As the end of the year approaches, the requests for vacation time start poring in and the agencies that don't manage those requests well end up with either an empty agency and angry clients or angry employees who didn't get to take the time off they asked for. Solving that problem isn't as hard as you might think.
Minimal Viable Team
Start by looking at the deliverables due over the next 90 days and figure out what the minimally viable team looks like that can keep the projects on schedule. We're not talking about beating the deadline or out-performing expectations, we're simply talking about who are the mission-critical individuals without whom the project literally stops. Usually, these are identified individuals, but in some cases it can be a role within a competency (which anyone within that competency in that role can fill).
Those who aren't on the MVT (minimally viable team) should be able to have their vacation requests approved because you know their absence isn't going to jeopardize the agency over that time period.
If members of the MVT have requests in for vacation time, then the question becomes:
a) Is there someone else on their team who can step into their role as MVT member?
b) If not, is there any way they can manage their work on the project remotely for the period they'll be out?
Understandably, most people don't want to go on vacation knowing that they're going to wind up working during their time "off", but the realities of today are what they are and such a requirement is not uncommon. Best practice is to provide some sort of compromise in these circumstances - such as extending their vacation leave in exchange for their availability during the crucial time period.
Faced with the option of not getting their vacation request approved or having to be available during their time away, most employees accept the availability clause and are grateful for the chance to get out of the office.
Another common way of handling the holiday time crunch is just talking to the client about how critical it really is for every deliverable to be completed by end of year. Sometimes this can result in a postponement of some of the work into the following year, which frees up agency resources.
Unfortunately in many cases, the clients are stuck because their Finance department will only let them use their budget dollars to pay for work completed in the calendar year. Although they'd like to help - if the deliverables aren't completed by year end, their budget closes-out and the agency doesn't get paid. It's not hard to tell what happens in those cases...
Outsourcing is the least favorite option because it decimates the agency's profit, but when you're faced with the specter of employees willing to quit if they can't get their vacation time approved and you simply can't fill a MVT, it's better to outsource the work and keep the client than drop the ball and lose the account.
In some cases you can bring in freelance talent to replace the MVT role(s) necessary, which minimizes the impact to the agency's profit, but last minute freelance talent is expensive (especially during the holidays) and in many cases the complexity of deliverables prevents this strategy from being viable (meaning that the amount of time it would take a freelancer to get up to speed on the project would be prohibitive to successful completion of the deliverable).
In those cases your only option may be to outsource the entire deliverable to a "private-label" firm with the bandwidth to get the work done over the holidays. It's risky because you don't control their team and therefore the quality of the work may be different from what the client is used to, and you're introducing risk into the equation by giving a potential competitor work for a client of yours, but sometimes the risk is worth it.
Consolidation Prevents Chaos
One thing is for sure - when an employee goes through the proper channels to request time off and doesn't hear back about whether that time has been approved or not - they're going to assume it's been approved. Count on it. They buy their airline tickets, they tell their family they're coming and they come unglued when you tell them they can't go because you didn't realize they requested the time off - it wasn't reflected in the timesheet system or the Project Management software.
The common culprit? Separate systems for Human Resources, Project Management and Operations. If you're not running a consolidated Agency Management System like Advantage's AQUA that brings everything into one unified platform (Project Management, Media, Accounting, Operations), you're setting yourself up for really ugly conversations like these. Conversations that often lead to resignations.
Make sure your data flows successfully between all your systems. Make sure an employee's request for PTO gets routed correctly for approval and once approved, updates all the systems so there's no confusion or double-booking of resources. Make sure the approver has a master view of what their resources look like for their projects so they know whether they have a MVT available or not before they approve any PTO. Make sure you've got an Agency Management System like Advantage. Schedule a free online demo today.