Team.bonding.ideas.jpgTeam bonding ideas

Summer is officially here, and oftentimes this means the office will be feeling a bit…empty. Colleagues, clients, and hopefully you alike will be leaving for extended periods, to enjoy the warm weather or take the family away for a well-deserved break while school is out. The only problem is, business doesn’t stop simply because some people – or you – are out of the workplace. Those remaining in the trenches must still respond to client inquiries, meet deadlines, and pick up the slack. You can help make things easier on them while you’re away…or, you can be a jerk about it.

My hope is, going the jerk route is not your go-to instinct! Here is a list of ways in which you can make sure that your team still loves you as much when you return from your vacation as when you left, and doesn’t feel frustrated (for more on that, follow this link).

Communicate Your Calendar

Step number one after booking your big summer trip: you MUST communicate your out-of-office schedule, clearly and comprehensively. That means sharing your travel plans with all of those whom you work closely with: your supervisor, direct reports, key clients, other stakeholders with whom you have regular business-related contact, and anybody else you feel would want to know. Not only should you cast as wide a net as possible here, but you should do so EARLY, not just the week of your planned departure. Not only does communicating your agenda with plenty of lead time show professionalism, but it demonstrates courtesy and respect for those whom you work closest with, allowing them to make THEIR plans accordingly in your absence.

Out-Of-Office Messages

I wish I could say it goes without saying that when you plan to be out of the workplace for an extended period of time, you should set up out-of-office messages; alas, you and I both know that this isn’t always the case. Emails are sent, voicemails are left, but there is inexplicably no reply. The reason? Your subject is on a beach somewhere, off the grid and off the clock – only you have no idea! This is the low-hanging fruit of summer vacation office etiquette, so please don’t forget it (believe me, you WILL regret it if you do).

Now, let me ask you something. Have you ever sent an Email to a co-worker or client, only to receive the following auto-respond message:

“I am out of the office and will respond when I return.”

Yes, the person whom you are trying to reach gets points for at least setting the auto respond Email– but how useful is this to the recipient, other than he or she knowing not to expect a reply any time soon? A proper out-of-office message doesn’t simply let your sender know that you’re away, but provides them with clear information about your whereabouts, when you expect to return, if (or how) you can be reached, and who can be reached in your absence. You don’t need to write an entire novel, but how about something like this:

“I am currently traveling for the annual NYC corporate event entertainment retreat, and will be out of the office from June 26 – July 3 with limited access to technology. I shall be checking Email & voicemail intermittently, and will try to respond at my earliest convenience. If your matter is urgent, please Email my assistant Kathy at Kathy@MyCompany.com; for questions regarding Project A, please Email Bill (Bill@MyCompany.com); for Project B please Email Shelly (Shelly@MyCompany.com)”

Do you see how much more clear this message is? How much more useful the information provided to your recipient is, including when they can expect to hear back from you, and where to turn if they simply can’t wait? This same formula should also be used on your office voicemail, albeit in a more concise format; you should also substitute Email addresses for direct phone extensions, to make it consistent with the medium.

Create a “Cheat Sheet”

Out-of-office messages are great, however you can take this one step further by Emailing out a “cheat sheet” to those whom you work closest with, right before you leave. This “cheat sheet” should lay out any ongoing projects/issues, as well as clearly delegate who will be responsible for all of your work duties in your absence. Make sure this note includes either an attachment or link to your shared files, and that passwords, locations of key files or other critical information is made available (the LAST thing you want to happen on your vacation is to receive a panicked message at your hotel, wondering where a document is saved). If need be, also send along detailed instructions on how to handle any complex functions).

Finish Your Work Before You Leave

Again, this should go without saying; again, I’m afraid I have to say it. Finish all of your projects before you take off. Don’t leave anything unfinished in your colleagues’ laps. I can’t tell you how many times this sort of thing happened to me when I was an employee, and now that I produce corporate team building events in New York City and nationwide how many times I’m told by my clients that this happens. Not only is it incredibly disruptive to those who must pick up where you left off – those who have plenty of their own work to do, I might add – but if makes you look like a supreme, big-time jerk. You’ll get an earful the moment you return, and your colleagues will resent you for it in a major way. Notwithstanding any crises, last-minute projects or similar unexpected work, you should finish ALL of your projects before you leave.

Thank Everybody When You Get Back

This is one of those little things that goes an awful long way: thank your colleagues. Whether you were out for a long weekend or for two full weeks, they’ve been running the shop in your absence, most likely completing work and dealing with stuff that you would have otherwise done. Go and thank every single person who had your back while you were out; Emails are okay, but phone calls are better – and visiting them at their desk is of course the absolute best way to communicate this. If any individual (or even your entire team) went above and beyond while you were out, you should make your appreciation known by doing something extra special for them, be it a gift, treating them to lunch, or even an office trivia party! But you must do SOMETHING to let them know that you understand how much they stepped up for you, and that you value and appreciate their extra efforts.

It’s really quite easy to leave the office for summer vacation in a professional, responsible manner – however, it’s even easier to do so in a way which makes you a jerk. Put in the extra time, thought and effort, and your colleagues and clients alike will be grateful – and think highly of you as well!

For more information on leaving the office professionally and properly, click here.