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.

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

I agree with my you guys, it can be tough juggling your job and another assistant’s tasks, you have the demands of your work as well as figuring out how to work with another team or one on one with another Executive. 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 can 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 before them leaving the office and go through everything that could crop up during that time. It could be anything from essential 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 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 Executive like?

Or possibly the better question to ask is what does the Executive like? This question needs to be answered honestly by your colleague. Are they demanding, are they unorganised, will they 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 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 supposed to keep the office ticking over until the other assistant returns? It is so important because from the outset you will know how much work to expect. How much your workload will expand and if you will have to stay in the office longer than usual. 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 critical question to ask. Is your manager okay with you dividing your time between them and someone else? If you are EA to the CEO is it 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 and also 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. 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!