What To Do When You're Running Late For Work

Running Late for Work

One of the most important parts of working in a professional setting is being punctual. Being on time and arriving to the office, meetings, or other work obligations is important no matter who you are or how long you’ve been part of the workforce.

Just the other week my alarm clock went off signaling that it was time to wake up and get ready for another workday. I sleepily pulled back my covers, got out of bed and walked into the bathroom to shower. After turning the faucet, I noticed that water wasn’t coming out. I stood there, scratched my head and wondered what was going on. I then remembered that there was a water main break in the area surrounding my house that happened the night before. Sometime during the night, the water supply for my entire town was shut off.  

Knowing that I needed to shower and get ready for work, I quickly decided to pack up my stuff and shower at my sister’s place 20 minutes away. I texted my boss to fill her in on the situation and told her that I was going to be a tad late for work. Luckily, my boss is really flexible and understanding so it wasn’t an issue.

Like the example in my situation above, unexpected things happen at the most inopportune times. That’s life! Sometimes things get in the way and make us late for work. Traffic, inclement weather, car issues, wardrobe malfunctions, sick pets or family members – the list goes on. Since starting my professional career, I’ve run into my fair share of issues in the morning that have caused me to be late to work. Next time you find yourself running late (don’t worry, it happens to everyone), keep these tips in mind:

Don’t panic
You might feel like the world is ending and that you’ll be fired the second you set your belongings on your desk because you’re running late, but that’s definitely not the case. The first thing you should do if you’re running late is to remain calm. Sometimes, stuff happens! Situations like traffic jams, messed up train schedules or inclement weather are out of your control. Whatever you do, don’t put yourself in a dangerous position just to make it to work on time (don’t speed and zigzag through rush hour traffic, don’t squeeze your way through train doors that are in the middle of closing, etc.). Your safety is much more valuable than making sure you dial-in to your weekly 9 a.m. status call.

Contact your boss
As soon as you know that you’re going to be late, make sure to get in touch with your boss and keep them in the loop. They’ll appreciate knowing your status and when you expect to make it into the office. Provide a brief description of your situation and provide a reason as to why you’re running behind so your supervisor knows what you’re up against and why you’re delayed.

When you’re running late, there’s no time to waste. You’ll want to get your priorities straight and pick and choose the things you need to do before you head out the door and what can wait until later. No time to pack your lunch? Either throw a few quick things in your bag (a granola bar, yogurt, etc.) or buy lunch at work. No time to make coffee? Skip the drive thru line and grab your morning coffee at the office. As long as you look presentable and you have all of your work essentials with you, you’ll be able to survive the work day. Trust me.

Seek out an alternate route
If you drive yourself to and from work and you find yourself being slowed down by traffic, pull out your cell phone (only when it’s safe to do so – for example, at a stop light or when your vehicle is not in motion) and open up an app like Waze, Apple Maps or Google Maps. If you haven’t checked yet, there might be a faster way to get to the office by taking back roads or by turning down a side street.

Plan out your to do list in your head
Chances are that if you’re running late your morning is off to a stressful start. Channel that stress into something else and focus your thoughts on what you need to accomplish at work during the upcoming day. Planning out a to do list ahead of time will keep the tasks that you need to take care of top of mind for when you get to your desk. When you get to the office, you can write your to do list and tackle the rest of the work day from there.

Make sure your work is covered
Depending on how far behind you are, it might be best to get in touch with a colleague to see if they’ll cover for you until you can make it into the office. Forward any emails or information to your co-worker and explain what you need them to do in detail. Don’t forget to thank them in person once you arrive at work. If you have any teleconference meetings first thing in the morning, see if you can dial-in during your commute. Just put yourself on mute when you’re not speaking and listen in to the conversation. Chances are that you won’t be able to take notes, but you’ll still be part of the discussion.

When you arrive to work, try to feel things out and see if you can fly under the radar and not draw too much attention to yourself. If it seems appropriate, find time to apologize to your boss or coworkers. Make it known that your tardiness won’t turn into a habit. Whatever you do, make any apology you give short and sweet. No need to go into significant detail or make it seem like you’re providing excuses. No one will want to listen to your sob story and chances are that your colleagues were too busy to notice that you were late and/or they don’t care.

Work through your lunch hour
Make up for lost time and consider eating lunch at your desk if you were running late on your way into the office. If you didn’t have time to pack your lunch, buy something from a place close by and take it back to your desk. Doing two things at once like eating and working on a presentation can be challenging, but you should be able to do tasks that are a little easier such as catching up on your emails or finishing a quick project or task.

Stay at work a little later
As the day winds down and your to do list gets smaller and smaller, you might be tempted to leave the office at the end of the day like everyone else. If you got to work late, you might want to consider staying a little later and finishing up the last few tasks of the day. Once your last piece of work is complete, take some time to create your to do list for the next day or to organize your desk. If your supervisor and work peers see that you’re putting in the time and effort despite your delayed arrival, they might appreciate your efforts.

Take preventative measures
If you’re noticing a pattern and you’re consistently arriving late to work, take some time to evaluate your morning routine and find places where you can make improvements. Maybe you should wake up earlier. Maybe you should spend less time in the shower. Maybe you should plan your outfits ahead of time so you don’t spend 10 minutes standing in your closet telling yourself that you have nothing to wear. Find the areas that you need to make small adjustments to and try your best to create a new, expedited morning routine.

I think we can all agree that running late to work is one of the worst feelings. Sometimes it can honestly feel like the world is working against you and putting obstacles in your way just to keep you on your toes. As long as you follow the steps above, you should be golden.

What do you do when you’re running late for work? Share your answer in the comments section below!