October 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 1998 Current Issue
October 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Go Ahead, Take a Vacation

How to leave your office without a care in the world

The meeting is over. The delegates have shipped out and all leftover materials have been sent back to the office. All you can think about is that well-deserved vacation. Your mind is already checked into the special place you'll soon be enjoying.

But then it hits you: How can you possibly go away? How will your customers get in touch with you? What business might you lose? What about your staff? These worries can be especially acute for independent planners with limited resources.

Don't panic, and don't rip up your plane tickets. You deserve some time off. There are proactive steps you can take to minimize your concerns, give your clients confidence that you are staying in touch and keep the paperwork moving.

As all meeting professionals know, the better the planning up front, the better the execution and results. Start by taking a step back, imagining what issues might come up during your absence and ranking them. Once prioritized, you can prepare an action plan to handle each one. Ignore the low-priority stuff. Concentrate on your best customers, your boss, deadlines, the mail and your staff.

Warn key customers and the boss. Reach out to these high-priority individuals. Be sure they know at least three weeks in advance when you will be on vacation. Remind them before you leave. Tell them who they can contact during your absence for routine questions. Depending on how much you want to stay in touch, give them the phone and fax number where you will be staying in case they absolutely, positively must reach you.

Cover your deadlines. There are several ways to handle monthly reports or other deadlines that come due during your vacation. You can complete the work before you leave, delegate the work to another member of your team or contact the "owner" of the deadline to request an extension. There is usually enough elasticity that you can work something out, but the earlier you bring your vacation schedule to the attention of those contacts, the easier it will be to adjust the deadlines.

Leave a message. Use your voice mail fully by learning about its options. Personalize your message, indicating the specific dates you will be out. Advise callers that you will be checking messages from time to time. Offer an alternative phone number or extension for urgent needs. If you're forwarding your calls to someone else, make sure that person is aware of this. If you suspect that your mailbox may get filled, have the number of messages it can hold increased. A real customer-pleaser is to program the phone so that it goes to voice mail on the first ring so callers won't have to wait to find out you're on vacation.

Now, learn how to access your voice mail from the road and set aside five minutes a day to check your messages; this way you can handle emergencies. Transfer (with specific instructions) as many calls as possible so someone else can handle them. If you really don't want to let go, have your calls transferred to your hotel or cell phone. This practice is not recommended: You'll be in touch, but you probably won't have much of a vacation.

Manage your e-mail. You don't necessarily have to pack your laptop. Consider programming your e-mail to automatically reply to senders. Your auto-response message should indicate the dates you'll be away from the office and that you will respond when you return. As with voice mail, be sure your mailbox is large enough to hold the messages you'll receive. Contact your information systems department or Internet provider to be sure.

If you do want to stay in touch online, many hotels now offer guests access to their e-mail. But remember, check your messages only when it's convenient for you. And be fully aware of the costs - if your company won't reimburse you for the hotel e-mail service, you don't want to pay a lot out of your own pocket. Because of security and privacy concerns, it is best not to give someone else access to your e-mail while you're gone.

Prepare your staff. You can increase your staff's ability to hold down the fort by meeting with them in advance to bring them up-to-date on your key projects. Discuss potential problems and the solutions you've identified. Encourage questions and answer all of them. Ask or assign someone to go through your mail, empowering him to handle anything that requires an immediate response. If possible, ask him to sort your mail into categories to make your first day back more organized. Independent planners should stop mail delivery until they return and remember to pay all bills before they leave. Bon voyage!

Mike Kabo is president of Solutions Inc., an independent travel and meeting management consulting firm with offices in New York City and San Francisco.

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