Life at Jama

What I’ve Learned After Three Years and Three Offices

There are two main lessons in office management and it doesn't stop there

Anthony Szabo | October 21, 2016

This October marks three years since I started working at Jama. In those three years, I’ve helped to manage three different offices. Although I had a background in office administration and event planning and management, I had never managed an office the size of Jama’s when I started.

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This is a photo I took on my bike ride in to the first day at 2+T

Before joining Jama I had been an office manager, bookkeeper, and executive assistant for a very small non-profit organization with two-and-a-half full-time employees. I knew that things would be a little different at a startup that was rapidly closing in on 100 employees. But between my previous work experience and my keep calm and carry on demeanor, I knew that I could roll with whatever Jama might throw my way.

There are some things that you just don’t expect, though.

During my on-boarding process, I received great training and insight from the previous office manager, who was moving into a different role. A week after I started, she was scheduled to be away for a long weekend. “Oh,” she said as an afterthought. “I ordered some more cereal for the kitchen and it might arrive while I’m gone. Just put it away in the cabinets if it does.”

I was flabbergasted when six giant boxes arrived from Amazon one day. They were addressed to her. She’d told me to open any packages that came for her while she was gone. “Maybe she ordered some furniture for home,” I thought as I cut the tape on the first one.

Nope. It was cereal. Same thing in the next one, and in the next one. I thought it was a practical joke. I thought maybe this was part of the good-natured initiation process, which also involved me having to put together my own Ikea filing cabinet at my desk.

Instead, it was my first lesson about the scale at which I had to start thinking. At my previous job, a case of copier paper could last us the better part of a year (and we were a very paper-heavy organization). At Jama, a case of paper might last us a couple of months if we were lucky. I had to start thinking about coffee orders in the dozens of pounds. And a gross (12 dozens) became my new favorite measurement of quantity.

But it wasn’t just reworking my brain to operate at a higher scale, startup life also meant getting used to change as a constant. Two weeks after I started, just as I felt like I was getting my bearings in the office, Jama split in two. The company had almost outgrown its current office but we had not yet found the right larger space that we could continue to grow in. So, as a short-term solution, Jama had taken a short-term lease on another office a few blocks away. Our Engineering, Product, and Support teams moved to what came to be known as Jama South, while the rest of the company stayed at Jama North. It was about a 10 minute walk between the two offices, but we also bought some snazzy orange bikes to help folks move between the two spaces more quickly.

The garage door at Jama South that shows a map of the two offices in relation to each other

This office split was not a surprise for me. My interviewers had been very candid about this during my hiring process and I was ready and excited for the challenge. It was interesting to order supplies for two separate offices split along departmental lines. Although both offices had similar populations, one office ate way more cereal and way less fruit than the other one. Coffee and beer consumption were about the same, but office supplies (pens, paper, etc) were very different.

A little over a year after splitting the company into two buildings, Jama moved into a unified space at SW 2nd Avenue and SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland. After the dust settled, I expected my job was going to get easier. One building is easier to manage than two buildings, right? It turns out that’s not necessarily true. Our new building provided plenty of interesting quirks and problems over our first year that kept me busy.

New Jama office under construction
New Jama office under construction

And it turns out that having more people in one space instead of fewer people in two separate spaces requires a different way of approaching office management. It’s not just a process of doubling supply orders to make sure that there are enough bananas. There was a period of fine tuning our supply ordering and studying how people were actually using the new space.

Probably the thing that I love most about my job (aside from the people that I work with) is that it constantly challenges me. Every day when I come into work, I know that the day is very likely going to throw a wrench into my task list at some point. An HVAC unit might decide it doesn’t want to work, a window shade might get stuck, we might run out of apples, or the building fire alarm might get tripped accidentally by the construction happening downstairs.

But through it all, I’ve learned to be flexible and to roll with it. With help from our Front Desk and Office Coordinator, I’m learning every day how to run the office more smoothly and more efficiently. We’re not perfect yet, but after three years and three offices, I’m no longer surprised when the giant boxes of cereal arrive.