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1 Question, 3 Answers: How Do You Maintain Smooth Business Operations During Employee Vacations?

Author: Katie Truesdell Date: August 18, 2014

Take these steps to maintain continuity and productivity during the lazy days of summer

Vacation time is a standard component of any employee benefits package—but with a small staff, how do you keep your business running smoothly while workers are out of the office? Here, three small business owners share their tips for maintaining business as usual while short-staffed.

Karin Hurt, CEO, Let’s Grow Leaders—Baltimore, Maryland

Hurt, a leadership consultant, speaker and writer, recommends developing an employee cross-training system.

“Small business owners should be continually in the ‘what if Joe wins the lottery’ mindset,” she says. “Vacations are a blessing because they expose gaps that could be devastating if the employee suddenly leaves your company for one reason or another.”

Start by having employees write down their key job responsibilities as they really exist—rather than just the formal HR description. To solidify the training, Hurt recommends having employees shadow one another as well as swap jobs for a day so any questions or concerns that arise can be dealt with when everyone is present.

Then, as vacation time approaches, Hurt suggests having the employee create a one-page cheat sheet—What Would Joe Do?—containing key contact names and information and a heads-up on any land mines and how he or she would handle them. 

Dr. Mark N. Berkowitz, Owner, Accents Cosmetic Surgery—Detroit, Michigan

Berkowitz, whose staff includes many mothers who take time off in the summer while their kids are home from school, relies on well-trained contingency staff to keep up with his practice’s surgery schedule.

The contingent nurses receive the same ongoing training as the regular operating room nurses and are familiar with all company standards and culture, he says, so they are able to cover for vacationing (or sick) staffers without a hiccup. 

In addition to thorough training, Berkowitz puts a priority on up-to-date communication about any new technology, procedures or changes in the business to avoid misunderstandings or gaps in employee knowledge.

“When everyone is on board and on the same page, the business will always run more smoothly as a team,” he says.

Sara-Mai Conway, Co-founder and chief operating officer, Resolute Fitness: Cycling and Yoga—Austin and Houston, Texas

Conway’s staff comprises mostly young, part-time workers—both fitness instructors and sales and administrative staff. Almost all of them look to take time off during the summer for family vacations, yoga teacher training and friends’ weddings.

“Our best defense is having policies in place that require staff to communicate well in advance of leaving, and they are responsible for doing the work to find a sub for their shift,” she says.

With the onus on employees, Conway says staffers have incentive to line up substitutes as early as possible, helping ensure a smooth, hassle-free transition for the rest of the team. Plus, in order to find replacements, employees need to have developed good relationships with co-workers, which helps support a healthy and vibrant company culture.

To maintain consistent branding and performance for clients while instructors swap shifts, Conway has them attend one another’s classes. For sales and administrative staff, she keeps a thorough manual covering day-to-day operations as well as overarching goals, objectives and values. She is also careful to build in a lot of overlapping duties so that there is always more than one person who can handle a task.

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