Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Paperwork and Digital

(1) In response to the question, “In the digital age, what paperwork still needs to be kept?” we find an almost universal reliance on, and appreciation of, paperwork, and a utilization, slightly begrudgingly in some cases, of digital files. This one might expect from a traditional profession such as ours.

“When reading these questions, I am—once again—faced with the uncomfortable truth about my disinterest in modern technology. Although very well aware of its many possibilities in making our jobs easier and more organized, I have never had the guts to invest time in it. I know that in some households, every tie, shirt and even shoelace is registered in a neat inventory. I would be very interested in hearing from our colleagues if they have an easy solution that does not involve my being stuck in an office half of the day; I prefer being behind my good old friend the ironing table! Luckily, I have an employer of a certain age, so all documents from and to him are on old-fashioned paper. Meaning my main technological concern is having Internet and a printer wherever I go so we can send and receive documents from our office.”

“When it comes to paperwork, I confess that I still prefer pen and paper.  Time after time, when there is a ‘glitch in the system’ or a ‘failure to back-up’ or when ‘the network is running slow’ or an important document wasn’t ‘saved properly,’ I have been grateful to have my paper files and written diaries to help solve a riddle or respond to an urgent request.  Of course, I don’t keep a hard copy of everything, but time and experience has helped me to learn that an employer often finds looking over a hard copy of something—a signed contract, a draft invitation or a staff file—is far preferable to finding a document in their over-crowded email.  And the ability to hand someone an important document that requires immediate action has proven far more effective than marking an email “Urgent” and hoping for the best. Admittedly, having electronic files does offer many benefits, but keeping some hard copies has given me incredible peace of mind over the years.”

“Perhaps it is my age showing through, but I still like, and feel a strong need for, paperwork. I have had a computer ‘lose’ a file, or something not be saved, so having paper has always served me well.”

“I manage both a residence and a rental property, making running the estate a business, so I have to keep financial documentation for our accountants.  I use QuickBooks for checking accounts, credit cards, running reports, but the need for physical paper is still there, especially for the rental property—if we need to institute a rent increase, we have the paperwork to justify it.”

(2) As for what software works best for taking over the traditional paperwork functions of the butler/HM, generic software seems to be preferred:

“QuickBooks is very helpful for running reports, setting up budgets, etc.  I think everyone would agree that scanning and emailing documents has saved time and money (no need to pay for postage to mail documents).  I do not use any specific estate management software for the business.”

“For now, we use Slack for group communication. As for guests likes and dislikes, we use Google Docs.”

“As a Valet, I still use good old Word and Excel to keep lists of the most necessary tasks such as packing lists and preference sheets. Expense reports for purchases are done in a 1980’s Excel sheet. All bills and warranty papers of purchases are sent to our office, which requires an old-fashioned piece of paper to put in the files. I have been contacted a few times by companies claiming to have the perfect software for our profession, but I don’t even bother to look further than the price tag.”

“My favorites are Word and Excel, hands down!”

(3) Last question: Do you have any amusing anecdotes concerning paperwork or administration, the increasing use of digital, how it may have been a bore but saved the day, etc.?

“It has obviously been a lucky break for me over the past seven years to have someone to hand over all my grocery and hardware receipts to, avoiding hours of computer/paperwork each week.”

Whether paper or digital, they both prove vital when dealing with projects for principals, as one household manager points out: “Several times, my principals have questioned my decision or choice and when I shared that I was following their directions, I receive the infamous ‘I didn’t say or agree to that.’ Then I am able to pull up the meeting notes or email that confirms their choice or decision. I never expect them to say they made a mistake, but I believe these digital and paper records not only build the bridge to better trust in the future, but the principals also know I follow their instructions.”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.