It usually starts the week of Thanksgiving. Everyone seems to switch off from work mode and go into vacation mode. The holidays are for professional types what summer break is to kids. Between the varying vacation schedules, the holiday hustle, and the increased social mixers that spring about this time of the year, the underlying question becomes: is it possible to stay focused during the holidays? I would argue not only is it possible, but it’s absolutely crucial. Staying on top of a work schedule during the holiday season not only gives you a competitive edge, it also smoothly gets you running into the new year without the steep recovery and regrouping period that everyone else will undoubtedly require. In the process, we also find two key things most companies completely forget about during the holidays.

Treat the Holidays as a Time to Test-Run New Ideas
Despite the spike in vacation time this time of year, is it still possible to work through that time? Of course, it’s possible but only if you (a) have already been working remotely successfully and (b) have a strategy mapping how you’re going to accomplish this. Working remotely allows employees to have more of the flexibility they desire, especially during the holidays. While this offers employees a chance to work freely and not be straddled with the burden of trying to “do it all” between family and work, it also affords companies a golden opportunity, and the first of our two key points. Giving employees a chance to work remotely is a sort of test run for any company, especially if they’re new in the game. It offers a closed window to see how and if employees can handle the freedom – and it lets them work out any kinks they might have. For companies considering this route, it might be helpful to have a quick in-service on the pros (and more importantly) cons of working from home.

First time remote workers might have some difficulty with the freedom, the lack of boundaries, and the inevitable distractions. This is also a good time to map out expectations and develop a communication and project management strategy between team members – leading us to our second point on strategy mapping. Michael Watkins from Harvard Business Review recently wrote a great article on this, entitled “Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles.” In it he suggests teams physically get together early on to get on the same page from the start; reconnecting regularly at a scheduled time also helps everyone stay on track. Watkins recommends committing to a ‘communication charter’, designed to outline how a group will communicate and what’s expected at that time. [Here I’ll interject to remind you that different people have their own way of communicating. For example, some people prefer a call to email and some don’t email a confirmation response, which others might require or prefer so they know a message has been received. Now is a good time to gauge how people prefer to be contacted and what basic levels of communication are expected from one another. Communication tends to be the biggest pitfall when it comes from working remotely, especially through the holidays]

Scrooge Isn’t the Only Holiday Grump
Aside from the threat of a dysfunctional team and your own lack, you also incur the possibility of less than enthused clients should they find out you’re off frolicking on holiday. There is a way around that. Take the example of an unnamed CEO of a pretty substantial Orange County-based company who recently took off on an extensive six week European tour with his family. Said CEO has said to keep his trip top secret so as to not displease clients who might not like his extended absence. He said to still email and take calls as if he’s in town, and has even gone so far as to create a private list of Facebook friends to share his trip photos with; this way only a select group can see him strolling through Vienna while colleagues and clients think he’s hard at work. Even though this company has several other managing partners, our CEO is really a figure head and an indispensible public image. Considering how your clients are going to feel about your absence – not to mention how they might unfavorably construe your decision to gallivant through Europe – is a smart move. For discerning clients, holidays doesn’t diminish their need for your services; if anything it makes them more demanding in having their needs met.