Whether it’s maternity leave, an extended illness, or a sabbatical, all law firms have to deal with a colleague’s absence at one time or another. These tips will help you keep your firm running smoothly when your coworkers need to take time away:
Before they leave…
When time allows, have a conversation with your colleague to find out exactly what their responsibilities currently are and how to best carry on in their absence. Do this well in advance of the actual date of departure, as it’s likely that he or she will remember additional things, too.
Make a list of the projects that will need to be handled, ask for explanation of any assignments you may not understand, and find out if their absence will have any potential impact on certain clients or cases. Determine who will be the point person for every single project and circulate that update to any stakeholders.
During the leave of absence
Once your colleague has left on extended leave or lengthy vacation:
When a law firm is short staffed, prioritizing the most important duties first and deciding what can wait until later is critical. This ensures that you make the absent employee’s priorities your priorities. Employ discretion and strategic thinking so that everything gets done in a timely manner and nothing is overlooked.
Also, plan ahead. Try to end each day with a plan for the next one, creating a list of the top three things you must get done the next day before you leave. Be realistic so you can accomplish what you need to with still the possibility to exceed your own expectations.
Divide and conquer
There are risks involved when an absent person’s workload is not distributed fairly. While it might be tempting to give the team’s workhorse more projects than the others, you run the risk of causing them to resent the fact that they’re doing more. Forethought and planning should be used when divvying up assignments between team members, both to keep up morale and to get the job done fairly and efficiently.
Keep all lines of communication open during a colleague’s absence, and make sure all team members let everyone else know what their availability might be and when they are tied up. That way, when an urgent matter pops up, everyone will know who might be available to handle the issue, and stress will be kept to a minimum.
Recognize that not everything can be delegated, but whatever can be should be. need to be determined, based upon the tasks at hand and the skills of each individual team member. No matter what task is being delegated, make sure that time is taken to clarify all objectives for the task.
When you’re performing extra, unfamiliar duties in addition to your own, it can be easy to become distracted. But by staying focused, you’ll be able to complete each item before moving on to the next instead of ignoring your inner voice, which might be telling you to work on everything at the same time.
Ask for help
Sometimes, despite careful planning, someone on the team will become overwhelmed with too much work and will need to ask for help. It must be stressed that everyone should be ready to roll up their sleeves and work as a team, so nobody will end up feeling snowed under.
It’s not always possible to give everyone plenty of notice regarding a colleague’s absence, and everyone will at times be asked to juggle their own tasks while performing some of their coworker’s – sometimes spontaneously. When this happens, try to stay flexible, go with the flow, and learn to expect occasional interruptions, at least for a while.
Even though the absence of even just one team member will increase the workload for everyone else and some might be tempted to work through breaks and lunch, resist this temptation. Taking a walk or a short break can be invigorating, allowing you to tackle your work with a renewed spirit.
Get and give recognition
While a coworker is away on leave, it’s important to keep things running as efficiently as possible, stay productive when dealing with competing priorities, and don’t forget to get recognized for your work. Stepping in when the firm is short staffed is a good time to make a favorable impression on the boss by pitching in to take care of business.
In turn, give recognition to those around you who are also pulling more than their fair share during this time. This nod to everyone’s hard work will bolster everyone’s spirit and reinforce a sense of team participation.
Remember that whether it’s planned or unexpected, for pleasure or necessity, a coworker’s absence won’t be convenient. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. And you’d want your team to rally to pick up the slack for you if you were to need time away, just as you are doing for your colleague.
Do you know of other ways to distribute job responsibilities in a colleague’s absence? Tell us about them in the comments!