It feels like we’ve had our core team in place forever. The six of us – myself, my two partners, and our three full-time employees – naturally form such a good team that sometimes we forget that we’ve only been together as a team for 14 months. Occasionally we’re reminded that we’re all still relatively new to each other when things happen that have never happened before and we’re forced to overhaul our policies.
We just wrapped up a stretch where three of the six of us were on vacation for longer than a week, with two people overlapping. All things considered, it went pretty smooth. But it only went smooth because after the holidays we made some big adjustments to how we handle vacation.
The second half of last year we ran into several problems, which we quickly fixed in March (we reset our vacation calendar at the end of February to encourage vacation usage in Jan/Feb, our slowest months).
The biggest problem: Mike, Greg, and I took zero days off during November and December. We worked every day, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. This was our busiest holiday season, the first time we were really slammed through to the new year. The busyness was compounded by the fact that our employees all took a significant amount of time off, in many cases “chaining” days together (i.e. with Monday 12/24 and Tuesday 12/25 off, taking three vacation days on Wed/Thu/Fri could net a nine day vacation if you include weekends).
Thing is, orders and emails don’t stop during these times so the three of us were left doing jobs that we rarely do during the year in addition to our regular jobs and our family commitments. We want our employees to enjoy the holidays but we also need to have a chance to enjoy the holidays ourselves so we don’t burn out. It’s a fact of life that retail peaks during the holidays, and as such we need our entire staff available.
The solution: we created a new policy that you can only take one day per month off in November and December. This goes for us owners as well. We consulted with other online retailers, some of which don’t allow any vacation days during the holidays (of course, we are closed on the days that FedEx ships so no one misses Christmas or New Year’s). We explained this to our employees, and while there was some initial pushback, they ultimately understood. We also divvied up customer service on holidays so that us owners are not always stuck doing it.
Our next biggest problem was organizing the vacation days for six people. We needed to know who was going on vacation when to try to minimize overlaps, as well as a better way to keep track of how many days our employees have taken off. (Us owners don’t have a set amount of days, but we don’t abuse the system. If anything we take less days off than they do).
I came up with the idea of using a Google Spreadsheet to power a Google Calendar. Easy enough right? Not so much. I had to write a Google Script to get it all to work. My next post will be a tutorial and I’ll provide a sample spreadsheet so others don’t have to start from scratch like I did.
The result was pretty good though. We now have a Google Spreadsheet that just us owners can see where we can enter vacation days. The days are automatically tallied by employee for our tracking, as well as added to a shared Google Calendar that all six of us can see so that everyone in the company knows who is on vacation and when. More on this next time as I alluded to above.
The two other issues we were seeing were comparatively minor, but still worth addressing. We asked for four weeks notice when taking off an entire week or more, as opposed to the normal two weeks given the work involved in covering for someone for that long. We also asked that when going on vacation you email the other five people at least two business days before you leave outlining the roles and responsibilities you’re passing off while you’re gone. Previously we’d get these emails at 4 PM the day before someone left and wouldn’t have time to ask them any questions.
The whole thing has been a learning experience for all of us. The employees have been very understanding about all of the changes. They realize that we change these things for the benefit of the team. Given how smooth Summer vacations have been going I’d say we’re in good shape heading into the holidays but only time will tell.