If you’re like many people, you don’t take a lot of vacations from work. Even people who can take as many days as they want a year often take fewer than two weeks of paid time off each year. A big reason why is that work builds up. Vacations are nice, but the amount of preparation you need before you go away to make sure responsibilities are taken care of and the number of tasks waiting for you when you return makes vacations sometimes feel like more of a hassle than they’re worth.
It is important to keep this in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, because the number of cases in the United States continues to hold steady, and in some states has started to increase. Many offices are having employees return to work in-person. Returning to work can increase your risk of exposure to the virus.
The truth is, if you do get sick, you will certainly won’t be able to go to the office, and you might be sick enough that you will be unable to work for several weeks. That means that you need to have a COVID-19 plan that ensures continuity of work. It is hard enough to be out of work for a week when you know about it in advance. It is even more difficult to prepare for an absence that may come suddenly. The last thing you should have to think about when you’re feeling terrible is who is going to take on your assignments.
Create a shared document
To start this plan, list the most significant projects you’re working on and your role in each of those projects. Then, find a colleague who could take on that responsibility if you’re not able to work. Find out what information they would need to be able to push those projects forward. Set up a shared document, and make sure that you update it at least weekly to ensure that someone could pick up on a project in your absence.
Try to distribute the tasks you have to several different people. Most organizations don’t have a lot of extra staff, so you won’t be able to dump your entire workload on another person.
Make a company-wide plan
Ideally, the entire organization will engage in this planning exercise. One important reason for that is that every organization has a few people who are like “utility infielders” in baseball—people who are capable of stepping into many different roles when needed. Those people are often willing to commit to help in a variety of situations. As a result, they may get asked by many different people to be part of their backup plans. This can cause a real problem for those individuals if several people in the workplace get sick at the same time.
Get manager buy-in
Finally, supervisors should look over these plans. Often, people who are lower down on the org chart get selected to help with key aspects of projects. Supervisors need to be aware of this for a few reasons. Many of those individuals have low levels of experience and may need guidance to step into a role if someone gets sick. In addition, if the new tasks are enough of a burden, it may take them away from some of their other primary responsibilities, so it will be important to adjust expectations about their productivity.
Finally, people lower on the org chart are also generally paid less than those higher up. To ensure equity, it is worthwhile to put together a pool of funds to compensate people who take on extra responsibilities (particularly those are not highly paid to begin with).