Paper and Pens and Staplers, Oh My: Gathering Team Office Supply Needs

An efficient office supply ordering process needs participation from all levels in your company. Here’s how to get your co-workers to stick to your supply request gathering process.

A well-stocked supply closet is a basic pillar of office efficiency. But keeping supply levels up at all times can be a challenge. Certain time periods tend to be particularly tricky — think the end of the year, for instance, when co-workers need new calendars, planners and other organizational aids.

As an office admin, you know that keeping supplies in stock is a team effort. You rely on your co-workers to let you know what they need and when they need it — and they are also in the best position to tell you when reserves are running low. The challenge is that while this task is at the top of your to-do list, that’s not the case for the rest of your team.

Read here for how to make supply monitoring a group effort, and learn some of the strategies your peers are using based on a recent Staples poll.

Take Stock of Your Stock

You likely check stock regularly to see what’s running low, but it’s just not possible for you to have your eyes on the inventory at all times.

Encourage your co-workers to share what they know about supply levels by creating a list on a clipboard or dry erase board near your supply storage area. Ask your team members to add items that need restocking. If manager approval is required, ask colleagues to leave their name next to the supplies they request, so that you can check with their supervisor and get the go-ahead.

You can even store a few extra items at your desk for those last-minute, urgent needs — and to boost your status as office superhero. A handful of paper reams or extra binder clips, staplers and pens come in handy when colleagues are in a crunch.

Make Spreadsheets Your Friend

Spreadsheets aren’t just for numbers — many office admins use them to organize their supply needs, and some have gotten their colleagues on board, too.

“I have a spreadsheet that is stored on a local drive that employees can easily access to enter their supply requests,” says Tammy, an accounting specialist at a patient services company. “I view this sheet each week, and then add items to my current order.”

Ashley, an administrative specialist with a city government, mainly relies on email to gather supply needs, but she logs these requests into a spreadsheet for easier tracking. This helps her get a clearer picture on her department’s office item use, and gives her a chance to spot any warning flags.

“If I notice that we’ve been unusually low on paper, pens or other items over the past month or so, I can ask my colleagues if there are any increasing needs, or why more supplies are being used,” she explains.

Provide Concrete Steps for Co-workers

Develop a clear, simple system for team members to flag low supply levels. Ask your colleagues to give you empty office product boxes and containers when supplies are almost or completely out. To make sure your desk doesn’t become an empty box graveyard, place an open storage bin in your workspace where colleagues can put these boxes. Check it every day, and log which supplies need to be reordered.

Another tactic is to create a “reorder” tag system. Lynne, a medical practice office manager, prints and laminates tags for individual supplies that she sticks between items when restocking the cabinet.

“When a case of paper is restocked on the shelf, the paper reorder tag is inserted between the last few reams,” she explains. “When a co-worker comes across the tag, they turn it in to me so I know to reorder. For toner or other boxed items, I tape the tag onto the box, and when it is opened they turn the reorder tag into me.”

Get Supplier Support

Getting a stronger grip on your office product ordering process might require the help of your supplier. Reach out to see if the company you purchase from can provide more insight into your organization’s supply needs. For example, your provider may know that your business tends to order more cardstock near the end of the year, as you’re preparing to send out holiday cards. Having that insight allows you to order more in advance, so you’re not left in the lurch.

Make full use of supplier ordering tools, such as buying platforms or saved shopping lists. Those services often provide buying histories that can help you quickly find exact replacements for your supplies, and they provide insights that can help you better plan for future orders.

Stick to Your Strategy

Different companies will benefit from different supply ordering methods, but the thing that makes these processes successful is ensuring that everyone follows through. Otherwise, gaps in your process will grow, and requests will fall through the cracks.

For instance, if you rely on an email system for gathering office supply needs, encourage your colleagues to stick to it. If someone stops you in the hallway and mentions they need more staples, warn them that they should send an email if they want to make sure the request will be fulfilled.

A little patience and coaching will help to get your team members on board with your efforts. If need be, enlist managers to reinforce your message. When everyone sees that they get their items on time, they’ll be happy to follow your lead.