While there’s usually a bit of an uptick in vacations during the summer–which is sadly nearing its end–people take vacations at all times of the year. Whether your next vacation is going to be in the Bahamas, or to visit Aunt Judy in Nebraska, they’re usually eagerly anticipated, if for no other reason than because it’s a blessed and much-needed escape from work.

Dealing with Employee Vacations

But employee vacations provide a serious challenge for small business owners.

Bridging the gap left behind by vacation-bound employees can be difficult in a business with 300 employees. So what about those owners who only employ a handful of people: 20, 10, 5, or even fewer? That’s a challenge that we ourselves at Creative California have faced this summer. In just the past couple of months, I went to Turkey for two weeks, a couple of us went camping for a few days (including our supreme commander and all-around cool boss guy, Josh), and Vanessa–our digital engagement specialist and social media expert–is currently on the East Coast, and won’t be back for another week.

Part of what allows us to effectively assist small businesses is that we ourselves are a small business. We face many of the same difficulties as our clients.

We’re a pretty small team. With a bit of careful arrangement, you could fit all of us at your average family-size kitchen table. Having anybody gone hits us hard. And yet, we make it work. How? Well, everyone has to find the solution that best works for them and their particular situation, but here’s how we handle having team members fly the coop for a few days (or weeks).

In the weeks before a team member takes time off, we do a lot of preparation.

To prepare, we definitely have to lay a lot of groundwork. For instance, as I mentioned, our digital engagement specialist is on the opposite side of the country. She is usually constantly coordinating postings and promotions on various social media networks, communicating with clients to make content changes and set up advertising, participating in networking events–suffice to say, she keeps busy.

Thankfully, the social media posts can be scheduled to post automatically, so she took some extra time to expand her already hyper-organized content calendar. This means that she planned, wrote, and scheduled the content she developed for our clients to post automatically in her absence. Secondly, she made sure that we had an up-to-date list of all the necessary logins and account information for the clients for whom we manage their social media presence, so that we could handle anything that popped up while she was gone.

It takes trust to make sure that the people who hold down the fort aren’t overwhelmed by the resulting workload.

Because of the size of our team, it all really comes down to trust—that whoever is planning on taking off understands that they have to buckle down and get as much of their work done ahead of time as possible. Before I went to Turkey in June, I had to shift into overdrive and write about two weeks’ worth of content for our clients, as well as our own blog. It was definitely a crazy time, but I knew that I didn’t want to leave my coworkers in a serious lurch while I was gone.

In a way, that’s the obvious secret of how you don’t overwhelm your team—you make sure that you can trust your employees to have the maturity to not dump their workload on the rest of the team. That’s what allows a small company like ours to allow our employees to explore the wider world, and not be chained to their desks. Employees’ quality of life shouldn’t suffer because they happen to work for a small company–but the tradeoff is that they have to be willing to work hard ahead of time, more so than would be the case if they worked for a larger company.

Having a tight-knit team means that they’ll work out for themselves when or if it’s feasible to take a vacation.

A lot of companies struggle to coordinate their team members’ various holidays. I’ve worked at larger companies in the past where it almost turned into a battle royale between coworkers who were gunning for the same coveted bit of calendar space. So, despite the challenges described above, I’ve come to really appreciate the spirit of cooperation that has been fostered in our small but merry band of misfits.

We want the folks we spend five days a week with the have the time they need to enrich their lives (and maintain their sanity). So, we work collectively to accommodate everyone’s needs. Part of this is doing our best to give several months’ worth of lead time, rather than delivering last minute surprises–you’re not going to stay popular for long if you’re the sort of person who likes to go, “Guess what I’m doing tomorrow? Here’s a hint: it involves a plane ticket and my passport!”

Additionally, one of the fringe benefits of working for a small company is that, by virtue of the small number of employees, the odds are pretty small that two or more of us will have vacation schedules that overlap.

Thus far, we haven’t had any disasters. Maybe it’s just sheer luck. But maybe our approach works. We’ve handled some pretty challenging situations.

Josh is a big fan of fishing. So every summer, he schedules a four or five day camping trip where he can put his line in the water, shut his phone (and brain) off, and enjoy some much-needed relaxation. And this year, after several years of me snubbing his invitations–and occasional threats–I went along for the ride. However, this meant that we had only one full-time employee holding down the fort. Now, we made sure that the trip bracketed a weekend, so that there were only a couple work days where we would be gone. But this still warranted a lot of care and attention.

How’d we handle this? Well… disaster preparedness training.

We developed a checklist of things to do–checking that all of our clients’ sites were up each day, etc.–and guidelines for what to do in various situations. Then we quizzed her, which involved having her go through the motions of remedying specific problems. She’s a pro, so she had it all down pat in no time. This left Josh feeling good about the trip, and as it turned out, she did great while we were gone. It was all smooth sailing, both for us and for our clients.

Those moments where you have to stretch yourself to fill in for other people also actually provide some fringe benefits.

To get employees to be on board with running an extra tight ship while you’re shorthanded, it can help to change their perspective on the whole situation. It’s not just a rough stretch to be endured: it’s an opportunity.

Working successfully outside of the normal scope of your job can be a big ego boost. You may white knuckle it a bit during that period when you’re down a team member or two. But, once your absent coworkers come back, you can step away and really appreciate how well you did, and how you’ve grown. You pick up new skills and knowledge, making you a more well-rounded (and valuable!) employee, thanks to having a better understanding of how your company works together as a whole.

If nothing else, this means that you get to update your resume with some new skill sets and experiences. In my personal experience, that’s honestly when my job skills have grown the most–in those periods of chaos where I had to jump in and handle stuff that I normally wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole, due to my lack of experience and being intimidated.

The most critical part of getting your team to fill in the gaps while someone is gone is to make sure you have the right team members in the first place.

We’ve been undergoing rapid growth in the past half year, so the importance of choosing the right people to bring on board the S. S. Creative California has been at the forefront of our collective brain as of late. What we’ve found is that it’s not as important to pick people who have very specific skill sets that fill our needs. Instead, it comes down to maturity and resilience. We’ve done our share of on the job training (I actually had no web building experience when I first started). But having a staff of people who are flexible, well-rounded, and ready to learn means that nobody panics when we have somebody leave us for a few days or weeks. We stretch ourselves, work hard, and take it in stride when presented with unfamiliar scenarios. So far, it’s worked out great.

Being part of a small business doesn’t mean that you have to be married to your work 24/7. With care and planning, it’s possible for everyone on your team to get that all-important break, so they can unwind, relax, re-energize, and recommit themselves to doing their best when they get back to work.

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