It seems like everyone stores up the vacation days until the end of the year when the “use it or lose it” mantra is spoken and the staff becomes a skeleton crew as December 31 approaches. Here are 10 tips to consider to help make that time productive in your office.
First, share vacation calendars as early as possible among staff. Make sure that critical functions are covered and that the ground rules as to who gets the prime vacations days are covered by policy (based on seniority, for example). If there are cash management and banking functions that must be covered, make sure that the calendar is synched with that of your financial institution.
Second, prior to planned vacation days, it is a good time to review your cross-training standards. Ensure that every key task has a back-up staff person assigned and documented. Rotating jobs also is a way of checking for any staff malfeasance – such as theft of petty cash and problems reconciling cash accounts. It is not the time after your trusted 25-year employee retires to find out that she has been skimming funds all along.
Next, it is typical for the telephones and e-mails to quiet down during the holidays. It is a good time to review policies and procedures and make any updates. Do not let a year go without ensuring that you have the documentation ready for auditors that are probably scheduled to arrive around the first of the year, particularly in your accounting, finance, and cash operations areas.
I find that quiet days provide me a good time to come into the office in some casual clothes prepared to “get dirty”. I like to catch up all of my filing, make new file folders, repair files and get file cabinets maintained, and check file cabinet keys.
Similarly, the holidays are a good time to clear out old files. Your firm should have a document retention policy – often five years. I make it a point to clear out old files on those dress-down days during the holidays, scheduling a special pick up from our document shredding firm.
Number six, schedule any needed temporary help early. If you are going to be working with a “skeleton crew” during the holidays, schedule any needed temporary staff as soon as possible. A fair number of college students will be returning home for the holidays, looking for additional money. To get the best of the available staff, make sure to let your staffing firm know what talents you will need before the other firms snap up the good ones.
Seven, make a point to clean out your e-mail in-box. There are plenty on staff here who seem to think of their e-mail in-box as a virtual file cabinet, so cluttered with items that they can never find anything. The dates on some of these e-mails are 2 and 3 years old … or even older! If you have not addressed the client’s need by now, they are probably no longer a client. If you think you need to retain the e-mail, create folders and additional directories and sort incoming e-mails into some semblance of organization so that you might be able to find the needed e-mail later or move the e-mails to some other storage device.
Next, make sure to honor and thank important clients and customers with some sort of holiday correspondence or gift. Holiday cards seem to be going away increasingly due to the high cost of postage, but even a holiday e-mail thanking a customer for his/her business this year can be appreciated. Make it personalized and make sure that it is heart-felt. I personally hate the huge containers of popcorn that vendors send – the popcorn gets stale so quickly – but it is the thought that counts.
Nine, set 2011 goals for your staff. If your company is like mine, the first of the year is the time managers and supervisors are tasked with writing all of their staff reviews. When time pressed, it is often hard to come up with reviews that do not sound canned and redundant. If your office is quiet during the holidays, spend some time brainstorming ideas and goals for your staff and start collecting your thoughts.
And finally, use the holiday period to write your own 2011 goals. The year-end is a good time to reflect on what has been accomplished in the past year and what might have been left undone. In addition, think about what kind of training goals you have for yourself and your staff, if you have not already budgeted training for the next year. Finally, reflect upon any disappointments and even your failures. Note what you learned from the experience and what you might do differently next time if faced with the same circumstances. Incorporate your self-assessment into your new year’s goals.
I often find that the holiday period is one that can be less stressful at work – clients are also vacationing and sometimes the office can be quite quiet. Make sure that key tasks are managed with proper staff coverage, but then plan to take advantage of the approaching year’s end and accomplish some organizational tasks and use the time to get some critical things accomplished. Set the stage for a positive 2011.