We all feel it at this time of year – the disruption to our businesses because of summer vacations. It’s difficult enough to keep up with heavy workloads when everyone is in the office, but constant absences due to summer vacations can make it seem impossible to stay above water.
I don’t want to suggest in any way that vacations are bad; quite the opposite. I am a big proponent of vacations – real vacations when employees actually disconnect from work. Employees come back from vacation refreshed and with a fresh perspective. The downside of vacations, though, is the disruption to the flow of business. Just when you feel you’ve got a rhythm in place to move the team forward together, there’s a vacation. The absence requires other team members to pick up duties left by the vacationing employee and can derail the momentum. Inevitably, efficiency drops and sometimes things are missed or miscommunicated. Bottom line: during vacations, things just aren’t as smooth. Of course, I am not suggesting that you should cancel vacations but to find ways to minimize the disruption. What can you do to keep the ball rolling while your team members are out?
First, everyone in the company needs to plan ahead for a busy vacation season. Make sure everyone’s time off is not only scheduled well in advance, but posted in a public form so all employees are aware of upcoming gaps. This kind of transparency helps your team plan for shortages instead of scrambling for coverage in the days leading up to an absence. Additionally, you should create and enforce deadlines for selecting vacation days to ensure you and your team can adequately prepare for a string of vacations. While no one likes to tell an employee they cannot take a preferred week off, requiring early requests for vacations allows plenty of time to find alternate dates when team members select conflicting dates to be out of the office and saves you from being too short staffed.
Second, the company should have clear roles and responsibilities. Everyone needs to be on the same page regarding what duties they are responsible for covering so when someone is out so nothing gets dropped because no one thought to pick it up. Clear roles also allows for appropriate cross-training. Often, one person doesn’t take on all the functions of another person who’s on vacation but the functions get split up so the right person is responsible for each piece.
Third, the company should have processes for these responsibilities and functions that are ingrained in the culture will drive efficiency. Processes also allow someone else to pick up the project (relatively) seamlessly and keep it moving forward. The employee filling in can be quickly trained and has a resource to remind him or her of what needs to be done. Process will keep the entire team from being brought into the issue because no one knows how to do it.
Finally, communication standards should be set. When a project is passed on to another team member, certain critical information is needed for that team member to fully understand the project. Without a clear hand-off, inefficiencies will occur – rework, incomplete deliverables, or having to reach out to the person on vacation. Communication standards should also include who to go to for what information.
Most small businesses don’t feel they have the time or bandwidth to develop these processes and tools, but the efficiency savings from formalizing everyday processes will pay off quickly – and not just for vacations. If you are able to implement the above standards, summer vacation scheduling will be less of a headache to you, your staff, and your clients because all of the bases will be covered.