How to Make Your First Day Back at Work Productive After a Vacation or Leave of Absence

I used to dread my first day back in the office after vacation. After being away for a week or two (or more when I had my sons), I did not look forward to coming back and being buried in emails and getting caught by surprise by someone who needed my urgent attention.

But not anymore. Not since Matrix Group started creating “while you were out” documents for anyone out of the office for more than a couple of days.

Here’s how we do it:

  • We review who’s going to be out during managers meeting on Fridays.
  • If someone is going to be out for more than a couple of days, we create a shared Google doc called “While x was out, week of January 19, 2018.”
  • We put someone in charge of making sure the document is populated.
  • We ask specific team members to put in their notes about what happened during the week. We put in notes about anything and everything that the person on vacation would have been part of, or heard, had she been in the office.

The update is ready the day before the person comes back from vacation or leave. An email goes out, telling the vacationer to “read this update first.”

What do we cover in the “while you were out” document?

  • The update will vary, based on the person and role. For example, project managers get a summary of everything that happened on all of their client accounts. A Director gets a summary for the entire company. A developer gets a summary of what happened on his accounts and projects.
  • Beyond specific clients and projects, we also report on what was discussed during meetings. This is really important. If we discuss a project that’s been stalled and come up with a solution, it’s so helpful for the vacationing staffer to know how we got a project unstuck. If we don’t report on it in the brief, that knowledge may never get passed on to the manager or developer.
  • We also report on the social stuff that happens at the office, things like happy hours, birthdays, who got pranked, movies people are raving out, puppy visits to the office, who got engaged, and visits to the climbing gym. God forbid you be the person who didn’t know that Alex got married or that Roger got a new puppy!

Why go to all this effort?

  • People coming back from any type of leave don’t have to spend all day reading their emails in order to know what happened while they were out. In fact, we often do not cc: the person on vacation so they don’t come back to hundreds of emails to process.
  • Returning staff can immediately be back in the swing of things.
  • People feel like they can get away without missing important events or milestones.

It takes a whole team to write these documents, but they are so worth the time and effort.

What do you do to make the transition back to work easier on your team members? 

5 thoughts on “How to Make Your First Day Back at Work Productive After a Vacation or Leave of Absence

  1. I LOVE our while you were out documents! It was a godsend when I was on maternity leave. It enabled me to check in periodically so I could stay connected to what was going on, without getting sucked into email for hours on end. Every org needs to do this!

  2. This is wonderful! I love how you’re creating an environment that makes it OK to be out – and to come back. Another tactic I’ve heard is allowing people to delete all their unread emails when they return. So they start with Inbox 0 and ease back in. This would go well with the “while you were out” document because then people won’t really miss anything by not reading emails. (I can think of other issues, but you know what? We used to function without email.) It’s all part of the culture.

  3. Having worked for a long time in several organizations I was surprised that no other place had this “while you were out” practice that Matrix Group did. This in my experience is a very unique practice at Matrix Group. I welcomed it and was struck by the efficiency that this process brings to the workplace. It definitely eases the dread of being back and having to comb through emails so as to not “miss out ” on any critical things that have to be addressed. I highly recommend it to any Department/Team within an organization.

  4. I like this idea but wonder about people really taking the time to complete the document. How do you make sure that happens?

  5. Hi Cari. We make sure that the document is filled out by assigning someone to be in charge for the person who is away. For example, if Rajani is out, I make sure the doc is populated. If Dave is out, Rajani is the person in charge. We sometimes need to nudge people, and some of us are more skilled than others are filling out the doc. The docs are never perfect, but something is better than nothing!

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