Editor’s Note: We're searching for the best and brightest admin professionals and workplace operators in the US. Know an outstanding Ninja? Nominations for the 2020 All-Star Awards are now open!
Today’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by TripActions! Make your bookings go further with end-to-end travel management.
Name: Nicki Bartels
Title & Company: Office Manager, ESD
Location: Chicago, IL
# Years as an Office Ninja: 4
Recommends: The Zero Email Inbox
Fun Fact: Prior to being an Office Ninja, Nicki was Director of Events for USA Boxing!
“Tireless.” “Fearless.” “A consummate professional.” These are just some of the words Nicki Bartels’ co-workers used to describe her in their OfficeNinjas All-Stars nominations. Each of her nominators shared different stories of how Nicki helped improve office morale, took charge of a complicated project, or planned the most memorable event in the company’s history. Yet all of them emphasized one important fact: Nicki is a team player.
Nicki mixes the role of manager with the mindset of teamwork seamlessly. She is always there to support her reports and jump in to be a back up as a peer would. There is never a question whether she will be there for her team or whether or not it is OK to go to her for help.
Her dedication to the ESD team knows no bounds … or time zones! She currently supports teams in Dallas and San Francisco, as well as remote employees all over the country.
Every day, Nicki Bartels is inundated with multiple requests from various groups. Yet she always has a smile on her face and—somehow—has the most organized desk in our 300-person firm … Nicki is the linchpin who keeps our company moving forward. Her enthusiasm and positive attitude are blessings to us all.
Though, when you look at Nicki’s history of special projects, juggling a few time zones seems like nothing. Jumping in to manage a LEED certification process? Yup, she did that. Organizing a fishing tournament on Lake Michigan for 100 clients? Sure, why not? And guess who’s overseeing ESD’s move to Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower?
Nicki is a bit of a pocket knife. She does it all. She manages our geographically diverse and fast-moving team’s core operations, manpower, and delivery. In addition to that, she oversees our Chicago office administrative staff to take her proven ability and enable others to raise their own personal bar based on her example.
We have a feeling we can learn A LOT from this All-Star. So let’s dive right into our Q&A with Nicki!
ON: What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
NB: Being the go-to person to get things done. I like being part of a team and making an impact. Whether it’s alleviating a task from someone else’s to-do list, proactively initiating a project, or just being the person with the information, I love solving problems. I love being the person someone thinks of when they ask themselves, “Who can help get this done?”
ON: Where does your drive come from? What keeps you motivated?
NB: I’m competitive in nature. I thrive off of recognition and knowing that I succeeded in getting the job done. ESD has a monthly Co-worker Shout Out program, which is a casual forum for recognizing co-workers and their hard work. Shout Outs celebrate those people who have gone the extra mile and have demonstrated one or more of our core competencies. In 2017, I tied for receiving the most Shout Outs, which was a very proud moment. It showed that I have an impact on many individuals who think highly of my work ethic and commitment to the team and company. These tokens of recognition keep me motivated to stay on top of my game and continue making a positive impact.
ON: What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk and why?
NB: I always have a daily calendar on my desk. My mom sends my sisters and I one every year with inspirational quotes on it. I love the act of coming into work each day and tearing off the sheet to see what the new day has in store. It reminds me that today is a new day, a clean slate, and the inspirational quote is surprisingly always timely! There have been plenty of times when my sisters, mom, and I text each other with a picture of the calendar because it reminds us of each other or something that is going on in our lives at the time. I love that it is not only practical and keeps the date fresh on my mind, but it’s also a reminder of my family and the inspiration that comes with each new day.
ON: Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
NB: Yesterday … TODAY … Tomorrow! Seriously, every day feels a little crazy, but that’s what’s so great about the admin role. Days when there is an event (holiday party, fishing tournament, move, etc.) or client meetings always feel a little more high-stress or high-pressure, but ultimately we get to use the skills we are best at: adapting to change, thinking on our feet, communicating with others, and keeping the overall schedule and flow of the office and company in line.
I like the days when my calendar is packed, and I know there are going to be a million requests. It means that I have to figure out how to get it all done, work with the team, and really prove that the admin at ESD can do it all!
I think the craziest days are about to be here with the move coming up. I am looking forward to the hard work and excitement of our new space, and making sure it is all set up for a great first day for all of our employees!
ON: What tricks do you have for when you’re stressed or upset at work?
