Out-of-office checklist

An Out-of-Office Checklist for Your Front Desk Staff

The employees who run the front desk play an important role in the office. It can be tricky for other employees to cover for them in their absence.

But small businesses don’t often have more than one receptionist on staff, so covering front desk responsibilities will occasionally be necessary.

Following an out-of-office checklist can help make sure that the receptionist’s absence doesn’t cause confusion or make bad impressions on office guests.

Before your front office staff must leave the office for an extended period, encourage them to follow these steps.

Create a Coverage Plan

The role of the receptionist can be structured in a variety of ways, as we wrote in our post 8 Ways to Structure Your Business’ Front Office.

But whichever additional work the receptionist is in charge of at your workplace, their most urgent responsibilities usually include answering phones and monitoring lobby traffic. An unanswered phone or an empty lobby can cause frustration for potential partners, customers, and hires.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, covering the front desk at all times is time-consuming and sometimes stressful — even when your receptionist is in the office full-time. That’s why many offices have opted to invest in digital call routing systems and electronic check-in apps that can handle these tasks when the receptionist has to step away from the front desk for any reason.

If your office will be relying on one of these digital alternatives in the receptionist’s extended absence, make sure the receptionist has updated each system’s notification settings. It’s also smart to designate someone to periodically disinfect the front desk area if contactless check-in is not in place.

Before they leave, receptionists should have a quick meeting with the team members who will be taking over any other aspects of their work (such as for payroll, administration, executive assistance, HR, or office management). This step ensures that everyone knows what to do and has access to all the resources and documents they’ll need.

Officially Inform (and Remind) the Team

Don’t skip this step! There’s plenty of room for confusion about who is responsible for actually letting everyone know that the receptionist will be out of the office.

For example, your receptionist may tell their immediate manager, but that manager may neglect to pass the word along to the rest of the people who need to know. Similarly, the receptionist may do their due diligence in notifying human resources in advance, but still fail to make sure that their immediate colleagues know.

Finally, telling the team about the receptionist’s absence in advance is a good first step, but the team may also have to be reminded about the absence as it approaches. One best practice to avoid surprises is to put the upcoming vacation or break on a shared calendar.

Whichever way you choose to notify the rest of the team of upcoming employee vacations, follow a standard protocol to prevent any confusion.

Set Expectations for Communication

Not all receptionist absences are taken with the expectation that they’ll be completely unavailable while they’re out of the office.

For example, if an employee is leaving for vacation, they shouldn’t be contacted at all except for emergencies. But if the employee will be out of the office for a reason — such as quarantining as a safety precaution after being exposed to COVID-19, or simply working from home for another personal reason — they might be expected to be available during certain hours or able to respond to communications within a certain time frame.

Related post: The Receptionist’s Stance on Working Remotely

Before leaving the office, your front desk employees should clarify how often they’ll be available for communication. For example, if they’re traveling to a location with limited internet or phone access, periodic check-ins may be difficult or impossible.

Create an Out-of-Office Message

Just like most other employees, receptionists may want to set up automated out-of-office replies for their personal email and voicemail if their responsibilities won’t be completely covered by other employees.

These messages will clarify to any callers and senders that their inquiries won’t get immediate attention.

The best out-of-office messages have the following parts:
Dates that the employee will be unavailable
An estimation of when the employee will be able to return any messages
Where to direct inquiries that require immediate attention
The employee’s signature complete with their personal information

Clean up Your Desk Area

Many receptionists will have another employee at the front desk in their absence, so cleaning (and ideally, disinfecting) the desk before you leave is the courteous thing to do.

But even if you won’t be sharing your desk, making sure your papers are organized and your space is tidy can make it easier for employees to find important documents if they need them — and means that no one has to look at a mess while you’re gone.

If nothing else, it’s nice to come back to a tidy desk when you return from a break.

Don’t forget to collect any mugs or personal items from office common areas and clean them or dispose of them before you leave, including food and drinks in a shared refrigerator.

Consider Making Contingency Plans

Things will probably carry on as usual at the office during your absence, and your trip (or other break) may go completely as planned.

But will you be prepared if your return flight gets delayed and you miss a few extra days of work? What if something happens at work that absolutely needs your attention? Confirm that you can access work accounts from your personal devices or consider bringing your work laptop and charger with you so that you don’t have to worry about these scenarios.

Of course, the right decision of how available you decide to make yourself will depend on your level of responsibility at work, the reason you’re leaving the office, and how easy it is logistically for you to check in. But knowing that you won’t be completely unreachable, even if you’re on vacation, may actually help you relax.

Knowing that you’re not completely unreachable, even if you’re on vacation, may actually help you relax. Share on X

Considering a Digital Receptionist?

Most businesses occasionally find themselves scrambling to cover for employees when they leave the office for breaks, both planned and unplanned. That’s because at most businesses — especially small ones — each employee plays an essential role.

Although some of our clients have opted to rely exclusively on a check-in app to manage their visitors, many more use it as a tool to help make their receptionists’ jobs more manageable.

With the help of a digital check-in app, your front desk employees can take breaks without having to rush back to the front desk. An app can also free them to do more valuable work for the office because they can check visitors in more quickly. These apps can also make it easier for the rest of your staff to cover for the receptionist when they have to stay out of the office for longer periods.

If you’re interested in trying The Receptionist, the best visitor check-in app around, you can try the full system for two weeks in our no-obligation trial. Just head over to our home page and submit your email address to get started. Or, get in touch to arrange a custom demo so we can show you exactly how it would work for your office.

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