With lots of people gearing up to take vacations in the summer months, chances are high that you might be asked to cover for a coworker who’s away – whether it’s just filling in for the person at a few meetings or handling all of their client calls. Here are six tips to help you prepare to cover for a coworker without doubling your workload.
1. Check in with your coworkers before they leave. You’re presumably not going to be doing all of their work while they’re gone, or you’d be doing two full-time jobs, which isn’t realistic. Instead, find out what the top things that must be kept moving while they’re away are, such as responding to urgent queries from clients or finishing a report. Also, make sure that they leave behind important contact info, walk you through any processes that you’re not familiar with, and fill you in on the context for things that you might need to deal with while they’re away. Don’t just listen and nod as they do this run-down; you want to think critically about what questions might arise and ask them now so that you’re not trying to chase them down with questions while they’re on vacation.
2. Find out if there’s anything they want to be contacted about while they’re away. Some people like to unplug completely when they take time off work. Others can more easily relax if they know that you’ll reach out in case of certain types of emergencies. Make a point of asking whether there’s anything they’d want to be contacted about while they’re away – and then respect that request. (Do not contact your coworker on the beach to ask about the location of a file or how to please an ornery client, unless specifically invited to.)
3. Find out what they’re telling others. If their email auto-reply is going to direct people to contact you for issues X, Y, and Z, you need to know that and be prepared for it. Similarly, if they’re directing clients your way, make sure you’re not surprised by it.
4. Plan your own workload accordingly. This is a big one: If you’re covering for a coworker for a week, that’s probably not the week to load yourself up with work of your own or have big deadlines of your own coming due. You could try just piling all their work on top of yours, but it would probably make for a very unpleasant week. Figure out what’s reasonable for you to achieve that week, focusing on your biggest priorities and pushing back most of the rest. And of course, make sure that your manager is in the loop and knows your plan.
5. Keep a daily to-do list. I’m a big believer that you should always do this, but it’s especially useful when you’re covering for someone else because their projects aren’t going to be second nature to you the way your own are. You might find it easy to keep track of all your own work and deadlines, but when you temporarily throw someone else’s in the mix, it’s pretty likely that simply tracking it all in your brain isn’t going to be a fail-safe method. Write it down.
6. Leave good notes for the person’s return. If you leave organized notes about what you covered while they were gone and where projects stand, you’ll minimize the chances of regular interruptions in the week or two after they return, as they seek to figure out the status of the work you were handling. Of course by now you know if you both were using QuickBase, you'd have complete visibility into the status of one another's work, online.