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Zoila’s 2019 OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, a collection of extraordinary destinations for corporate groups and events.
Name: Zoila Primo
Title & Company: Industry Partner | Technology, Aquent
Location: Los Angeles, CA
# Years as an Office Ninja: 19 years
Mantra: Above and beyond, it’s what I do :)
Fun Fact: Runs a successful side hustle as a baker.
Unless you happen to spot a can of Coca Cola on Zoila Primo’s desk, you’ll never know when she’s stressed. The Industry Partner | Technology at Aquent in Los Angeles, CA, is known for always keeping her cool, even on the most hectic days. That Coke is her only tell.
“I never (seriously, NEVER) drink caffeine at all,” she says. “So when folks see any sort of caffeinated item in my hand, they know I’m stressed. But that’s the only thing that changes! Otherwise, I’m still upbeat, friendly, and all the other things my team knows (and loves) about me.”
That unshakable positivity is a character trait that has served her well in her 19 years as Ninja. It helped her navigate the unexpected duties of her role as an office manager in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, and it certainly came in handy on her first day at Aquent — when she walked into what her colleagues referred to as an internal office move “disaster.” (Juicy details below!)
“Zoila does not have ‘off’ days,” Balloo, Zoila’s coworker, explains. “She’s the most consistent, effervescent and upbeat person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Wondering how she does it? Read our Q&A with this 2019 OfficeNinjas All-Star to find out!
Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
Back in NYC, I was working for an office space rental company. That came with a laundry list of unexpected daily tasks that weren’t part of my job description. When Hurricane Sandy hit NYC, I had to mobilize and figure out a way to safely get myself and about 10 other staff members into work. All methods of public transit were closed, some bridges and tunnels were also closed due to safety regulations, and many portions of the city had no power or were flooded.
While rolling out an impromptu communication plan to tenants, coordinating various taxi companies from all ends of the city, taking a two-hour commute to work AND making sure our phones were manned to answer questions, I also managed to unclog various toilets, change lightbulbs, fix a faulty ethernet port, get a vendor in to fix our HVAC, and feed the team.
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
Honestly, my favorite part is knowing that even the smallest thing I do has a purpose, and that what I do brings joy into other people’s days. I watched the Marie Kondo Netflix show [Tidying Up with Marie Kondo] recently, and the entire concept of things bringing “joy” into someone’s life resonated with me deeply because I realized THAT is what makes me happy. Knowing that what I do, how I do it, and that I do it with a smile; brings joy to those around me.
Zoila brought a wealth of experience and leadership to the role and got things running in our office much more smoothly. It was nice to be able to return our focus back to our actual jobs! – Josh
What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
My task book! I keep one for each “team” I am a part of, and it keeps track of the many things I do. At one point, I had four notebooks going: Office Management, IP, Sick Time, and Payroll. It’s almost comical how lost I can get without those notebooks. But with them? I’m unstoppable!
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
Stressed: Drink a Coke. And this only stands out because I never drink caffeine at all.
Upset: I’m cool, calm, and collected under pressure, so no one would really see me upset at work. It’s just not in my nature. It only happened once — when my kitten died last year. I was an emotional mess. It surprised my team so much that folks kept bringing me things hoping to cheer me up. I’ll never forget their kindness during that time in my life, and hope I can continue to bring that same kindness to my coworkers when they’re in need.
How do your employer and team members help you succeed?
Aquent invests in me — providing significant funding for professional development. The classes I take and conferences I attend help me continue to have a leg up in my hybrid role, and I appreciate that.
As for my team, they help me succeed just by being there! They push me to be the best version of myself, to think outside of the box and come up with unorthodox solutions to everyday issues. They give me the creative license and space to do as I see fit to move the needle forward, and their trust in me is absolute.
What are some of the processes you’ve created to help streamline your workplace’s operations?
I’ve created a few:
- A dashboard to track office supply requests and general office needs. This significantly cut down on the number of emails I get with supply requests. I also put certain things on auto delivery (recycled paper towels, notebooks) and stopped ordering others altogether (styrofoam cups, plastic utensils, etc). It cut down on monthly costs, and we rarely run out anymore.
- An out-of-office tracking document for the holidays to make it easier for us to internally plan events, office coverage, and the occasional “let’s have pizza because I said so” date. I also helped clarify/retrain employees on existing policies so that the full L.A. team was aware of protocols and knew who to go to for questions.
- A public tracker for onboarding, which allows my team to see the status of a new hire’s paperwork without having to ask for it. This one is HUGE. It was my biggest time-suck when I first started. I could spend upwards of 75% of my day just updating various people on onboarding status — now everyone just looks in one place!
Where does your drive come from? What keeps you motivated?
My biggest motivation (whether they believe it or not) is my family. I come from a very large Dominican Guyanese American family with very traditional (and sometimes conflicting) views. I know I’m not always doing what they wish I would, but there isn’t one second that I doubt I’m making them proud.
