through the swinging door.
The final test of character comes in the 10 minute window either side of 10 o’clock - the busy period. Most people hand back their pass with a goodbye and thank you. Some sling it back without so much as an onomatopoeically grateful sound. The remaining negligent souls forget altogether, passes left in pockets.
The law may prevent employers from asking their employees personal questions, but there is nothing in the corporate code to stop them from taking reception manners into account.
So the next time you meet a visitor in reception, perhaps spare a thought to what your receptionist may already know about them. Is it time to arrange to receive a text from the reception team if the visitor has been polite or made joke? Perhaps a shake of a head for rudeness, a shrug of the shoulders for no words at all and a thumbs down for ignoring them and continuing to speak on the phone?
If you do, you might just gain a valuable insight into your partner in business.
Do you make the effort to say hello every day to your office receptionist?