NB: I get up from my desk and take a lap. Whether it’s just around the office, to the cafe to fill up my water bottle, or downstairs to grab coffee, getting up and away from my desk helps to clear my head, reset, and de-stress. The stressors will still be there when you get back, so take a minute or two for yourself to adjust your attitude and re-engage.
ON: How does your team help you succeed?
NB: ESD and my team help me succeed by providing an atmosphere of guidance and support. The relationships I have are built on trust, and I believe this has enabled me to take ownership of many projects and tasks and see them from start to finish.
ESD’s values are Respect, Work Hard/Smart, Win. I believe that working toward these common values puts us in a better position to succeed, not only as individuals but also as a team and company. The tasks that I am able to complete on a day-to-day basis are largely due to my team members doing their part to make each of our groups and departments succeed. I trust in their abilities and know they are well-equipped to get the job done, which allows me to focus on the projects I have and continue to build efficiencies that can be shared among the team. I am successful because of those who surround me.
ON: How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
NB: Office Ninjas do it all! The admin profession has evolved into a position that encompasses so much more than answering phones and scheduling meetings. We keep things working and are constantly adapting to new requests and roles that arise. I think this will continue to be the way it evolves, with admins having to wear multiple hats and needing a wide-range of skill sets.
To stay ahead of the curve, I am constantly looking for ways to learn new skills and best practices from others in the industry. This is one of the reasons I got involved with OfficeNinjas! OfficeNinjas provides a great platform to learn new skills through their newsletters and articles. Hands-on encounters with other admins in my city allow me to learn what they are doing to evolve and stay ahead of the game.
I also consistently put my name into the hat to get involved with varying departments and projects. I find it rewarding and informative to learn more about different areas and people within ESD.
ON: What is your greatest professional achievement?
NB: I am most proud of being promoted to my current role of Office Manager. I’m still learning the ropes, but I’m excited about the added responsibility and impact that I can have on my team and ESD as a whole. I also love that I still get to interact with the original groups I have supported from the beginning. The people I work with are a large part of what has made working at ESD so great. Being the go-to person for so many groups and individuals makes me very proud, and it’s what brings me to work every day.
ON: What are you most proud of outside of work?
NB: My family! When I’m not at work, they are the focus. I have been married to my husband, Nick, for four years, and we have an awesome dog, Moose! We love being outside, taking advantage of warm weather, and traveling whenever possible with other family and friends. Another recent accomplishment I am proud of is completing a half marathon! It was hard work and ultimately not my favorite race, but I finished and am proud of the accomplishment.
ON: How do you balance work and personal life?
NB: By setting boundaries and scheduling specific times for both. I find it helps to put personal items on the calendar to help push me out the door at work or put early morning organization time on the calendar to push me out the door in the morning. It is important to have a life outside of work, but it’s also important to enjoy the time you spend there. I find getting involved with various committees and social groups in and out of work helps me find that balance.
ON: What would you say are the top 3 traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
1. Resourcefulness – finding a solution no matter what. Whether it’s asking Google, asking another admin, or just plain figuring it out, an Office Ninjas always finds a way to get the job done.
2. Confidence – providing reliable support and trust to your team. Being aware of the impact you have, and utilizing it for the betterment of yourself and the company.
3. Communication – understanding the means and methods needed to get your point across. Understanding the audience, your message, and the impact that it will have prior to sending it out. Effectively finding ways to help people understand what is going on and giving them the ability to push the message forward.
ON: What’s one thing you’ve done that’s been the most impactful in advancing your career?
NB: Not being afraid to take on new tasks and roles and always asking questions. Getting involved has always proved to be beneficial for me in advancing my career. People see you as a team player—someone who doesn’t shy away from a task and is willing to do whatever you can to get the job done. The key to getting involved is to ask questions.
Even the best Office Ninjas don’t know it all. It’s important to understand what is being asked of you or what you are getting involved with so that you can prepare or find additional learning materials to become an asset. Even if the role or task is outside of your responsibilities or comfort zone, give it a try! You never know when you might find a hidden talent or skill that you excel at!
ON: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
NB: Be your own critic. It’s great to understand your best traits and skills, but that doesn’t mean you should settle. It is important to always look for ways to enhance and build your skills to take them to the next level. Also, know when to promote yourself and let people know what you’ve accomplished. Office Ninjas, especially Office Ninjas who are women, need to not only lead by example but also make sure we are being provided the same opportunities as everyone else within our companies.
ON: Office Ninjas often have tips and tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
NB: I am a huge fan of the zero email inbox. I will say that it is difficult to get there on a daily basis, but only keeping emails in my inbox that I still have to complete the task for helps turn my inbox into my living to-do list.
