The Out of Office Season -How to Keep Your Projects Going
For most people, summer is the time to take it easy, spend time with friends, enjoy good weather and cold drinks. However, if you are a project manager the summer months can become just as stressful as they are enjoyable. So what should you do to make sure the Out of Office season goes over smoothly? Keep on reading for reliable tips and suggestions!
The Out of Office season
Summer could easily be dubbed as the Out of Office season. As soon as the temperature reaches certain numbers, things slow down and vacation replies become the norm. According to Namely states that employees take the longest vacations in the summer months – June, July, and August. This summer is no different as more than half (56%) of Europeans and 68% of American families plan to vacation during the Summer holidays.
As such, it is no surprise that productivity can dip as much as 20% during the summer months. And this combined with covering for colleagues becomes quite a hurdle.
This has been going on for years and is not likely to change any time soon. But what if it is your job to deliver results and manage the team productivity during this period of time? How can you ensure the project keeps going even with various interruptions? There are two things you should keep in mind – preparation and flexibility.
There is not much you can do about your team members going on vacation. It is only natural to take time off, recharge, and have some fun. Most likely, you will do it too. So, to ensure the project does not go off the rails completely, you have to prepare for the summer months and then stay flexible throughout. This way, you will adjust the expectations, goals and will be ready for anything the season brings.
For you as a project manager, preparation and planning is nothing new. Without it, there are simply no results. However, even if you think to know everything already, there are a few key differences when we talk about planning for the summer months. Here is my list of what you should pay close attention to:
1 – Set a goal for the whole summer
In most companies planning is usually done regularly for a set period of time. And in most cases, this period is something between 2-4 weeks. Planning for longer periods is considered ineffective, hard to estimate, and missing flexibility.
When we talk about planning for the summer, things are different. This is mostly due to the lowered team capacity during this season. Everyone will be out of office at one point or another. Thus, instead of focusing on the shorter periods, think bigger. Set one or multiple goals for the team to reach during the summer. This way, there is going to be less pressure on the team and a higher possibility for success.
2 – Understand what can be done
Another important thing to look into when planning your summer is team capacity. Check which of your team members will be taking time off, for how long, and when. This way you will get a better grasp on what can actually be achieved during the summer.
Even better, use your workload management tool to mark the summer vacations and clearly see how much time each of your specialists has for the project tasks. Here is how the workload view looks in Teamhood. Highlighting the exceeded workload in red.
3 – Create a plan
Lastly, to ensure the Out of Office notices do not take you by surprise, create a plan for the summer. The detail level of your plan will depend on the industry and the type of work the team does. This can be anything from a full-on schedule to a list of overall goals that should be met. No matter which of the options you choose, some sort of a plan should be set in place.
This way, it will be easier to keep the team on track and performing towards the end goal all the way up until September.
For the big picture planning, consider using something like the Teamhood portfolio view. This will allow you to overview plans for the whole summer and create dependencies showing in what order they should be followed.
Once the plan is set, all you have to do is follow-through. However, we all know things are just not that easy in project management. Stuff happens even to the best of us and with half of the office on vacation, dealing with that becomes just a little tougher. Thus, it becomes even more important to stay flexible during the summer, and here is how to do that.
1 – Leave room for error
Remember that plan you need to come up with for the summer? It is important to leave some room for your team to breathe. When planning the workload it is usually recommended to use 80-85% of your team’s available time. This way, team members still have time for meetings, answering e-mails, etc.
Well, when coming up with the summer plan, this percentage should be even smaller. As any unforeseen changes or issues will be solved with fewer people. So, depending on the type of work the team does, use 60-80% of the available time. This way, there will be less stress and more free hands during any possible crisis.
2 – Introduce flexible schedules
All of us want to enjoy and make the most out of the summer months. However, work still has to be done, and balancing the two can be a challenge for some of your team members. So, if that is okay with the type of work you do, consider introducing flexible schedules.
Instead of asking your team to work 8 to 5, allow them to set their own schedule. Some may prefer to get up early and have a longer evening. Others will take an opportunity to have a free morning and work into the night. This gives your team more freedom and minimizes the feeling of missing out in between all the Out of Office replies.
3 – Minimize the meeting time
Coming from the previous point, you should also try to minimize the required meetings. Having just one meeting a day or a few meetings per week will allow for true schedule flexibility. By minimizing the required meetings, you are also likely to improve productivity. According to this study done by the Muse, executives consider 67% of meetings to be failures. And having to spend less time preparing and attending meetings will free time up for other important tasks.
To make sure everyone keeps in touch, use asynchronous communication practices. A visual task board to hold all of the project data and marking progress, Slack or comments to leave messages for your teammates. Making all of the project data available in one place and not having to disturb your colleagues when they are out of office.
4 – Don’t be afraid to go off book
Don’t be like a casino and let your team feel the season in the office as well. Organize remote working days, move your office outside, get creative with summer events, or simply open the windows to let some fresh air in. In fact, a study in Harvard Business Review found that simply letting fresh air into the office can improve employee health, productivity, and concentration.
5 – Let your team explore
Does your business slow down during the summer months? If so, this may be a good time to encourage your team to try out their passion projects or learn something new. Use the summertime to deepen their knowledge, or give them more flexibility to work on new things. This will boost morale and possibly yield some new opportunities.
Third, managing a crisis
The two previous points tell you how to plan and handle the summer months in the best possible manner. However, what if you’re already in it and feel the team is falling behind? Here are three steps to help you keep the team going.
1 – Understand how many team hours you have
The first thing you should do is reevaluate how much time your team has. This means understanding when does the work has to be delivered and how many team hours you have available. This will let you quickly understand if the project goals can be reached before the deadline and if not, how much time is your team missing.
With this information, you can then go onto the second step.
2 – Prioritize the most important work
next, look over the planned work and prioritize the most important items. This will show your team what to focus on and ensure the critical parts of the project are delivered on time. Moreover, the most qualified team members can put their focus in the right place. Ensuring speed of delivery and quality.
3 – Reschedule or look for outside help
Lastly, reschedule the work that cannot be completed in time. If you see the team is falling behind, it is better to be upfront with the client and let them know of the issues as soon as possible. This way, you can reschedule work for a later date. Or plan and hire outside help to finish the tasks on time.
4 – Reward your team for their efforts
One last thing to mention is to keep your team motivated. Working in a stressful situation or longer hours is not fun, especially in the Out of Office season. Thus, remember to give incentives, rewards, or maybe a workation to keep the team excited.
The summer months are especially stressful for project managers with tight schedules. But with good preparation, flexibility and creative crisis management, you have nothing to worry about.
Learn more about keeping a work-life balance with Teamhood.
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2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.