Summer is almost here, and since most of us will be taking some time off, it seems like a good time for a discussion of how to leave your office for an extended period. There are tools available to help coworkers and customers know what to do in your absence, and ways to help the team cope better while you’re gone. First, it’s important to let people know in advance that you’ll be out for an extended period of time. Take the time to email customers and coworkers that you’ll be out on vacation or business. Give them specific dates and let them know whom to contact in your absence. Don’t forget to notify any other groups in which you participate– committees, professional organizations, etc. It’s important to give people at least a little lead time (don’t push “send” just as you walk out the door) so they can get back to you with urgent business that can’t wait until your return. If you really want to add value, update them on the status of pending projects or orders. If you use Outlook as your email system, you can take advantage of the “Out of Office Assistant” (Out of Office Agent in Lotus Notes.) The Out of Office Assistant creates an autoreply to emails you receive. You can customize the response to indicate how long you’ll be away and where to go for help or information in your absence. The autoreply only responds to the first email from any source, so it doesn’t repeat itself to senders that already know you’re gone. This simple-to-use tool helps eliminate frustration when you don’t respond immediately to an email. Your voicemail message can assist you in the same way. Even if you’re out for just a day, attending training or sick at home, letting callers know not to expect a call back until tomorrow helps manage expectations. For added value, let the voicemail indicate whether you’ll be checking your messages. If you indicate that you are, some people will leave messages about urgent issues. If you’re not checking in, those urgent matters will probably be handled in other ways. Either way, it’s less stressful for the caller and for you, knowing how soon you’ll be able to act on business matters. Before you leave, you can also take a few minutes to talk to your manager about important projects that are pending. Create a brief summary of your workload’s current status to leave behind so someone can see at a glance where projects are. Add contact numbers for key customers and other data such as account numbers that might be hard to find in your absence. Talk with your manager about team members that might be able to handle issues while you’re gone. One of the most effective things you can do before you leave is clean your office. A neat office is a pleasure to return to; leaving clutter will make the first day back even more stressful. An orderly office leaves the impression that everything is under control, in case the boss drops by. Taking time to inform team members and organize your workload can make a big difference in quality of life when you return to the office. You may even start a trend among your coworkers that will make life easier for everyone come vacation season next summer.