Last week, we discussed ways to prepare your team for employee vacations (TradePost, 6/20/13), which are all-too-common during the summer months. Everyone deserves some time off, and they also should have the opportunity to fully get away from work without having to do their jobs while out of the office. However, employee absences (whether planned or not) often leave managers scrambling to ensure nothing falls through the cracks while they are away. How can you ensure a seamless transition when employees are out of the office? We suggest documenting each team member's job duties for training purposes and for a how-to guide when someone goes away.

Do your staff members have a very clear understanding of all of their tasks? Also, do you fully understand all of your team members' job duties and the time commitments associated with them? Hopefully you both do. If not, this is the first step in documenting an employee's responsibilities. Have a meeting with your employees to talk with them individually about their daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. Once you have done so, you are ready to properly document them.

Documenting job duties can be tedious, and often one may not think to list certain aspects of his or her job if they have become second nature. This can be treated as a narrative training document that sets forth the tasks of the day, week, and month and explains how to complete each of them. Step-by-step details should be observed and reported. If an employee leaves the office for a couple of days or weeks, one should be able to read through this document and duplicate, or come close to doing so, the absent employee's tasks. Ideally, the document covers how to perform a task – and why the task is important in the first place.

Having a department manual is one very effective way to list out the duties of each of your team members and the processes associated with each task. You can section this off by member title or by task type. For example, your department administrative assistant may need to answer phones and file important documents. Under his or her title in your manual, you would list these tasks along with specific instructions where necessary. Every team member should have access to this document.

Another possible way to keep all of your employees' job duties and instructions for filling in could be a team folder. Each of your staff members should have their own folder with his or her name and job title. In that folder should be a document with a list of tasks and their processes, and other supporting documents if needed. This folder should be kept on a server that can be accessed by all members of your team.

It is good practice for your staff to write up the details of their own duties. Not only does it force them to think through exactly what they're doing and the best way to accomplish certain tasks (which will likely end up increasing their own efficiency, as well as your team's when they are out of the office), but it fosters a real sense of ownership over the tasks they are writing about. When staff members feel responsible and accountable for a task's success, they generally will perform better when doing it. That said, managers need to be heavily involved in this documentation process. You should plan to give clear instructions for what you expect your team members to write out, should ensure all your expectations for the tasks are accounted for, and should ensure the various submissions are formatted in such a way that there is some consistency among documents. The latter will make it easier for back-ups to quickly understand what they need to do when filling in.

Once you have chosen a method for documenting job duties for each team member, implement a process for training others. Divide each employee's tasks among the others in the department so that each person can perform one or two key aspects of every employee's job. Then, at a rate you determine, have each employee train the others on the tasks they will handle should that person take leave for any reason.

Following these steps and implementing a plan sooner rather than later will help your department to continue being productive as well as maintain important processes should any employee need to leave the office for any period of time. This also ensures that you will have a back-up plan for each key task in your department should a spur of the moment resignation or health concern arises. Preparation is important, and proper documentation is the key when preparing for the temporary absence of a team member.

Readers: How does your department handle covering job duties when a staff member takes leave?