The golden rules of handover notes

How to ensure a smooth transition while you’re on annual leave 
by Bethan Rees

Whether you’re taking two weeks off or just a couple of days to relax, writing handover notes is usually one of those tiresome tasks that need to be ticked off before dashing out the office with your case in tow. The notes should help to ensure that your time off is manageable by the team and that nothing important is overlooked in your absence. Depending on the nature of your job, the length and detail of your notes will differ, but here are some golden rules that everyone should follow. 
Start writing early A blog by RICS Recruit says: “You should check in with all your clients and stakeholders before leaving and make sure they know who to speak to about ongoing projects in your absence. Start writing the handover a week before you leave, not the day before. This way you’re not doing it at the last minute, and your colleagues will have time to get back to you with any questions.”

In an article for LinkedIn, Chris Battye, director of performance and training services at recruitment firm Discovery, says: “Make sure you or your employees don’t just dump a load of work on someone else at the last minute. That’s not fair on anyone! Likewise, if there is potentially something that may come up in addition or a client call you’d like them to handle – tell them.”
Think contextNeil Currams, writing for recruitment company TFPL’s blog, says: “Consider how long you will be away for – a few days, an entire month? What may happen in that time? Look at what normally happens on a daily and weekly basis in your role and think about how people and situations would be affected if you were not there.” A realistic, transparent assessment is vital to avoid any misunderstandings in your team.
Content is king According to a Houston Chronicle article by Lisa McQuerrey, there are some basic components all handover notes should include, such as:
  • “Status of projects in the works: be as detailed as possible in describing projects that are underway, including critical next steps. Provide backup materials as needed, such as reports, meeting minutes or email chains.
  • Upcoming deadlines: if deadlines are approaching, make note, and include details on the delivery process of work product. If other people are involved, note them and their positions and responsibilities.
  • Troubleshooting issues to be aware of: there may be looming issues an incoming person needs to be aware of, and they should be included in the handover report. For example, a supplier who is notoriously late with delivery, a slow-paying client or a customer who regularly finds fault.”
A post in Drop Everything, a blog site by file hosting service Dropbox, explains that you should think about what your colleagues could possibly want to ask you while you’re away. “Preempt your colleagues’ questions or concerns to avoid unnecessarily panicked phone calls at the eleventh hour. Where possible, foresee the files and folders people will need access to in your absence and make them accessible.”

In a LinkedIn article, Laura Earle, EMEA employee and engagement communications manager at ServiceNow, a cloud software company, explains how to organise your notes. She writes: “Organise into sections – sections clarify the different types of tasks that need to be picked up while you're away. For example, you could organise your handover by 'current projects', 'consultative work', and 'future projects' (projects that might come up while you're away so your team can be prepared if and when they do).

“In each section, create a table with five columns: task, detail, deadline, owner, and stakeholder(s). The owner is the person(s) who is responsible for the task, and the stakeholders are the people they need to work with to complete the task.”

She also advises highlighting areas of your work that are subject to change. “It can be quite difficult to spot information that needs to be confirmed (for example you're waiting for information to come through or you're sourcing the link to a particular document or video) or may change (for example, you've heard that the due date of a project may be pushed out). Highlighting these areas as you work through your handover will make it easier to review it before you send it to your team.”
Don’t assume anything Write the handover notes as if the person you are writing them for has no idea about any of your projects – that might be true in some instances. Don’t be tempted to leave out any details you assume your colleagues might know, such as website addresses and logins. But be careful to avoid sounding condescending – there's no need to describe step-be-stop how to use the printer, for example. 

Last, but not least, make sure an out of office email is switched on – read here about how to get the most of this.
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Published: 18 Apr 2019
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • out of office
  • handover
  • Young Professionals Network
  • Career advice

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