Over the life of a business forced downtime will be inevitable. No amount of investment in infrastructure, security systems, back-up energy and other controls can guarantee uninterrupted service. Electricity outages, system hacks and crashes and internet hang-ups are perhaps the most common causes of forced downtime in Jamaican companies. When these things happen it can be quite frustrating for managers who are faced with missed targets and deadlines, payments for non-productive hours and an overflow of work due to the reversion to manually intensive processes. Employees with less responsibility are more likely to love these days, except where manual variation of processes is possible!
(Pass da big book deh fimi, chro! Mi neebn memba how fi write wid pen, chro!)
Among the joyful and stressed people, there are always those few who make the best of these periods. Forced downtime does not have to be unproductive time.
Here are six quick tips for workers in a corporate environment to manage forced downtime responsibly. What you are able to do of course will depend on your function, responsibilities and the cause of the downtime.
- Who doesn’t have some back end work to clear up these days? Employees in businesses that do not have a healthy staff to customer ratio or which have periods of very high demand are often forced to treat with things that concern the customers’ immediate needs as a priority and treat with documentation related to the engagements/transactions on the back end. This usually translates to filing and sorting after closing time, likely, unpaid overtime. Forced downtime is a great time to sort, shred or file loose documents accumulated.
- If you are able to access files on your network, extend the activity and clean up your ‘Documents’ or other file locations. Uhhhm, why is there a file on your machine called ‘Man with Two Accounts’? Fix the rushed work. Uhhhm, why do you have a dozen pictures of your son’s birthday party and current dated job seeking resumes on your work computer? Get rid of the personal files.
- Make use of the next lights out period (assuming it is daytime ) to have a quick catch up with staff. You can cover good ground reinforcing policies and procedures and soliciting feedback on important matters.
- Training does not have to be a bore! Group staff into small teams and play strategic games, for instance,challenge your groups to create comedic dramatic skits based on specific areas of their work. You will get to see other strengths in your staff and share a laugh while getting important training in.
- Subordinates will hate this but there is no better time to check in on task progress than an odd time between the time it is assigned and when it becomes due. Checking in on day five, on a task with a three month timeline is not a bad idea, it may give you a good feel of how the employee is managing time and how he plans work. The next time JPS, Digicel & Flow force downtime upon you, walk a few cubicles and make small talk about pending work.
- Managers often overlook ‘little’ housekeeping matters which require attention in favor of income forecasting and sales planning. While he may have observed that the door to his assistant’s office is being obstructed from opening to full width by the boxes of used newspaper being kept behind it, he may not be programmed to think of that as being in need of a priority fix. Use forced downtime to rearrange furniture and other work tools to support ergonomic outcomes- safety, practicality and productivity.
- You have so many projects coming up, how about making some draft notes during your downtime. When timelines get tight, old brainstorming notes can become very useful. Imagine being able to give your boss at least a preliminary plan of action for a new project for which no response was required from you for another week! See, see, your downtime does not have to be unproductive, jump-start your thoughts!
- You read a piece of work from a co-worker/ subordinate which requires a response but the work was so poor you haven’t been able to pull together the right words to respond formally. Use your forced downtime to engage the person on it verbally. Maybe just maybe the brilliance of their thoughts got lost in transmission. It is also a good way to pretend your way out of the real reason for delaying your response. “Hi there Marcia, about the proposal you sent me for the fundraiser, I wanted to catch up with you on it before responding formally…”
- Some managers are required to engage the media on a regular basis and over time the engagements can start to sound like a rehearsed script. Revisit your company’s business and strategic plans and meeting documents during forced downtime to reengage original thoughts and considerations. You will find this allows you to edit yourself when carrying out speaking engagements. Instead of always alluding to the need for better customer service as the reason for the recent technology upgrade, add to the rationale your Chairman’s supporting argument from the Board meeting, that the upgrade was needed to lessen the manual burden on the staff you value so much!
- Top-up your knowledge about the products and services sold by your company, irrespective of what your role is. Accountants in retail environments for instance, can find interesting information from browsing the products stocked on shelves or in storage. It is two days after the month end rush and your company’s shelves are fully stocked with the very expensive foreign cooking oil you pay for COD. Matter of fact, you observed only the day before, a purchase order for an additional ten cases of said oil, why? Forced downtime presents a fantastic opportunity for staff with risk management responsibility to top-up on their knowledge of processes and investigate the workings of related business lines and functions.
- If you don’t have a social media planner in your business/ company, forced downtime is a good opportunity to plan messages. Put pen to paper and schedule the messages when you are back online.
- If you recognize that your forced downtime may continue for a long time, why not ask for time off and go out to take care of errands you may have otherwise had to use productive hours or vacation days to get done? Go out and pay the bills, stop by the big son’s school to have a word with his teacher, visit that government office with the odd opening hours, go browse for furniture, just get something important done!
- A smart business manager will ensure that there is always a reasonably current paper or offline backup of his client list. Conduct a simple random survey and reach out to customers to share information about new products and services or to solicit feedback on their last engagement with the company.
- If you have ‘problematic clients or customers’ have your best CSRs work at targeting these persons with ‘just because’ calls; calls for no specific reason except to find out how the clients/ customers are doing. They will never forget!
Any good employee can satisfy traditional performance measures. What will get you more than a single line of comment on that evaluation and consideration for positions with greater responsibility is the noted effort and initiative you exert when it appears nothing can be done; when you create a performance bar.
C.E. Clarke for Help Mi Consulting