Workable availability is about getting clear that we will be accountable for our responsibilities at all times, even when someone else is standing in for us. This includes when we are on a lunch break, out sick, on vacation or working on another project somewhere. In almost every situation in life, we can make sure our priorities are being handled, if not by us, then by someone competent to take over in our absence.
Our team members should be able to expect that our responsibilities are being handled, even if we are temporarily unavailable.
Sometimes we need to be out of the office, but we can mitigate the effect it has on everyone around us with a little consideration. Here is a good example of an unworkable way to manage a personal appointment.
Sarah has to go to the doctor at 2:00. At 1:30, she leaps up from her desk and heads out the door. When she gets back to the office at 3:30, everyone is waiting anxiously for her, wondering where she’s been. Sarah’s boss is angry because a client called with an emergency about one of her projects. Only Sarah knew the answer the client needed, and no one was able to get in touch with her. Rather than realize that she dropped the ball on the client and her team members, Sarah reacts petulantly, annoyed that everyone expects her to be at her desk every minute of the day.
The real problem with this scenario is the loss of workability. Sarah’s client had a problem with her project and she was unavailable to help. Her absence affected the entire staff. They looked for Sarah, emailed her, called her and talked about her. This resulted in a loss of productivity for her colleagues, as well as anxiety for the client. If Sarah had simply take a moment to assign appropriate cover, this issue would never have occurred. Instead, a team member with no knowledge about the project had to take on the responsibility of assuaging the client’s anxiety and assuring them that Sarah (wherever she was) would call back as soon as possible and surely resolve the issue. The team member may have been able to answer the client’s urgent question immediately, with the same efficiency as Sarah, if he had been briefed.
Now imagine an alternative scenario. When Sarah makes her doctor’s appointment, she alerts her supervisor and her team members of the date and time she will be out of the office. She lets them know she won’t be available by phone or email. Sarah asks her team member Kevin to cover for her while she’s out and briefs him about whatever he might need to know regarding the status of her current projects. Fifteen minutes before she leaves, she checks her emails one last time to make sure there’s nothing that she can address before walking out the door. Satisfied that all is currently in order, and that Kevin has all the information he needs to temporarily handle her responsibilities, Sarah heads confidently to her appointment.
When Sarah returns at 3:30, Kevin smiles and tells her so-and-so called with a question about the project and that he gave him the answer. Sarah slides into her chair and gets back to work. No productivity has been lost, no clients are anxious and Sarah is seen as a responsible, competent team member. This is workable availability.
We can create workability by:
• Recognizing that we are expected to be generally available during our stated business hours.
• Understanding that if we are not going to be available, we must notify team members in advance whenever possible. We don’t need to provide specific details, but our team members will be more supportive if we offer general information about why we won’t be available.
• Informing team members about when we will be back in the office, whether we can be reached in the meantime and, if so, how they can contact us.
• Ensuring that someone else is prepared to triage on our behalf if a situation arises.
Workable availability is about setting expectations and being professional.
It increases the organization’s productivity, fosters a more enjoyable, cooperative work environment and enhances our client relationships.
© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.