How to Keep your Workflow Cool when it Heats up Outside
Love it or loathe it, managers often spend a lot of time fine-tuning workflows and striving for continuous improvement. And maximizing work productivity during summer vacation season is even more challenging as employees take advantage of their hard-earned paid time off. It’s also peak season for taking on additional duties while your officemates are enjoying sun and relaxation (or at least a break from the office!).
And therein lies the rub: how do you create a seamless system that encourages and supports time off while maintaining productivity, respecting and serving customer relationships, and ensuring important work keeps getting done?
The case for vacations: taking time off is a win-win
Employees and employers alike benefit from paid time off. For the company, results include increased productivity and morale, enhanced employee retention and burnout prevention. Employees, in turn, receive well-earned breaks to create lasting memories and build binding ties with family and friends. And they’re healthier; one study showed that taking just three days of vacation improved reaction time by 30 to 40%.
While the U.S. is the only country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not mandate companies provide paid vacation for their workers, many companies DO offer paid time off as a benefit to their full-time employees. Even with paid vacation, however, surveys show a large percentage of American workers do not use all of their allotted time. Some even use less than half.
Last year Glassdoor ranked the 25 highest-rated companies for vacation and paid time off offered to employees. Pharmaceutical giant Amgen, for example, provides new hires with three weeks PTO plus weeklong company shutdowns for July 4 and Christmas. That’s five weeks! Hubspot and Evernote offer unlimited vacation time, and Hubspot makes two weeks of vacation mandatory. Evernote even pays its employees a $1,000 stipend to help defray vacation costs. It’s worth noting that the companies in the top-25 list also receive an impressive average overall rating of 3.79 (out of 5).
To reap the aforementioned benefits of paid time off, companies must put policies and processes in place that both support and encourage their employees to fully embrace their vacation time. Then, it’s up to managers to develop plans to balance staff vacations while maintaining office productivity.
Smooth the road for taking vacation time: be smart, organized and have a plan
- Create a separate shared vacation/out of office calendar. This can be done simply through software like Office 365 or a shared Google calendar. Once in place, everyone can see at a glance when coworkers will be out of the office and plan accordingly. A robust vacation calendar also allows managers to block dates when “all hands” are required to be in the office during anticipated “crunch” times.
- Develop a cross-training/backups/task-sharing plan. Smart managers embrace the advantages of their employees understanding the skills and responsibilities of their coworkers. Not only do employees learn the unique challenges their colleagues face, they can become more supportive of each other’s job roles, thus increasing work efficiency. This strategy also helps prevent productivity hiccups when someone quits or becomes unavailable. Most HR departments maintain general job descriptions, but managers can work with their employees to create and maintain their own “real world” blueprints. This creates the added benefits of workers acquiring a greater respect for what their coworkers do and a willingness and confidence to pitch in when needed.
- Amp up your out of office (OOO) email replies and voicemail messages. Standard out of office messages are often canned statements that pledge, “I will return your call when I get back.” Not too helpful when action is needed now! OOOs should always include detailed contact information for a coworker with backup responsibilities. And why not save time for special clients by making a personal call or email to plan ahead and connect the client to the backup contact?
Plan out realistic deadlines and return schedules
If you ask the average employee why they don’t take vacations, one reason might be the mountain of work to be done before they leave and being instantly buried when they return. It’s no wonder many workers confess to staying connected to the office while away—if only to keep up with their email.
When scheduling projects during known vacation periods, plan ahead to adjust deadlines and due dates around employee schedules. While they may not be completely flexible, appropriate deadlines paired with a dedicated back-up system should help mitigate being overwhelmed upon return.
Weekly staff meetings also provide ample opportunities to keep everyone in the loop about projects, deadlines, responsibilities and expectations.
Finally, project management tools and software (like the one we use, Wrike*) can block vacation days and holidays so workflows and project timelines are automatically adjusted based on availability. The software also has a workload tracker that offers a clear overview of the tasks on the team’s plate to help balance accordingly.
Don’t forget to prepare for the unexpected
You can do everything listed above and more, and still be faced with an unexpected absence that puts the team in a crunch. It could be a family emergency, accident or injury, or an unexpected resignation or dismissal. To ensure coverage during busy periods or holidays, or just to help your team do more with less, outsourcing workload to agencies, freelancers or temporary workers can be a reliable way to flex workers with the work.
At Writing by Design, we’ve been in your busy marketing shoes, and know what it’s like to juggle multiple ‘high priority’ projects with limited time and budget. This has helped us find a niche as an extension of busy marketing teams. As specialists in both marketing communications and project management, we can efficiently and effectively support the efforts of your team and help keep work moving year-round.
As the weather heats up and employees head for the hills (or the beach or the cabin), give us a call to see how we might be able to fill in the gaps and keep your work flowing all summer long.
*No sponsorship here! Just a tool that works really well for us, and we always love to spread a good word.
Ric is a graduate of UW-Whitewater. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, communications specialist in the insurance industry, and a news & web editor for a large nonprofit membership organization. As a self-taught guitar and bass player, Ric performs regularly in the Fox Valley area with several bands. He and his wife reside in Boom Bay on Lake Poygan.