June 11, 2013

It’s that time of year: everyone’s starting to think about a summer getaway. For some folks, it’s as easy as working ahead a bit and setting a vacation response on their company email. But for IT professionals it’s not quite so easy. How on earth do you disappear for a few days when you’re responsible for the networks and systems your company counts on to function? Though it may seem nearly impossible, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We spoke with our own IT department and our LinkedIn group members to see how they effectively handle this issue. Here’s what we learned:

Interns

Many departments lean on summer interns to make up for increased vacation demand through the summer. Clayton Lee writes on our LinkedIn group that his department “typically has 1-2 interns during the summer”, and that after they are trained in late May, there are extra hands to help out between mid-June and mid-August. This can cut down on the amount of “shared work” and makes great use of seasonal resources (college students looking for summer opportunities) to meet a seasonal demand.

Careful Planning and Scheduling

Whether your department is made up of two people or twenty-two people, maintaining a vacation-days calendar is essential in order to keep everyone on the same page about the team’s schedules. LinkedIn member Shelly Wolfram explains that her department uses a SharePoint site “to track vacation requests so team members are empowered to work out their schedules among peers.”  Our IT team tries to schedule out time off so that vacation days don’t overlap and there’s usually someone always present. If it’s easy to collaborate and plan around each other, it’s much easier to avoid overloading one sorry team member.

Comp Time/ Being Flexible

Some companies allow their IT departments compensation time—so if you spent all Sunday dealing with work issues, with your boss’s permission, you take Tuesday off. This strategy is heavily dependent on company culture, of course, and requires a baseline amount of staff present in the office to handle day-to-day issues. For some, though, it’s the perfect solution.

Our team is comfortable with flexibility: working remotely, taking calls after hours, and the like. Our IT Administrator Miguel Herrera explained that he’s been known to take calls before and after hours, to log into servers from the rainforest with his trusty Internet card, and to even receive a call at the alter before his wedding! (He didn’t take the call, he assured us, but it’s the principle of the thing). He notes that sometimes that’s just the best way to deal with issues that arise during time off—if they can be solved quickly and remotely, he’s willing to take them on almost any time.

Office “Cross-Training”

In smaller departments where interns or other support staff might be a bit of a luxury or impossibility, it’s wise to consider “cross-training” a willing co-worker in another department to be your emergency replacement. Give them the basic tools to handle emergencies, and that way you’ll be able to take some time and know that at least the essentials are covered. Our IT team says that at times when neither of them is in and an issue arises that requires a physical presence—say, plugging something in or pressing a button—they can call someone in the office and give them directions to get it addressed.

“Swap Coverage”

Another tip for small departments: consider making an agreement with another organization like yours to provide support to each other during vacations. Small departments (or the singular employee) at doctors’ offices, law offices, and similar organizations can really benefit from this arrangement, as IT professionals can rest easy knowing they’ve left their responsibilities in capable, typically non-competitive hands.

Above All: Documentation!

One refrain is common among IT departments of any size: write as much down as you can! It can be labor-intensive, but ultimately you should have all critical information about your networks written down. That way, in the unlikely case of a total catastrophe, you aren’t the only source of vital information.

IT Professionals, how do your departments handle the vacation season? Any tips or tricks we might have missed? What are your most successful strategies?

Posted By: Madeline Stone

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