We recently surveyed an international group of 500 employed men and women between the ages of 35-54 who worked in a wide range of career fields, from finance and transportation to healthcare and government, to learn more about how covering for team mates impacts their work. What we discovered was that more than half of these people (51%) are asked to cover for a colleague several times a month. Even more eye-opening is the fact that over 38% of these people said that the time they spend covering for a colleague adds more than an hour to their work – every day!
Challenges When Covering for a Colleague
No doubt you have been in this position at some point during your career. Summer rolls around, and a co-worker asks if you can help by following up on a task of theirs while they are out of the office. At the time, you’re more than happy to do so. You nod your head while they explain the details. You even jot down a few notes. But by the time you need to take action, your team mate is away on vacation, and you’re dwelling over how to proceed.
Our survey showed that this is a pretty common occurrence. In fact, we learned that there are three big challenges people face when taking over a task from someone else. In order of significance, they are:
- Getting background information on the task.
When you’re not sure what discussions or decisions have taken place already, you worry about how to proceed. You might wonder if you’ll say the right thing because you’re not sure what’s been communicated in the past. You fear that you’ll offer advice that’s been tried before, but wasn’t successful, thereby angering the other party. Or, you simply don’t know the facts that are needed to move the task forward, so you have to start over from the beginning. Any of these means that the task will take longer and be more frustrating.
- Understanding the tasks status.
This is a little different because it’s not about having information on the specific task; rather, it’s about knowing what the process is for completing the type of task. What steps does the task need to go through in order to be resolved, and which step is in progress at this time? While the challenge here may be different, the result is the same: wasted time and increased frustration.
- Knowing who to contact to get the job done.
In mid- to large-sized companies, it’s hard to know what responsibilities everyone has and who to turn to for the right answer. For instance, your finance team might have 20 people: how do you know who can help with your specific billing question? This lack of knowledge also hinders task completion. It might take several attempts to find the person who can help, and each of these attempts means time is ticking by.
Regardless of the cause, all of this extra thinking and worrying add to resolution time. Plus, lingering tasks make for a stressful, disgruntled workplace. And, delays or misinformation can leave customers feeling like your department really doesn’t know what it’s doing or how to take care of them properly.
Aiding Seamless Handoffs
Clearly, seamless task handoffs are one key to maintaining a happy productive team. If you find that your team is struggling with any of the above, it’s time to step in. There are two ways in which you can help — promoting documentation and clarifying processes.
Challenge number one – not having background information – is common, and it can be easily avoided if your team is in the habit of diligently taking notes about their work. Whether you encourage notebooks, have shared documents online, or invest in a ticket system, it’s critical that your team accurately capture the details of all tasks.
Ask them to start noting:
- Phone conversations,
- Decisions made,
- Contact information,
- Actions taken,
- Causes of the situation, and
- Even their impression of how the customer was feeling
Having more information on hand makes it easier when it comes time for a colleague to cover (whether because of vacation, sickness, promotion or departure from the company).
Challenges two and three — knowing how to handle a task and who can help — are addressed by focusing on your internal processes. Write down every action or decision that needs to be taken to complete the task. Then, make sure everyone has this information. The process becomes a roadmap that will guide people through their work, whether they are intimately familiar with the role or simply stepping in for a short time.
Your process can be as simple or as fancy as is necessary to support your team. If you’re dealing with one type of request each day, you may only need to create a simple checklist. But, if you’re handling multiple types of incidents every day, and you have several teams involved in their resolution, you may want to consider automating your processes. This will speed up everyone’s work and help prevent mistakes or miscommunication.
Keeping everyone on track during the summer months can be tricky, but requiring documentation and working on your internal processes help to streamline task handoff. When that happens, work becomes faster, team members become more relaxed and customers become happier.
Need inspiration? Download the PDF to share with your team as you work on tackling these three challenges.