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Most companies and organizations have a receptionist at their front desk or main building lobby. Duties of the receptionist typically include greeting visitors, answering the telephones, and the handling of incoming mail. At some companies, the receptionist may perform other duties such as filing, the scheduling of conference rooms, managing employee schedules and other clerical functions.
In addition to their other duties, receptionists also play a critical role in the building's overall security program. Receptionists are often given the task of signing in visitors, issuing visitor badges, controlling access in and out of the building, and observing suspicious activity. This is particularly true at buildings where no security officers are provided and the receptionist serves as the first (and sometimes only) line of defense against unwanted guests and intruders.
Because of the crucial role that they play in security, it is important that tools be given to receptionists to allow them to effectively perform their security duties. Here are some suggestions:
- The receptionist's security responsibilities should be formally defined and included in the receptionist's job description. When both a receptionist and a security officer are assigned to work in the lobby, the specific roles and responsibilities of each should be clearly defined.
- People who are assigned to be a receptionist should have the personality and aptitude necessary to perform this job. Receptionists should have a cheerful and outgoing personality, enjoy working with people, and have the ability to deal with conflict when necessary. Many people who are excellent at doing other types of clerical work may be unqualified to work as a receptionist or be uncomfortable when performing this role.
- Receptionists should receive formal security training that includes guidelines for spotting suspicious behavior and techniques to verbally de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.
- The building lobby should be designed in such a way that the receptionist is not the only thing that stands in the way of an intruder entering the building. A well-designed lobby can greatly increase the effectiveness of the receptionist and greatly improve building security. (See Designing Lobbies for Good Security).
- The receptionist's primary job should be to greet visitors. If the volume of visitor traffic is relatively low, the receptionist can be assigned other duties, but these duties should be of a type that can be stopped immediately when a visitor arrives. Duties assigned to the receptionist should not require the receptionist to leave the lobby area.
- It is common practice for the receptionist to also serve as a telephone operator and to answer the organization's main telephone line. We discourage this practice because the telephone operator role can be a time consuming job during certain periods of the day, and because the receptionist cannot immediately stop talking on the phone when a visitor arrives. We also think that it is unwise to give everyone sitting in the lobby the opportunity to overhear incoming telephone calls.
- Good visitor control procedures should be established and communicated to all employees. To automate the visitor sign-in process, consider the use of an electronic visitor management system. (See Introduction to Electronic Visitor Management Systems).
- We highly recommend that all incoming deliveries and packages be received at the mailroom or shipping/receiving department, not at the receptionist's desk. If this is not possible, receptionists should receive training on the spotting and handling of suspicious packages, and a separate storage area for packages should be provided near the receptionist's desk.
- The receptionist's desk should include a panic alarm system that allows help to be summoned quickly in the event of an emergency. (See Introduction to Panic Alarms).
If you have questions, or need more information about the role of the receptionist in security, please contact us.