Out-of-Office: How to Prepare Your Co-Workers For Your Absence

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WorkplaceYou cannot be at the office 24/7 365 days a year. There will be times you have to be out of the office, whether away for a convention or vacation. And when you leave it’s time to prepare your co-workers to step into your shoes temporarily.

“You deserve a vacation.  You’ve worked hard for it and it should be a reward not perceived as some kind of punishment.  Doing all that you can upfront will decrease anxiety and double your work when you get back.  Have you ever heard anyone say a couple of days after coming back from vacation that it seems like they’ve never been away?  Prepping before you go, and staying away as much as possible during your time off, can prolong those vacation benefits as long as possible,” explains HR consultant Debra Walker of Indelible Consulting Group.

Not only does leaving your co-workers to handle your projects while you are away let you leave with peace of mind, it can have other career implications. “It provides an opportunity for team development.  If other people can see and do your job, it creates greater empathy for the value you contribute to an organization.  Plus, showing vulnerability allows for great things to happen and there is nothing that makes you feel more vulnerable than exposing your work to be examined as closely as when you are away,” Walker points out.

It could also help your future with the company. “There is a saying:  ‘The easiest way to get promoted is to train someone to do your job.’  What that means is, companies/managers may be reluctant to promote you to a new role if they can’t find anyone to do your job.  Freeing yourself up to take on other challenges and responsibilities is one of the ways to ensure that you are growing in your role/career–make yourself valuable but not indispensable,” says Walker.

To make things go smoothly in your absence, you have to prepare. Here are a few steps to make the process easier.

Wait or delegate? You should go through your projects and decide the urgency of each. “Decide which deliverables can wait for your return and which actions you need to delegate while you are gone.  Make a list that clearly defines specific actions and deadlines. If you have a choice of teammates, decide who has the bandwidth and the skills/expertise to deliver. Confirm with your manager,” says executive coach Kristi Daniels.

Give out deadlines. Make sure you co-workers are clear on when projects have to be completed and tasks done by. “Hand them the action list and walk through it. Set expectations: here’s what success looks like, here’s who can answer questions, here’s a rough idea of what it will take to complete and clarify whether or not they have leeway to complete in their own style,” says Daniels. “Also, set the context of what you’re asking them to do–explain the objective of what these actions will achieve. Explain their role in the success of the project or larger organization. Ask them if they have questions, and whether or not they want you to check in. Let them know how to reach you in an urgent situation. Shake hands and get their verbal agreement.”

Have a stand in. “Identify early on who would be the person who will be backfilling your absence and have them job shadow you before, to give them a feel for how you would respond and what all is entailed in your role,” suggests Walker.

Prepare for worst-case scenario. “Ensure that the individual knows who to go to as an internal resource, in the event they need to talk anything out or seek clarification/direction.  It is better to provide someone that they can depend on, other than yourself, for example to assist with internal/external customer service questions/issues; to be able to see reports/data in order to assess what needs to be done,” says Walker. “Ideally, introduce the two of them, if they do not already know one another, as it is easier to call on someone you know or have met than doing a cold call. If possible, set an expectation in front of the two of them as to how they can support one another, if the need arises.”

Keep your co-workers in the loop. “As you get closer to commencing the absence, start to c.c. them on correspondence to bring them up to speed on files you are currently working on,” offers Walker.

Organize, organize, organize.
“Prepare a summary for their reference that will outline where you are on different files/issues, including areas/issues you anticipate will come up in the near term, particularly while you are away,” says Walker.

Trust your co-workers.
“Hold the space that your teammate(s) will rise to the occasion and get the job done the best they can. Even if you’ve had a bad experience before, create a clean slate for a new experience. If you’re worrying, you’re coming from a place of fear, and it’s an energy suck that will follow you on vacation. You don’t want this. You want a clear mind, and a solid agreement with your teammate(s). Trust that clear communication, a specific action plan and accountability factors are all that you and your teammate(s) need for a positive outcome,” says Daniels.