The summer had barely ended when we started our Christmas countdown; in a work sense at least. As the head of a business of 13 people we don’t have the luxury of an extensive workforce to draw on through the festive season. I also know that after a busy year everyone needs a chance to rest and refresh, so forward planning is vital. Here are five ways we keep things going without impacting on the most important time of the year at our data collection agency.
Early preparation is key
As mentioned, it was September when we started talking about Christmas in earnest and by October we had a plan in place. We use a sharing doc and we ensure everyone’s availability is tracked over the period. We don’t close but we do allow home working, so we use four tiers: on leave; working from home with full network access; working from home with mobile access and in the office.
It’s important to make sure each client receives the right level of support; some need a lighter touch and some a greater one so we account for that in the planning. We ensure it’s a seamless service for clients, some of whom won’t be celebrating Christmas themselves. While they might not have their regular contact at this time they know there’s a strong team working hard who can deliver exactly what they need.
Flexibility is important
Although I’d love to shut the doors for a week over the Christmas period and let everyone have the time off, ours is a transactional operation and we often need to action a project same day for our clients. This is a core part of our offering.
However, we’ve made sure that everyone has access to the apparatus they need to work from home successfully. If you trust your team, as I do implicitly, home working can be a great solution. This year we’re allowing everyone to work from home from December 22nd until we start back on January 3rd. The work will get done but people will be in the comfort of their own homes.
You need to empower the more junior members and also have a clear support network in place. I find this creates a culture of people stepping up and often actively taking on more responsibility. It’s a great way of cementing trust and honesty and it’s been a positive experience for us.
Make it clear it’s not about the 9-5
Even if you’re usually strict about when work starts and ends, this isn’t the time to enforce it. Part of flexible working is compromise. I’m happy if staff use quieter periods for time with family and friends provided the work gets done, and that might mean jumping online at 8pm one day and 11am the next.
I was building the business this time last year and I spent much of my Christmas Day 2015 being driven around Louisiana by my wife while I caught up with new clients. We still made sure we fitted in a turkey dinner, albeit at 9pm!
Christmas is the time to reflect and plan for next year
Although we try and plan throughout the year the reality is sometimes you’re far too busy being reactive and delivering, particularly if you’re trying to build up a business. I find Christmas is the only serious downtime I have to finalise plans for the year ahead.
It’s also a productive time of year to focus on the human element, ensuring objectives have been set and everyone’s clear on their goals for the year ahead. And if any career management changes need to be made this is the time to do it.
I’m quite strict on not actively pursuing new business from mid-December onwards. We’ve been reactive and can prepare and research for opportunities but Christmas isn’t the time for stressing over pitches or proposals.
Pause, reflect and celebrate success
Everyone’s coming over to our house on December 29th this year – partners and families included – to raise a glass to what we’ve achieved in 2016. It’s so important to celebrate the year’s successes, especially when you’ve spent the last 12 months chasing the next target. And there’s no better way to keep everyone engaged and excited about the future. This is about putting the presentations to one side and having fun together.
We also all need a chance to recharge and refresh before moving forward to another busy year. No one should come back jaded after the holidays.
I’m keen to lead from the front when it comes to time away from the office. This will be my baby daughter’s first Christmas and I want to make sure I spend some quality time with her and my new wife. I recognise that my team’s family and friends are just as important.
A strong team is the heart and soul of a small business and while we can all fit into my house I’m keen to bring us all together to toast the year!
Lewis Reeves is managing director of Viga.