The questions you need to ask before you cover for another assistant

The questions you need to ask before you cover for another assistant.

In last week’s blog I wrote about assistants working together as a team and part of the blog discussed how we should cover for each other when one of us is off sick or on holiday. Once the blog was published I had a couple of people tweet to say that cover for other assistants is hard work and can be a thankless task so I thought I’d follow up with the questions you need to ask before you agree to cover for another assistant.

I totally agree with my fellow tweeters it can be really tough juggling your job and another assistants, you have the demands of your own work and managers as well as figuring out how to work with another team or one on one with another director. It is not easy, but if you have a few ground rules in place before starting the cover it *should* be smooth sailing. Here are my top 5 questions you should ask before you take on another assistant’s work:

1. What is coming up while the assistant is out of the office?

Sit down with the assistant a few days prior to them leaving the office and go through everything that could possible crop up during that time. It could be anything from important meetings, expected visitors, trips, appointments etc. Make sure you are aware of everything that is already in the diary so that you can plan your day accordingly and hopefully it will save you from any unexpected surprises. Ensure you have access to the calendars and emails for all of the people you are assisting, even if they are highly senior. It is so much harder to anticipate their needs if you don’t know what is going on during their day.

2. What is the boss like?

Or possible the better question to ask is what does the boss like? This question really needs to be answered honestly by your colleague. Are they demanding, are they unorganised, will they actually delegate anything to you? Depending on your relationship with the other assistant you may well know what the boss is like and what you are getting yourself into. However I would still get the low down from your colleague because you never know what quirks and foibles these senior managers have until you actually work for them.

3. What is expected of you?

So you know what is coming up while your colleague is out of the office but do you know how much you have to be involved with that? Are you expected to be a full-time assistant or are you expected to just keep the office ticking over until the other assistant returns? This is soooo important before taking on cover for someone else because from the outset you will know how much work to expect, how much your workload and therefore hours in the office will increase. Can you deal with the extra work or should you be taking the cover on at all? If you have to attend meetings with the manager, manage all of their emails and appointments or take on any project work this could be too much or it could be a great challenge that you are happy to do. At least you will know from the outset.

4.  How long will you be covering for?

Covering for a day is easy, a week not so bad, a fortnight is a juggling act, maternity leave could see you looking after two directors full time… forever! Find out and find out fast!

5. What is your manager thinking?

This is probably the most important question to ask. Is your manager actually okay with you dividing your time between them and someone else? If you are EA to the CEO is it actually feasible for you to help someone else when you are in high demand in the first place? If you are happy to cover for another assistant ask your manager first, have a look at what they have coming up before you commit to anything. If it is a quiet period for your manager it will probably be fine for you to take on extra work but do double check.

If you work at a company that encourages assistants to work together as a team you will be required to cover for each other every now and again. It isn’t always fun or easy and with the extra work can be quite stressful but there is a positive side also in that you will be exposed to other areas of the business, you might be covering for a more senior manager than you currently do and this is great for your reputation and experience, you might pick up new skills and meet new people. Oh and you might be rewarded too!

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