Obviously we all need time off sometimes to recharge our batteries. But, if you run a small business, you’ll know that dealing with staff absence isn’t always easy – especially not if everyone wants time off at the same time, or someone’s holiday clashes with a project deadline.
Planning seems to be the single best answer, reading between the lines of this recent piece over in The Telegraph.
It isn’t easy, opens the piece. ‘For a business owner with a small team, covering for holidays can be tricky.’ It highlights the problem of particular pressure points – such as school holidays – and also the problem with every member of staff being key in a very small team.
‘With responsibility often spread across a handful of people, losing just one person for two weeks can feel like losing a core part of the business.’
But the piece pools advice from three experts.
Meticulous project planning
Polly Buckland, Managing Director of The Typeface Group, prescribes ‘meticulous project planning’, says The Telegraph.
She herself uses Charlie HR: ‘a free online HR tool through which team members can request leave’, says the paper.
‘Directors can see an overview of current and upcoming time off for the entire company, so projects can be planned and scheduled to avoid periods when people are away.’
Having that overview – plotting leave against project schedules – can bring peace of mind as well as some control.
An understudy structure
Polly Buckland also uses ‘an understudy structure’. This means people step up and into role, already prepared, to cover others’ absence.
The understudy scheme, explains the piece, ‘assigns specific aspects of a new client project (web design or copywriting, for example), to backup junior team members. These “understudies” are kept updated of their project’s progress by senior staff members and have access to the relevant documents’.
Finally, Polly Buckland wonders about employing someone just to oversee all this – ‘to take charge of organising your workforce’, is how the paper puts it, ‘– even if it’s part-time.’
The Typeface Group has an Office Manager, who ‘essentially gets every project off the ground by creating timing plans and project schedules’, says Polly Buckland.
‘She also liaises with clients, so in some regards acts as an account manager.’
But there’s no point in doing this unless you appoint the right kind of person. Polly Buckland advocates ‘strong administration skills, great written and verbal communication skills, and confidence to work with contacts at all levels’.
You don’t want to end up having to organise your organiser!
Russell Smith, Managing Director of Russell Smith Chartered Accountants, also advocates planning as key.
‘You can never plan too far ahead,’ is how The Telegraph introduces his advice.
His business ‘runs on a system of high-priority task management’, says the paper. ‘If any of these – often complex – tasks are due to be undertaken by a colleague with holiday coming up, they’re given time to make it a priority in the run-up to the break.’
This means handing over ‘minor, menial and less pressing tasks’ to others, while they focus on this.
He also thinks it makes sense for people to leave ‘detailed handover notes that anyone in the business can understand’, the piece says, ‘not just those written for specific colleagues’.
The last expert The Telegraph turns to is Tom Shurville, Managing Director of Distinctly.
He warns against that common misconception that people will arrive back in the office after a break refreshed and raring to go.
They may, actually, quite likely be less engaged than when they went away, and take a little while to re-immerse.
They may also have a big backlog of emails, for instance, to catch up with.
Let them ease back in gently, is his advice. Don’t set too much store on all that needs passing back the morning they reappear through that door.
‘There can be a misunderstanding that when staff return, they will be refreshed and motivated to plunge themselves back into work’, is how Tom Shurville puts it.
‘In reality, they’re likely to be lethargic and still suffering from the holiday blues.’
Work with this.
‘What they shouldn’t return to is two full days of “let’s grab them when they’re back” type meetings’, concludes the piece.