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Career Tips

The importance of backing up

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
June 4, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 18


An image of a toggle switch with the switch turned on to the option to "backup" rather than the option to "restore".
Credit: Shutterstock

Anyone who has ever lost an important document to a software or hardware failure understands the importance of having up-to-date backups of important material. But just as it is with data and documents, it’s important to have backups of business processes and activities. A good rule is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Data and documents. Ideally, your organization regularly backs up important data and documents. If you don’t already know, check with your information technology department to find out exactly which files are backed up and how often. If necessary (and allowed), supplement that system with a backup program of your own. For example, do you keep current copies of important documents off-line, in case you need them when you don’t have access to the network or internet?

Procedures. Are you the only person who knows how to do certain tasks? Not having people cross-trained can be risky. At the very least, document how to perform tasks so that others know what to do if needed. Include all the details—URLs, usernames and passwords (stored securely), software and versions, and typical issues and fixes. Add screenshots and links to make instructions easy for someone to follow. Is there a regular schedule or deadline for these tasks? Writing down all the particulars has the added benefit of forcing you to think about why you do things the way you do and might even help you make your processes more efficient.

Sources and equipment. Have redundant sources—for example, additional suppliers for vital chemicals, an old computer that can be used in a pinch, and ready access to duplicates of other crucial pieces of equipment. Check those backup suppliers and machines regularly to make sure that they serve your needs and are in good working order—and that you know how to use them.

People. Relationships are important in business, and trying to work with people you don’t know during a crisis is not optimal. Make lists of internal as well as external contacts who might be useful, and introduce them to the people covering for you. Because knowing whom to ask about which problem is a critical part of success, make sure those doing the job have that information. You can include some of it in your out-of-office email reply: “Contact X with questions about Y.”

Access. Get people cross-trained in the activities they might have to take over. In some cases, sharing or rotating jobs can keep everyone current on procedural changes. If others are not performing the tasks regularly, set up refresher days to ensure that they know how things are done currently and that they can do them.

You never know when something unexpected—good or bad—will cause you to be unavailable for a significant period. The right preparation can ensure that your responsibilities are handled when you are unavailable. Moreover, it will allow you to focus on the unexpected interruption and then have a smooth return to the office.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published monthly in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to


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