We all need a vacation sometimes and summer is a popular time to get out of the office for an extended period. Personally, I prefer to escape the New York winter for a bit of sunshine. For the past four years, my husband and I spent five days in January on the beautiful beaches of Turks and Caicos. Taking a few days or even weeks off to recharge, reconnect with family, and just enjoy life actually enhances your ability to perform. It doesn’t matter when you take time off, just as long as you do.
It’s important that you set your team up for success while you’re out. Without thoughtful preparation, while you’re sipping mojitos on the beach, your colleagues may be left scrambling to find information and frustrated by your lack of consideration. Before you take off for the beach, snow, woods or big city, do these things.
SHARE YOUR VACATION SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE
When you’re planning your vacation, especially a longer one, let your team know as soon as you confirm the dates. Don’t tell people that you’re leaving for a week-long vacation only a few days before you depart. One of my colleagues recently took a five-week vacation and he shared dates with the team almost four months in advance. This helped the rest of us plan ahead by reducing the chances that someone else would opt for vacation during the same time. In some organizations, having multiple people out at once isn’t an issue, but for us, that leaves a heavier workload on those who remain. In addition to scheduling, it was also helpful to be aware of the vacation so that project milestones could be set appropriately.
ALERT COLLEAGUES WHO ARE EXPECTING THINGS FROM YOU
Even with solid planning ahead, you might still have tasks that are due while you’re out. Or, maybe you’re not quite finished with that document or presentation. Don’t assume that open tasks must get done or that they can be delayed until your return. Ask your colleague if the timeline is flexible. In some cases it will be, and you can agree to a new date of completion, but not all deadlines are negotiable. If you need to finish the work before you depart either pull that all-nighter or delegate the task to someone else. If you delegate, be sure to let the waiting party know who they should turn to if there are any issues.
If you already know the item can wait, just let appropriate stakeholders know when it will be done so they can plan their work accordingly.
DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT MUST OCCUR WHILE YOU'RE OUT
If you have ongoing responsibilities that need to happen during your time away, decide how they should be handled. In some cases, you might decide to handle them while you’re officially out. Keep in mind that internet access and time zones may impact your ability to deliver as usual. So create a backup plan with a colleague in the office.
If you’re going to delegate, decide on the best person to take over each task. They don’t all need to go to the same person. Then provide instructions, log-ins, and any other guidance or information this person might need in order to perform that responsibility. I recommend you write this information down and review it together. This way the person has your exact instructions and can ask questions you might not have considered. Plus, the documentation will make it easier to prepare for your next vacation.
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR AVAILABILITY
There are various approaches to vacation ranging from 100% off the grid to checking email periodically to actually working a few hours each day. Let your team know if and when they can expect to hear from you and what modes of communication they should use to get in touch–email, text, call, Slack, etc.
There is no one right way to be available. It’s OK to leave work behind, despite our highly connected world. I’ve found that each vacation is slightly different. During my Turks and Caicos vacation, I work in the mornings and then go radio silent until I check email one last time before dinner. When I’m spending time with extended family, it’s harder to create a consistent schedule so I check email periodically during the day and then address any larger, urgent matters after my kids are in bed.
If you plan to be off email, make sure you setup the auto-reply message in your email. Include the contact info of your delegate(s), so your external collaborators or clients know who they can reach out to during your absence.
Articulate under what circumstances colleagues should reach out, if any, and then clarify how you want them to make decisions while you’re gone. Is there another manager or colleague they should turn to? Should they make decisions on their own? Should they wait to connect with you even if delaying has real downsides? This enables people to move forward with work in your absence.
HAVE A PRE (AND POST) CHECK-IN WITH YOUR TEAM MEMBERS
If you’re a supervisor, meet with each of your team members before you depart. Make sure they know their priorities while you’re out and have what they need from you before you take off. Be sure to meet with your manager as well. Even though you’ve already gone through your open tasks and either delayed, delegated or completed them, she may have other items, questions or concerns on her mind.
Use your judgement to determine if you also need to check in with other colleagues. If your work is highly collaborative, it can be helpful to review where things stand so everyone is on the same page.
Also schedule a check in meeting with each person to reconnect upon your return. They can catch you up on anything you missed and report on the status of tasks you’ve passed on to them in your absence.
ENJOY YOUR VACATION
Taking time off shouldn’t add to your stress at work. Set yourself up to have peace of mind and set your colleagues up for successful work.
Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.
What do you do to prepare for vacation? Leave a comment below and share suggestions for practices that ensure work runs smoothly while you’re out, or tweet at me @mamieks.
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