17 Essential Skills I Learnt From Working in an Office

Okay, I’ll admit it. I no longer work in an office, but it doesn’t mean that I regret my years as a desk jockey. I have worked in a multitude of offices and learnt tons of really useful stuff that makes my life now as a digital nomad so much easier.

Here are just a few reasons why I am glad I spent time working in an office environment.

  1. You learn how to use office equipment properly.

Everything from telex machines, fax machines, laser jet printers, photocopiers, scanners, microfiches, franking machines, dicta-phones and coffee-makers. Okay, some of them you can now only find in museums but you never know when they might make a comeback — think Hipster!

  1. You are comfortable with technology.

Working in an office teaches you how to use all manner of word processors, spreadsheets, databases and networks. It also gives you tons of experience sending emails and of course, how to effectively use the internet.

  1. You can learn to communicate…properly.

Not only do you get to type quicker than most, but you also learn to write letters, emails, reports, memos and file notes with the best of them.

  1. You learn to get on with people.

If you are lucky you will get a chance to work with a huge variety of different people from different age groups, classes, backgrounds and places from all over the world. This gives you an excellent opportunity to not only meet lots of interesting people, but also enhance your social skills.

  1. You learn to work anywhere.

Over the years I have worked in big crowded open plan spaces to small stuffy crammed rooms. Sometimes they are too hot, sometimes too cold. I have worked in dilapidated empty office buildings and glamorous city spots and at other times have been smack in the middle of a hospital, chemical factory or industrial park. Basically, where ever there are people, there are offices!

  1. You get to be good on the phone.

With the rise in offshore call centres and impersonal automated phone systems, speaking well on the phone seems to be becoming a bit of a dying art these days. I spent literally thousands of hours on the phone honing my skills by dealing with complex issues, angry customers, sensitive situations as well as more mundane matters. It was all invaluable experience.

  1. Conflict resolution.

Offices can be stressful places to work. Not only do you frequently have unrealistic deadlines, targets and a dazzling array of compliance and arcane procedures, but you also have to deal with clashing egos and office politics. To survive as unscathed as possible you must learn to avoid conflict and help resolve it ASAP.

  1. Discipline.

Working in an office 5 days a week all year around with limited holiday time and demanding core hours makes you disciplined. No matter how tired, hungover or fed up you are you always manage to get to work on time and last the distance. If you don’t you won’t last your probation.

  1. You meet lots of clever, interesting and funny people.

Offices are literally crammed with great, smart, interesting and funny people. Multi-talented and super gifted. You meet them all. Of course there are some grade ‘A’ idiots, but some of the cleverest and best people I’ve ever known I met in an office.

  1. You make some great friends.

Offices are a fantastic place to meet new friends. Not only are you often stuck working together for months and years, but you also get to go on work lunches, parties and social events. Your work colleagues can become some of your greatest and longest friends.

  1. They teach you how to behave in meetings, seminars, training sessions and audits.

This is a really useful skill for anyone, especially if you are a self-employed freelancer, entrepreneur or start up. You still have to go to meetings, sell yourself and make presentations.

  1. You learn to adapt to change.

Offices are notorious for moving people around, restructuring, hot-desking, office relocations, redundancies and business mergers. If you have worked in offices long enough change becomes the norm and really doesn’t faze you.

  1. You learn how to deal with difficult people.

Although most people are nice and good to work with, sad to say offices do have their fair share of unsavoury characters. If you work in an office for long enough then the chances are you will come across some of them. Challenging people can provide great learning opportunities; either how to deal with them, or not become like them.

  1. Time management.

Most office jobs have busy periods and quieter times, i.e. end of year accounts, annual statements etc. However, they also have a daily rhythm when phones are busier, when the mail comes in, lunch times etc. You soon learn when you need to do certain tasks and more importantly how to prioritise and even delegate (depending on where you are in the food chain).

  1. Learn how to work in a team.

In my experience most offices are compartmentalised into divisions, departments, sections and teams. It is crucial to your survival to fit in, find your place and integrate as quickly as possible. Failure to do so comes at a heavy price.

  1. Learn how to behave correctly at corporate functions.

If you are lucky you learn this lesson very early on. Do not to get too drunk at any office party — ever. Basically it is career suicide. Period. Always remember that it’s still a work sponsored event and you are still a paid employee at work.

  1. You learn to work out who is really calling the shots.

A strange thing about offices is that you have an official management structure and an un-official one. I have worked at many a place where people who apparently have little official power in reality wield tremendous influence.

I could add much more to this list, but really offices are just a microcosm of life and as long as you are in one, you will continue to learn and experience new things.

The main things to remember about working in an office are; try to get on with people, avoid making enemies, steer clear of pointless meetings and always find that special person who knows how everything works.

Even better, become that person.

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