In the business world, particularly in investing, the phrase “front office staff” most commonly refers to a corporation’s sales and marketing staff. These professionals are the people who have the most contact with clients, and it is their departments that generate the majority of the company’s revenue. They are so called because they represent the company to the world, much as a receptionist or other front desk staff members might. In sports settings, particularly professional teams, the term has a slightly different meaning. A sports front office staff usually is made up of a team’s owner, advertising director and other executives, though basically any staff members aside from players and coaches might be included in the group.
For many businesses, the front office is the first chance clients and visitors have to assess the company. People who arrive for meetings and appointments often wait in the office, which is frequently combined with a lobby. In some small businesses, secretaries and administrative personnel who work the front desk are referred to as the company’s “front office staff.” Within larger businesses, however, the phrase applies to professionals who represent the company in the larger “front office” of the marketplace.
Breaking employees into front, middle and back office groupings is believed to have originated in the financial and investment banking sector, and it remains most strongly associated with businesses in that field. Other companies have adapted the terminology, but it is not ubiquitous. A lot depends on the context. Particularly in the legal and medical fields, “front office staff” usually refers to the administrative personnel who literally work in a front office.
Sales, trading and marketing departments make up the bulk of an investment firm or other business' "front office." These are the people who actually go out into the field to make sales calls and pitch products and services at conferences. They work directly with clients, helping them negotiate deals, make investments or allocate funds. The fees and revenues that these professionals bring in through their front office jobs often make up the bulk of the company’s overall operating budget.
Outsourced employees are sometimes considered front office workers, but this often depends on the contours of the agency relationship and the nature of the work being done. In most cases, the designation is reserved for professionals who work in-house and are an active part of the corporate goal-setting process. They usually work very closely with professionals in what is known as the “middle office” and “back office.”
The middle office usually is made up of risk management, internal strategy and information technology professionals, and the back office typically includes administrative professionals. Both groups are essential to the functioning of the company, but they have few interactions with anyone outside of the corporate walls. They play supporting roles to the front office staff.
Sports teams are a notable exception. Nearly all sports teams, whether amateur or professional, refer to their executives — their president, advertising manager and chief financial officer, among others — as their “front office staff.” This separates them from the field-based staff, namely the coaches, managers and players. Front office workers in this context include nearly anyone who is affiliated with the team but is not expected to play an active role during competitions.