I am a HUGE fan of to-do lists. They keep me on track, and I love the feeling of crossing something out or checking it off. There is no greater feeling than throwing out a to-do list because everything has been completed!
Don’t forget to appreciate those around you. Getting recognition is great, but giving it is pretty great too. I have started giving shout outs at the beginning of my monthly team meetings. It is a great way to start the meeting off on the right foot.
Have fun and smile! It takes way more energy to have a bad attitude. A simple smile can go a long way to make people feel comfortable. Coffee and a good attitude can get you through pretty much anything!
ON: What’s it like supporting teams across multiple time zones? Any secrets for keeping on top of requests from an office thousands of miles away?
NB: It is an exciting time to be a part of ESD! We are growing and developing our presence throughout the country, and I love supporting our teams in our Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco offices, as well as remote employees in cities across the country (Portland, Denver, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Reno). I find that it’s helpful that requests from offices in different time zones typically come at the end of their day, as I can work on them first thing when I get into the office and have the items waiting in their inboxes when they walk into their office the next day.
We have also started to utilize video conferencing and messaging platforms more. This helps to keep us better connected. We find that it’s important to make sure all offices feel included in different initiatives taking place. For example, last year we had a health and wellness week. We made sure that both Dallas and San Francisco were involved. We planned group seminars, healthy breakfast deliveries, smoothie sessions, and each office chose a workout or yoga class to attend in their city. It is important to still feel like one company, one team!
ON: Ninjas wear many different hats, but we’ve heard you’ve even worn a hard hat to help finish a project. How do you switch between such a variety of responsibilities and projects?
NB: A year or so ago, our Energy+Eco team was going through some personnel changes, so I jumped in to help manage the LEED certification process of a project in Madison, WI. It took some extra work to get familiar with the LEED process, documenting the credits correctly, and working with the multiple client contractors to get necessary information. It was hard, but I had some great guidance, and ultimately the project was a success. The project received LEED Silver certification. I learned a lot about client interface, project management, and most importantly, a key service that our Energy+Eco team provides. I feel I am more equipped to help promote and sell ESD when opportunities arise.
While helping to manage that project, I still had my other administrative duties and tasks that had to get done. To stay on top of it all, I would block out time before and after the monthly project meetings to prepare or recap items that were brought up that month. I found that getting items done immediately before and after the call ensured that they didn’t get missed. Blocking out specific times helped set expectations for other teams and colleagues regarding when I would be available to work on other items or tasks.
ON: You started out as an administrative assistant at ESD and were promoted to Office Manager. What was that transition like?
NB: My transition from administrative assistant to Office Manager has been exciting! I still have many of the same responsibilities to the original groups I supported, but I have added support of the Executive Chairman and supervisor of the admin/office services team to the list. I have tried to find balance in having a lot of people depending on me. I understand that there are times when I cannot do it all, and I credit my great admin/office services team for really supporting me and the tasks that I throw at them throughout this transition.
It is also amazing what a title change can do. When I came into the role, the CEO (my direct boss) changed the title to Office Manager to better describe the role and all it encompasses. With this new title, there have been a lot of new opportunities and requests that I think would have gone elsewhere previously.
I see the Office Manager role at ESD evolving. If you were to check in a year from now, I am sure there may be some new and exciting responsibilities added.
ON: We caught you in the middle of a big office move into the Willis Tower! What are your biggest takeaways from the process of changing locations (especially to such an iconic one)?
NB: There are so many components to managing an office move! It helps to have an awesome team working together to get everything done. Each member of the team can then focus on the 5, 10, or 50 tasks they are assigned, knowing that the others are doing their part to get theirs done.
It is important to provide constant communication to all employees on what is going on, what changes are being made, how certain decisions impact them, and how they will fit into the new space! We want to get people excited about the new improvements they will see (more outdoor light and views, a wellness room, Bevi machines on both floors, Willis Tower building amenities) and the basics of being in a new space, like updates to building safety, building access, and security. We are looking forward to being in one of the most iconic buildings, not only in Chicago, but the world, and see it as an opportunity to have a space we are proud to show off.
Nicki, with you at the helm, we know the new space is going to come together perfectly!
As part of her prize package, Nicki will receive a $1,000 travel credit, courtesy of TripActions!
View the complete photo album from our photo shoot at ESD with Nicki.
Today’s All-Star is brought to you by TripActions:
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