My motivation to succeed comes from knowing how hard my grandparents and parents worked to give me every opportunity I got in life, and I refuse to squander that. They did it all so I could do everything in my wildest dreams, and I absolutely WILL continue to meet and beat their every expectation. It’s the only way I know to say thank you for giving me the world.
How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
With the advance of technology, I think admin life is going to see itself turned on its head. As more and more things get automated, employers are having a hard time justifying roles simply because they can’t understand the financial value or need for having someone manage something that can be automated.
To stay ahead of the curve, fellow Ninjas need to think outside of the box and evolve. Find other things you can learn so you can bring more to the table. For some, it’s project management or a particular software.
For others like me, it’s jumping headfirst into the world of Human Resources as well as turning over a new leaf with my new role as an Industry Partner | Technology at Aquent. Did I ever see myself in this kind of role? Nope. But I’m glad I networked my way here! I look forward to all the new tricks I’ll have up my sleeve by this time next year.
Your Ninja skills were put to the test on the very first day on the job. Tell us about the situation and how you resolved it.
On my first day at work, I got an email looping me into what others on my team had considered “a disaster” regarding an internal office move.
I could sense very quickly that this discussion had been a point of frustration for many parties, so I put my project manager hat on and tackled the issue with strategy:
- I met with the various shareholders and shot out a quick email emphasizing what I understood the issue to be and actions they requested I take. After this acknowledgment, I went back to my internal team to understand the office dynamic and work with managers to create a new seating plan that kept the team dynamic and senior leadership asks in mind.
- I presented that seating plan as well as a timeline of transition, outlining who would move when and how long it would take. I also looped in building management so they could be on hand to help move any heavier items if need be.
- Once all senior leadership was on board, I explained to our team verbally and in writing what needed to happen, why it was happening, and what the stages of our swaps would be. I was empathetic to their concerns but firm in expressing that this was not negotiable at this time. It was a stressful two days, but we got it done!
Afterward, I sent a recap to senior leadership and a follow-up to my in-office team thanking them for bearing with me. I also threw a thank you luncheon for everyone and followed that up with a newly approved snack budget for the L.A. office. So while some feathers were ruffled, everyone came out of it ultimately with something they wanted, and I came out with my first win — all within my first two weeks!
It’s still my favorite story to tell because the team got a very quick feel for how I think, work, and manage requests (politely and with efficiency, empathy, professionalism, and speed.) To this day, I employ this method with just about any major or minor change in the office, and I find that I get the highest levels of buy-in this way.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Being a penny pincher! I know that sounds ridiculous, but let me explain.
When I started my role, I realized rather quickly that the office was spending quite a bit of money and no one had a reason why. I spent my first month pouring over invoices and reviewing Staples and Amazon orders trying to figure out where all the money was going.
Once I had an understanding of what was being purchased, I searched the office looking for things I knew we must have somewhere and kept reordering (Apple keyboards, mice, screen risers, office supplies, etc.) and put them all in places that made sense to me.
Then I switched from premium brand name items to store brand/recyclable items wherever and whenever possible. I also find and use coupons for pretty much everything possible. I made what I now realize are tons of small changes that added up to significant monthly savings.
How do you balance work and personal life?
This is something I have admittedly struggled with in the past, as I rarely had a great work/life balance. But at Aquent, work/life balance is more than just a bunch of words strung together during the interview process.
My team always makes sure to remind me that we’re all in this together. I took a vacation in March and didn’t feel any level of anxiety or concern about not being reachable. I knew I could count on my team to row the boat in my absence and that I’d be able to pick up when I came back in with minimal issues.
I love that about Aquent and totally wish all Office Ninjas had the same! Knowing I can disconnect and come back ready to rock is so helpful to me.
What are you most proud of outside of work?
Outside of work I’m most proud of two things: my baking and my sorority. With baking, I could go on for days, but what started as a hobby has somehow turned into a side gig with a life of its own.
My sorority (Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc.) is a source of infinite pride for me. Just last year I helped plan our 30th Anniversary Gala in Washington DC, and this year I’m serving on a committee that has big things planned. Though I can’t publicly share just yet, know that what I’m working on with my hermanas (sisters) will be my proudest work to date. I can’t wait to unveil later this year!
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“You’re smarter than that. Never dim your light for anyone — shine bright.” Granted, the words were in Spanish and they came from my grandfather, but that was the gist of the statement. It has stayed with me from a very young age, and every time I’m about to “dim my light” I think of that, roll up my sleeves, and get down to business.
What would you say are the top three traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
- Being a multitasking pro! We can’t succeed in our roles if we can’t do multiple things at once — and do them WELL.
- Being absolute perfectionists. Our attention to detail rivals all other qualities we share.
- Doing it all with a smile. A true All-Star knows that anything can be accomplished if you smile and get things done as a team.
She is organized, enthusiastic, and has the uncommon skill of being able to get everyone on the same page and rowing in the same direction (to mix my metaphors). She goes above and beyond organizing events to support and grow local office culture, executes all of her responsibilities in a timely, efficient, respectful manner, and is an all-around All-Star! – Meredith
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s been the most impactful in advancing your career?
