At some point, you may be asked to cover another EA or PA during their absence, or you may have a reciprocal arrangement already in place. Hopefully it shouldn’t come as a ‘surprise’ when you are asked to cover! Planning is the key for a realistic hand-over and hand-back. Time should be allowed, after the initial handover, for the person covering to be able to ask any questions. This means the handover shouldn’t be on the day of departure.
Ideally, the person handing over to you should provide a ‘necessary details’ sheet- something that contains all the relevant personal information of the person you be supporting (full names, addresses, credit card details if appropriate, family information, personal preferences and dietary requirements).
A list of the ‘key contacts’ – people the boss line manages, or has regular contact with, so that the unfamiliar names aren’t too much of a surprise.
The to-do list should be clear, and an understanding of priority and urgency should be set.
You should be given a clear understanding of the diaries and upcoming tasks, events and potential problems. Ask for access to the new boss’s diary and inbox (if appropriate).
Ask the person you are covering for, to put your contact details on their email bounce-back. If any authorisation is needed, ask them to email the relevant people and cc you in (for example, if you book travel with a travel provider, ask the PA to introduce you so you can be authorised to book/pay for travel in absence).
Most importantly, boundaries need to be discussed of what will be needed of you, and expected from you, whilst covering AND doing your own job. Make sure the respective line managers are fully aware.
Remember, there is fine line between helping and ‘taking over’. When the person returns, you need to be able to give a full debrief, so their return is as smooth as possible. Your responsibility is to keep everything going- any big decisions or negotiations should be delayed until their return (unless permission has been given in advance).
To the person who is taking the absence- a small thank you gift to the person who covered your role will always be greatly appreciated!
Abigail Jones is a career Executive Assistant, with almost two decades' of experience. With three degrees in the Arts, she started working at the V&A Museum, Tate, Christies, Sotheby's before moving into Healthcare, Charity, Fashion/Luxury Retail (L'Oreal) and is currently working for American Express Global Business Travel as EA to the MD.