Sarah Symonds

Office Manager at CircleUp

Recognized by Alex Kearns

For Office Manager Appreciation Week, Managed by Q is featuring the people who keep teams happy and productive. Sarah Symonds juggles multiple responsibilities as the Office Manager at CircleUp. She keeps the office space running smoothly, serves as the CEO’s executive assistant, and works to nurture a close-knit culture for both in-office and remote employees, all while tackling larger projects like a recent office move.

We talked to Sarah about why she chose a career in office management.

What interested you in the company and role, and how is it related to your past experience?

In college, I was an ambassador for Udi’s Gluten Free and while I was working for them they were acquired and grew exponentially. When I learned about CircleUp on Angellist, I was excited about the possibility of working for a company that helped emerging brands thrive by connecting them to capital and resources. I thought it was an interesting idea to help people get their dream going.

Previously, I worked at a bakery and movie theater as a manager. I wanted to move out of retail and into the office and I thought about my transferable skills: managing and training people. As a result, I found that office management was a natural next step. I thought it would be easier to learn a role where my “new customers” were my colleagues and I could onboard and train them on different aspects around the office.

What’s a typical day like for you, if you have one, and how does your work keep your company running smoothly?

I always start my day the same: I come in and tidy up the office, because it’s important to our culture that we have a clean workspace. Then I’ll tackle the food and drinks: brewing coffee, restocking the snacks, and getting the kitchen looking neat.

I also act as an executive assistant for the CEO, so calendaring and scheduling are a priority for me throughout the day.

Sometimes, I’ll have to jump in on a last minute project, given the CEO’s very fast-moving day-to-day schedule. For example, the other week I had to put together a really important document before the close of business on the east coast. So I dropped everything and worked on it throughout the morning and afternoon, adjusting my schedule quickly to match new priorities.

"Keep a good work and life balance. Having dedication to multiple things doesn’t take away from my work, it makes me more invested in knowing I’m empowered to explore different hobbies and passions."

Any big projects that you have tackled in your time at CircleUp?

We moved our offices recently, and doubled our space, which was much needed. It took over four months to find the right spot, because I wanted it to be great fit for all our employees’ commutes, and to perfectly fit our company’s culture. In terms of culture, we wanted an open space, so everybody could see each other, so that we could convey a sense of togetherness as we grow our employee headcount.

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When we finally chose our office space, we wanted to move as quickly as possible. We took a month and a half for construction and furnishing, putting in new carpet and bringing in new furniture. We completed the move overnight, leading up to the first day in the new space. I came in at 5 a.m. on our first day in the space, and was working six days a week in the weeks leading up to the move! It’s the longest and hardest project I’ve ever worked on, and it has been great to see the results of my hard work on a daily basis.

What is one aspect of your job that you feel really passionate about?

I really have a passion for creating the culture at CircleUp. I love helping the teams collaborate, and creating an openness across the company, especially so our remote workers feel part of the family. We have 40 people in the office and 15 who are remote. We have a weekly, all-company lunch using a Zoom Room so you can see everyone Brady Bunch style on our big projector. In addition, we go out together and have a weekly happy hour at 4 p.m. on Friday. We’re friends, not just co-workers.

What’s one skill, tool, or strategy you use to streamline your workload?

I keep a spreadsheet of priorities including what is urgent today, my to-do list, and a completed list. It’s a great thing to keep track of what you’ve completed what day so you can lay it out, especially when you have a performance review. I also keep a monthly spreadsheet so I can show what I’m working on month-over-month.

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If you were to give a piece of advice to other office managers, especially those just starting out, what would it be?

If you're not part of an office manager community like OrgOrg or Office Ninjas, you should get involved. The job completely changed for me when I started going to meetups with other people in roles like mine. I really grew into my role once I found other like-minded people dealing with the same challenges. When I first joined OrgOrg, I went into the archives and read an entire thread about people’s colleagues not doing their dishes! I really needed to read that at time.

In addition, I’d encourage everyone to keep a good work and life balance. My company is very supportive of life outside of work. I dance with the nonprofit ballet company Kathy Mata Ballet. Having dedication to multiple things doesn't take away from my work, in fact, it makes me more invested in it knowing I’m empowered to explore different hobbies and passions.

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