Receptionists are often the unsung heroes of the workplace. As well as being the first person many visitors will see – and therefore responsible for creating that all-valuable “positive first impression” – they may have a raft of other duties to perform.

But one often overlooked element of a receptionist’s job is that of the first line of defence. The gatekeeper. They play a key role in keeping the workplace safe for everyone in it. They have to be ready to handle whatever situation may walk through the door. Their vigilance and ability to respond could mean the difference between a minor disruption and a significant incident.

The risk to receptionists will clearly vary depending on the industry and company they work for. For example, workplaces that handle money, or those dealing with visitors in high stress situations such as doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, may present more obvious risks. But receptionists at any business where members of the public can walk through the door risk physical and verbal assaults, threats and intimidation, as well as the potential for being faced with a medical emergency, on a daily basis.

There are a number of measures which could be considered to help minimise these risks and give the receptionist themselves the confidence that they have the tools they need to handle any incident.

Assess the space

Every business should conduct a thorough risk assessment of their reception area on a regular basis. Take a good hard look at the space and eliminate any physical security gaps. If you haven’t already, consider whether it is appropriate and possible to install CCTV. Arranging the space with security in mind is a key first step in keeping your building and people safe. 

Rethink the receptionist’s duties

A receptionist’s role will vary depending on how many visitors are likely to pass through their doors. However, it’s quite common for them to field all incoming calls and sign for packages coming into the building too. Take a moment to step back and reconsider whether these functions are best performed by your receptionist.

For example, does your receptionist have training on spotting suspicious packages? Could a risk be reduced here by getting them delivered elsewhere in the building?

If they are constantly on the phone, are they really able to give an appropriate level of attention as to who is coming and going?

It’s important that a receptionist’s duties do not take them away from the reception area leaving it unmonitored. 

Review the processes

Do you have a clear visitor policy? If not, it’s time you put one in place. It’s important that your receptionist is clear on the policy and applies it religiously for all visitors. Applying the same rules to everyone sends a clear message that you take security seriously.

Getting visitors to sign in is a must so you know who is in the building in case of an emergency, but you can step security up a further notch by asking for ID or taking a photo.

As well as a visitor policy, you should have a clear emergency response procedure that all members of staff are familiar with. Your receptionist may have a very specific role to play in this response – alerting the emergency services, for example. Make sure they are 100% confident that they can do what’s required of them. 

Improve the receptionist’s safety

One of the most important steps to take is to make sure that your receptionist receives proper training in how to identify potential security threats. This should include spotting the signs of emerging aggression. They also need to learn how to diffuse a difficult situation.

Even with these skills, there may be some situations they’re simply not able to handle on their own. Do they have a means to summon help quickly and effectively without leaving their post?

There are several ways this can be done, but choosing the right route can be critical in managing a situation. For example, often an aggravated person just wants to know they’re being listened to. Having a way that the receptionist can continue to listen attentively whilst subtly summoning help could make the difference between keeping a situation contained or sparking an even more violent reaction.

A panic button like our Little Green Button can be the ideal solution. The receptionist does not need to leave their post to call for help from a colleague. They can use it without worrying that they’re overreacting, even if they’re just feeling a little uncomfortable. No one should feel like that at work. Having a colleague appear in reception without any fanfare is often enough to diffuse a difficult situation.

So, recognising that receptionists play a crucial role in security of your business, make sure they have the tools at their disposal to perform this duty effectively.