Tech Tip: Consider cross-training to adequately prepare for staff vacations

Be sure to consider cross-training to adequately prepare for staff vacations.

By Mike Talon

The beginning of June, which marks the advent of the traditional summer months, typically means the arrival of warmer weather and school breaks. In addition, it often means more of your employees are planning vacations.

During the summer months, many IT staffers will look for any opportunity to get away from the office for a while. Being flexible with your staff's vacation time is a very necessary evil; failure to get adequate rest and recuperation can lead to subpar performance and unhappy employees.

But while your employees are out of the office, you must prepare for the possibility that you may need to implement your DR plan on little or no notice. How do you ensure that the employees who are away from the ship aren't the only ones who can keep it from sinking?

I've addressed this topic before, so this time around, I want to focus on working around staff vacations for those employees who are beyond your direct control. For example, human resources, facilities management, and other organizational departments may be vital to the proper execution of your DR plan in the event of an emergency.

When these employees go on vacation, you must ensure that others have the necessary knowledge and training to stand in for them in the event of an emergency.

There are two approaches to this type of preparation. Which method your organization chooses depends mostly on the size of the organization and the amount of cooperation that exists between departments.

Your first option is to do everything you can to ensure that others in the affected department have received adequate training in how to properly perform the necessary operations. This may mean asking that more than one contact person sits in on meetings or even personally training more than one person on what he or she needs to do when an emergency hits.

Your second option is to cross-train one of your own staff to perform these functions. This is admittedly a less-than-perfect solution, particularly if your organization doesn't typically cross-train employees.

It's also likely that your staff has already taken on additional responsibilities, and asking them to take on more may be pushing them to the limit. However, if you can't obtain additional help from other departments, you may have no choice but to try to train one of your own people to stand in should some disaster hit.

Whatever methodology you choose, make sure that your own staff can stand in for each other, and develop a plan to cover the absence of other vital staff and functions. This is a case where the failure to plan is a sure plan for failure, but this is a failure that's relatively easy to avoid.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.