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How to Keep Projects on Track When Key People Are Out of the Office

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Have you ever worked in an environment where your co-workers were frequently out of the office? Some employees may be out of town on business trips. Others may be out sick or enjoying their vacation time. Being out of the office is not inherently bad but it can derail teams from reaching their goals, if not handled properly.

Teams must learn how to work around this challenge, to ensure that projects are completed on time, while maintaining a high standard of quality. Below are three tips to help you manage your next project when key team member(s) are missing in action.

1. Communicate Your Absence – In addition to my core team members, I also work with graphic designers, web professionals, printing/shipping professionals and a number of other people who help my department complete its projects.

Professional_BusinessmanThese individuals consistently send notifications to let me know about their upcoming absences. In turn, I do my best to give them advanced notice about my upcoming projects that should be on their radar. On several occasions, we realized we had business needs that were going to occur while key team members were going to be out of the office.

In some cases, we were able to finish the projects early before the employees took time off. In other cases, we were able to assign the task to fellow co-workers who could fulfill the necessary roles. We’re not perfect, but striving to do this helps us limit projects from becoming derailed.

2. Authorize and Empower Employees – I once called a company (that will remain nameless) and they informed me that my request could not be processed because a form needed to be signed by someone who was out of town for the next three weeks.

When key leaders leave the office for extended periods of time, they should either designate another employee who can take charge during that time or utilize electronic methods to fulfill their roles while they are out of the office.

Having single decision-makers can sometimes lead to ethical issues as well. Organizations should have multiple people who can be relied upon for checks and balances. Having one person as the sole-decision maker or signer, allows room for misconduct to go unchecked.

As ethical leaders and employees, it is important to analyze your existing processes to see if the appropriate individuals are empowered to make decisions and work together to protect the best interest of the organization. If one person’s absence disrupts the function of your company, then you have a significant risk for an organizational collapse if that person leaves or goes on long-term disability.

3. Look Toward the Future – Let’s assume you communicated your absence and empowered someone to make decisions while you’re out. Teams can still run into challenges if those decisions are reversed once the leader returns.

Decision reversals can frustrate employees and prevent them from acting on future decisions, when the leader is out, because they don’t want to waste time working on tasks that will have to be redone once the leader returns.

I’ve had supervisors explain they were fine with the decisions I made, but would prefer for me to do things differently in the future. They also explained why they preferred those methods. This approach created a teachable moment and did not undermine my decisions. It also became a training opportunity for me, so I could make better decisions, which aligned with the leader’s vision.

These types of experiences have proven invaluable to me. As leaders, it is important to remember that some people might do things differently than us, but it does not make their methods wrong. Being willing to relinquish control over certain projects will enable you to focus on your time out of the office, while enabling your team to successfully complete their projects.

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

— Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT)