The Stress-Free Guide To Following Up At Work

The Stress-Free Guide To Following Up At Work

Everyone has at least one coworker who just can’t be trusted to get you what you need to do your job. You know who we’re talking about: that one guy in the office who is likeable enough, but it seems like you have to follow up with him on everything. You don’t want to be a jerk, but you need results. Here’s how you can get those results easily without straining your working relationship or your sanity.

Title photo by Dennis Owusu-Ansah (Shutterstock).

When you have a job to do that depends on your team and they don’t get you what you need to perform that job, it can end up appearing that you aren’t doing your work properly. That sucks, but use it as motivation to make sure the people you work with — even if they don’t work for you — get you what you need when you need it. Here’s what we mean.


Let Everyone Know Up Front That You’ll Follow Up

One of the most proactive things you can do to encourage people to get back to you is to let them know that you’ll follow up with them later and to let them know when. It may take a few actual follow-ups for your colleagues to realise that you’re serious about it, but once they realise you’ll come calling at a specific date and time if they don’t get back to you, they’ll start getting back to you without help. The important thing is to start training them to understand that you’ll follow up, and they shouldn’t be surprised when you do. Photo by takayuki (Shutterstock).

Include A Deadline In Your Requests

The next step is to start telling your coworkers when you need information, and then start pinging them as soon as you need it. Start signing your emails with the footnote “I need this by Tuesday, so I’ll check back with you then to see how it’s going”. They’ll know you’re coming, and over time, they’ll start getting back to you on their own. You’ll also get a paper trail that shows you’re being clear about your deadlines and your follow-ups, which you’ll need if you have to escalate. Plus, you’ll be able to follow up without feeling like a jerk because you warned them. Set the deadline up front and give yourself the freedom to check back when you need to.

Use Technology To Help You Remember To Follow Up

If the problem is really that you’re so busy you can’t remember to follow up, there are plenty of tools that can help you remember to check back with someone who owes you something. Here are a few:

  • Boomerang helps you remember to act on emails that come in to your inbox by removing them and making them reappear at a scheduled time. This way you can fire off an email to a coworker and CC yourself, or select the message that inspired you to ask your coworker for help and use Boomerang to make the message disappear. In a few days, Boomerang will bring the message back, and you have your reminder to follow up with your coworker.


  • reminds you to follow up with others, or it can follow up with them automatically for you. We’ve mentioned this one before, but here’s how it works: email your coworker, but in the CC or BCC field, add an address that corresponds to when you want an automatic follow-up message. For example, [email protected] will make the reminder message show up three days from now. [email protected] will make your follow up message appear on August 21. If you put the address in the To or CC field, everyone will get it so you don’t have to send a follow-up message. If you put them in the BCC field, it’ll come only to you.
  • Create mail rules and filters to help you remember. If you use Gmail or Outlook, our guide can help you set up rules and filters to remember to follow up with others. If you’re a fan of the GTD productivity method, this filtering method fits right in and gives you one folder to check when you’re ready to check back with everyone who owes you something.

Don’t Forget The Human Approach

Telling them ahead of time is great, and using automated tools to fire off emails is certainly helpful, but nothing beats the old-fashioned “call them on the phone” or “get up and walk to their desk” approach. After all, if you’re having trouble with a coworker who never gets back to you on time, their inbox is probably stuffed, or they’re just disorganised. Sometimes, the only way to get what you need from someone is to stand next to that person’s desk until he or she gives it to you. Photo by Everett Collection (Shutterstock).

This method definitely requires you to get past feeling like a jerk, but there’s an easy way to deal with that too: remember how you feel when your boss comes down on you for not getting the results you’re supposed to get, and remember how little your boss cares when you complain that you’re “waiting on someone to get back to you”. If it helps your relationships with your coworkers, level with them and let them know that you’re on a deadline and will be in hot water if you don’t deliver on time. If it’s chronic, ask your boss to intervene. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to get what you need to do your job — go get it!

Ever find yourself stuck between demanding work and coworkers who just don’t get you their work when you need it? How did you cope? Share your tips and suggestions for dealing with them in the comments below.


  • Nice Tip.
    I have run experiments with BCC vs CC and I find CC works better for people responding back which reduces the need for followup. I guess they may realise what I am doing.

    I also create a folder called “Follow Up” and a rule where all emails sent from me, and i am also the respondent, go to that folder (i.e I email and CC or BCC myself) I check that folder every day.

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