As much as you love your team, they are not your family. Make decisions about your career based on what’s best for you, not what’s best for the team or company.
I had been with a firm in NYC for almost six years before making the jump to L.A. Leaving them was HARD, but I survived. My first L.A. role challenged me and pushed me to be a better, more holistic version of myself.
It also made me face what I did and didn’t love about my role. I was with that team for almost four years, and it hurt me personally to leave them, but I knew the time was right. I tossed and turned for hours before making the decision to leave, and I questioned myself 300+ times in the two weeks I was transitioning out.
Hindsight being 20/20, it was the right move for me. I still wish my old teams the best of luck and keep an eye out for news on them. I’m their biggest cheerleader, even if they don’t know it.
Office Ninjas often have tips and tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
1. Find your system and fine tune it. Are you into tech? Look into ticketing systems (Zendesk and Jira, possibly) or simple task trackers (Meistertask and Trello come to mind).
More of a paper/pen person? Find the item that brings you joy, get a ton of them on sale, and get to work! I’m a huge fan of these certain journals, and every time they go on sale at Staples I stock up. (I recently got them for $4 — win!) It turns out the process I’ve been using to manually track tasks aligns closely with bullet journaling. So, if you’re a paper and pen person, I suggest checking that out.
2. You are your best advocate, so sing your own praises and ask for raises/promotions/assistance. Talking about yourself and how awesome you are at your job is tough, but no one will go out of their way to do it for you.
Not comfortable? I suggest taking a negotiation class or reading up on tips and tricks. As Ninjas, we’re researchers by trade, so use your abilities to your advantage and be your own biggest cheerleader.
3. If you want to have a huge event and don’t have a budget, just ask, “If I can find x in savings from existing spending, can I use that?” And when you get a yes, COUPONS ARE YOUR FRIENDS!
There are so many small ways companies misuse funds without meaning to. You’d be surprised how much money switching from Moleskin brand to store brand journals or expensive pens to store brand ones that work equally as well (if not better) will save you.
She’s always willing to jump in and help out, even after hours or last minute. She’s also created some phenomenal processes to streamline things that were pretty clunky in the past. More than anything it’s her attitude. She gets a lot thrown at her from over 30 people sitting in different markets, all day, every day and yet she still has a smile on her face and a positive attitude! – Jennifer
Multiple nominators noted how the vibe of the office changed after you were brought on board. What are some of the things you’ve done to help boost morale and shape company culture?
COMMUNICATE! It was the one thing that, according to the team, has set me apart from others who have had my role. My willingness to open lines of communication, listen to their concerns/complaints, and then find viable solutions gave me very early wins with the team.
Now, there’s really nothing I can suggest that wouldn’t be met with an open mind and willingness to try it. I have to give kudos to my team — culture is a two-way street — I can’t create culture without their buy in to my ideas!
Zoila is an absolute ROCK STAR. She has been a standout hire since the first week and in her short time here has overhauled the L.A. office into a fun, efficient, and clean environment. She is respected by the entire office and pushes everyone to do their best, not just professionally but personally. She has inspired me to bring more energy into my own job 500 miles away and is a delight on team calls. Zoila brings the energy and life into everything she touches, plans the best events, and makes the best office treats. – Miranda
You mentioned you’ve been calling yourself an Office Ninja before the term even existed. As someone who’s clearly dedicated to the profession, how do you see it evolving and growing as the workplace changes?
It’s insane to think we were once called secretaries! No one would even think of using that as a title now, and I can imagine that 10 years from now, no one would think to call office administrators/managers/coordinators anything but what we are: secret Ninjas that run their corporations with efficiency, tact, and grace, all while juggling 300 tasks at once.
This profession allows us to be true chameleons, going from folks who once merely answered phones and ordered lunch to the incredible budget-managing, decision-making, culture-building mavericks we are today.
As new technologies come into play and make some of our more administrative tasks obsolete, I think our roles will demand more of a strategic partnership instead of the reactive behaviors many of us exhibit now. Our titles may change, and what we do may be different, but I like to think all super-star Office Ninjas strive for the same goal: to make every office they enter the best place to work.
I look forward to seeing what this role looks like in the future, and I welcome the challenges coming my way. After all, those are just opportunities for folks like us to shine!
When challenges look more like opportunities, you know you’re talking to an All-Star!
As part of her prize package, Zoila will receive a week-long stay, complete with meals, at the luxury Chaminade Resort & Spa, a mountain top retreat in Santa Cruz, California — courtesy of Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, a proud Admin Week 2019 Partner!
View the complete photo album from our All-Star photo shoot at Aquent with Zoila!
Today’s All-Star is brought to you by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels
Benchmark Resorts & Hotels is an award-winning hospitality expert known for creating transformational guest experiences. Each of their unique destinations in 19 states (spanning the coast to the slopes!) offers a range of activities and resources — perfect for team building adventures and company retreats.