The 60-Minute Backup Plan

Last updated: October 28, 2021
Estimated reading time: 3 min


In a world forever changed by COVID-19—not to mention climate crises, technology shifts, and political divides—we’ve all developed new ways to cope with uncertainty. When it comes to handling unknowns at work, one concrete step every team member can take is to create a backup plan for who will take over key responsibilities if one or more team members is out.

It doesn’t need to be daunting. Figure out the most important responsibilities that need to be covered, who could do them if the current owner is out, and what that person needs to do now to prepare.

Ready to go? You can make huge progress in as little as 60 minutes. With more time, you can get more sophisticated. Read our tips below, and then get started with our simple template.

Here are our tips for making backup planning easier:

1. Aim for 80 (percent)!

Don’t feel like you need to get this perfect. Get the important stuff down now and improve it over time. Start with critical functions (such as doing payroll, communicating with your members, managing your team) and build from there as you have more time.

2. Conduct a “back-up-a-thon”

Schedule a time for your team members to get together and crank out a quick plan for their areas of responsibility. (If you’re an ED, you might start with a leadership team meeting, and then have each department head conduct this exercise with their teams.) In a one-hour session, you can get a decent plan together and build on it from there. (Oh, and if “back-up-a-thon” makes you think of that 1999 Juvenile song, you’re not alone.)

3. Create a folder for everything

Consider this your organizational “go-bag,” which holds the essential information needed for someone to fill in. Create a “back-up planning” folder and put the most relevant documents there, ideally organized by team (including logins and admin rights for systems). Password-protect and set permissions for documents and sub-folders that not everyone should see.

4. Mind the equity implications

As you draft your plans, pay attention to who’s being asked to carry more (or less) of the load. If and when the time comes, managers should work with staff members who are picking up or covering extra work to deprioritize some of their other responsibilities. (One way to mitigate burdens on your current staff is to remember to reach out to contractors or others outside the organizations who could step in if needed.) On the positive side, investing in your staff to learn new skills outside their usual areas of responsibilities is an excellent cross-training opportunity, so pay attention to who you’re giving those growth opportunities to.

5. Use video and voice

You don’t need detailed written instructions for everything. Instead, have owners record themselves doing tasks (log into their videoconferencing platform, hit “record,” share their screen, and narrate what they’re doing). Good old voice memos can also work, especially to share context that’s helpful for the backup owner to know when there’s not enough time to write everything down.

6. Do a trial run, if possible

If feasible, have the backup owner(s) do the assigned task before they have to take it over. By actually doing the work, they’ll spot questions and better retain any lessons.

We know that backup planning can be daunting—not just logistically, but because it can be hard to imagine the worst happening to you or your teammates. The truth is, though, we often need backup plans for parental leave, family leave, and other reasons beyond the pandemic, so lean into the opportunity to create plans that give people reassurance (just in case) and build a sense of team cross-collaboration.

Head over to our Backup Planning Tool to start now.

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