Asked what his work is like, Neriel David Ponce likened it to a series of fantasy volleyball matches, in which players are ambushed by five volleyballs at once—meaning that risks are renewed every second, there is no easy path to victory, and one must remain absolutely calm.
Neriel has recently been nominated for ezCater’s 2018 Office Hero of the Year Award in celebration of admins everywhere this Administrative Professionals Day.
Neriel works as an administrative coordinator for the nonprofit Border Crossers. Comparing a deadly, never-before-seen volleyball match and office administration may seem to some a peculiar analogy. But the comparison aptly expresses how administrative professionals are regularly entangled with a whole range of obstacles. You can make the case that the work of planning meetings, managing calendars, sorting emails and routing calls, a type of work that requires setting priorities and making decisions, are themselves forms of deadly left-handed spikes, especially when these tasks are never-ending. The idea that one person can do it all, with no need of help, is not unreasonable, but does make colossal demands.
These days, executive assistants, secretaries, and administrative “assistants are expected to perform as managers,” said Melba J. Duncan in an article for the New York Times. Duncan is a former assistant who is president of the Duncan Group, a recruiting and training firm based in New York that focuses on senior-level professional assistants.
Returning to the analogy of volleyball: What does it look like when those volleyballs come raining down on office-hero Neriel? It gets pretty chaotic. Recently, in an interview with ezCater, Neriel revealed that he had to orchestrate eleven trainings on the same day, sending educators and activists out to a site in New Jersey, and controlling the shifting details from a remote site in New York. The combinations of problems that emerged that day were deadly, but not untypical of an office: The Wi-Fi went down, Neriel scrambled to get the company’s domain up and running in time for the training sessions, all at a moment when he was sorting through other logistics. What did he do? He leapt forward and won an unmistakable victory for his team.
ezCater chatted with Neriel at the close of a day to talk about his office-hero nomination.
Sometimes a day starts with a flood of everything coming at once. That’s why I check my email so frequently, so I know what to expect for the day.
I used to get overwhelmed by the emails, getting thirty emails that I needed to respond to, so I learned to prioritize. I leave the easy email requests for later in the day and then review my to-do list. I ask myself, do I have time for long-term planning or am I rushing for a deadline? Do I have meetings? And what are the time-sensitive issues I need to deal with? Who can I go to for this? How do I utilize my interns?
Yesterday, for instance, I had four meetings, back to back, so I considered how I could use my time, because I had half an hour in between each meeting, and I wanted to use that time strategically. My work varies. It depends on the day. There’s a lot of working parts. I like to focus on the little things, but also have the big picture in mind. Being an administrative coordinator is like being a professional multitasker or organizer.
I’ve developed different ways that I can stay on track. We have huge amounts of trainings every week. You do thirty things and there are thirty more things.
I love templates. You want templates for everything. A lot of people email us asking the same set of questions, so I like to draft templates of responses. So when they ask me the same questions, I can just customize my responses from a template instead of drafting the same emails repeatedly, saving time.
I love Post-its. They’re my best friend. Sometimes I’m doing some work, but I’ll think of a great idea, so I like to write it down immediately, slap it on my desk, and check back on it later.
It’s really fun keeping things on track and in order. Like, you get an overview of what’s going on. I also get to see what our organization is working on, because the projects we do, promoting racial justice, are really amazing. For me what’s rewarding is that the work I’m doing is connected to what my coworkers are doing, and we share a common goal of dismantling racism. And we’re helping communities unpack that and transform. I love the people I work with and it feels purposeful. It’s one of the great perks of the work that I do.
I love going to the gym. I got at least three times a week.
Office snacks—sweet or salty?
I recently ordered a bunch of office snacks for the office and our biggest hit is the RXBAR protein bars, and I love Lays potato chips.
My supervisor, she’s really awesome. We’ve set up this check-in situation and we establish priorities for the day and for the week. One piece of advice that she posed to me is, “How do we set ourselves up for success?” It can feel really overwhelming at times. But just pausing and breathing and seeing what’s in front of you and just allowing the solution to alight upon you by thinking about how I can set myself up for success, to approach this pass. To approach it with care and grace for myself. Just to ground myself with that question. It helps me to approach my work with more intention.
My mentor H.M. She’s the fiercest woman I learned from and she taught me everything I know. She’s been an important person and has helped to guide me. I also look up to the people I work with at Border Crossers. Before I got this position, I wasn’t as organized, and having them be so supportive and identify ways to keep me on track and enable me to be the best that I can be in this position.
Do you think Neriel should win ezCater’s 2018 Office Hero of the Year Award? Make sure you vote. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, April 25, 2018.