The Automated Office

Recently, I planned a vacation – a week-long vacation away from work, where I am an office manager. While I did not get to go on my trip (long story) I did do something a little dangerous and automated the overwhelming majority of my job. In fact, shortly before I left, I told my boss that he could probably just fire me, and leave the Auto-Gabbie set up instead, but luckily he opted to keep me around.

One of my jobs is to monitor the Info@ emails that come into our office. We typically get a few different types of emails there – prospective clients, prospective employees, and spam. I already have a few spam filters set up through Gmail, who make it remarkably convenient to tag emails from certain addresses, or with certain subject lines through their “filters” function, but while I was away, I needed to make sure that the sales team got the client emails immediately, and that the correct hiring managers got applicant emails. Because I am an addict, I turned to my friend IFTTT, which integrates directly with Gmail.

Gmail has a number of advanced search operators that can be used to get more specific with your triggers. For instance, our job applications come in through Angellist, so I was able to set the search operator to From: Angellist Talent, so that IFTTT picked out the emails specifically from Angellist to forward to the hiring managers. But, we get applications for two separate positions right now. I added the operator “Subject:” to specify the terms in the subject line that would set off a data applicant from an engineering applicant, and forwarded those emails to the correct people. I then set up a filter for Info@ emails that did not contain any of the Angellist search terms, and had the rest of them sent to sales for follow up. It’s not perfect, but it increases the chances of the emails getting to the right person while I’m away!

But I wasn’t satisfied with increased chances. While I don’t allow my phone to auto-sync my work emails (because I would go crazy), I do have an app called Pushbullet, which can ‘push’ information to my phone from – you guessed it – pretty much anything that integrates with IFTTT. Using all of the same operators I used to forward emails, I set up ‘push notifications’ to alert me whenever we got a sales email, so I could make sure it had been forwarded, and do it manually if it had not.

Speaking of Pushbullet, I wanted to make sure that, if anyone in the office needed something urgently, they’d be able to get their message to me quickly. I set push notifications to alert me whenever I got an email labelled “Urgent Request” and tee-d up an email explaining the “Urgent Request” system to get sent to the office on the Monday I would be out. “Urgent Request” actually saw some use when my boss needed a password that wasn’t saved in our directory, asap. Pushbullet notified me two minutes after he sent the email, and I was able to jump in and help from my phone.

Of course, it wasn’t ALL email. If you know me at all, you know I’ve started to sneak some smart-home elements into the office. IFTTT integrates with Salesforce, as well as products called “D-Link”. I rigged a D-Link Alarm, usually used to let you know if there’s water in the basement or carbon monoxide in the air, to play a sound whenever our team logged a sale on Salesforce. It plays a short, loud siren sound, which gets the attention of everyone in the office, allowing the salesperson to brag a bit, or take a bow.

IFTTT has been collecting receipts and invoices for me, from my Gmail, for a while. It’s able to compile a spreadsheet in Google Drive, with only slightly messy columns for item, price, and attachments, as well as forward all receipts and invoices to our accounting department, but I needed to be a little more cautious that these records were being kept accurately while I was away. Whenever something was forwarded to our accountant, Pushbullet sent me a notification, with the 1st attachment on each email attached to the notification I received.

Of course, pre-vacation prep isn’t the only way automation can be useful to offices. I think specifically with regards to power and lighting, there’s a lot of room for smart-homes in the workplace! Having the lights start off dimmer in the morning, and grow to full brightness over the day and wane slightly towards the end, can be a good way to keep your office relaxed but energized, and can also help them to sleep at night by keeping their bodies in a regular rhythm. Having Amazon Dash buttons is another way automation can make an office run more smoothly. Dash buttons exist for everything from toilet paper to goldfish, and if you don’t have an office manager, it can be especially helpful to be able to restock quickly and easily by having a dash button set up in your supply cabinet, so that whenever something is low, any employee can call for a refill. You can also use lighting, like Lifx or Philips Hue, to help employees find meeting spaces more easily. For instance – using IFTTT to unite a few Lifx bulbs with your Google Calendar can ensure that everyone can see whether the conference room or breakout booth is available or not from their desk! Simply set a trigger so that if someone has the conference room booked for a period of time, the light above the door is red, and when it’s available again, it’s green.

Through automation, I was able to set up replies to vendors, and got alerted when Freshdirect delivered the weekly groceries, when our coffee supplier switched out the kegs, and rigged some music to play in the office through the Sonos speakers at end of day on Friday. I was able to automate an email making sure everyone knew we’d be closed for Labor Day to send at the same time as the music, creating an automated celebration of the 3-day weekend. In fact, the whole thing was so smooth, that I could probably work from home, and just automate the whole office system – but don’t tell them that!

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