How to Keep Your Site Running Smoothly When Your Team Is on Holiday Break

Jamie Juviler
Jamie Juviler

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As the holidays approach, we’re sure you and your website team are looking forward to some time off. I can hear the “vacation, all I ever wanted” song looping in my head already.

person using a laptop on the beach to manage a website on holiday

But, with no offense to the Go-Go’s, that song came out in the eighties when they didn’t have many websites. Today, you can’t just turn off your business for a couple of weeks and come back expecting the same level of engagement. Your site needs to be up and running just about 24/7.

What’s more, vacation time tends to fall around business-critical periods like long weekends and the end of the year, making it even harder to keep peace of mind when your website management team breaks for the holiday.

Even so, everyone needs a rest now and again, and there are tools and processes you can put in place to prepare. In this post, we’ll go over seven tips to keep your business website running smoothly while your website development team takes its well-deserved rest.

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Create a pre- and post-vacation plan.

First things first: If you anticipate any tasks in your website management strategy to fall around the holidays, draft a plan with action items to complete before your team heads out, as well as tasks for when they return from vacation.

Creating an action plan of important jobs (and executing on it, of course) ensures your website will be ready for multiple weeks with reduced staff. It also helps your team get back into the swing of things when they return to work.

To prevent burnout before vacation even begins, make a plan with reasonable expectations for what your team can accomplish before vacation, and what can wait until after. If possible, spread these tasks over several weeks before vacation so you’re not scrambling to get things done at the last minute.

There likely are things that just can’t wait until after vacation, and these should receive priority. Delegate these tasks across your team to reduce the amount of additional work per person, and provide the appropriate access across your tools when needed. The earlier you plan in advance, the better.

Implement a code freeze.

A code freeze is a period in which no website code is added, removed, or edited. In other words, no changes are made to your website that could result in errors at critical times.

A code freeze should begin “one week to one month prior to the ‘event’” according to HubSpot Senior Web Development Manager Cindi Brinson: “Make sure no new code is going live that could have unforeseen and negative ramifications on your site.”

Even seemingly insignificant changes to your site’s codebase could produce negative consequences, made worse if your team is absent and much worse if they occur during periods of high traffic — best to pause commits altogether until your whole team is online.

Embrace automation.

Have you automated your routine website maintenance and business tasks? If not, now is a good time to do so. Automation takes care of the busy work when your team is away, including marketing emails and other customer communications, moving data between applications, or pulling data from your website for analysis.

If you conduct email marketing, you may have already automated your email workflows. Be sure that those in charge of email have scheduled their communications throughout the break, plus a few days after they return.

The same goes for social media posting: If you use automation on your social media accounts, get your scheduled posts ready across all of your platforms and keep your followers engaged over the holiday season.

You also have the option of automating communications with customers. For example, you can set up an auto-reply on your customer support channel alerting customers that your team is taking a short break and will respond soon.

Plus, If you run an online store, automation can also be used to send invoices, payment confirmations, and shipping confirmations to customers, distribute out promotional emails and discounts, send abandoned cart emails, and keep on top of your inventory.

Of course, automation isn’t just for vacations — it saves hours of daily work year-round, allowing you to focus on more rewarding and impactful aspects of your job. To learn more, see our guide to workflow automation.

Establish emergency communication procedures.

Even when you’ve done all you can to prepare your site for the holidays, things can still happen that you won’t anticipate, such as unexpected downtime or a security issue. In these cases, you need to establish crisis communication procedures with everyone on your team.

First, make it clear which channels you’ll use in emergencies — email, an internal messaging app, or you could share phone numbers, as long as they’re only used as a last resort for time-sensitive issues.

Additionally, Brinson recommends making a list of who to contact in case of problems: “Create an on-call list, with responsibility shared across the team and covering the entire time period of the break, and make sure everyone has all necessary contact info.” This way, if problems arise, you’re not wasting time trying to reach the right person.

Set clear expectations on your team for when to use these channels. Emergency communications shouldn’t be checked multiple times a day. While on vacation, your employees will only be pinged when absolutely necessary. To minimize this, your team can rely on internal resources, which brings us to our next tip ...

Document internal processes.

Depending on who sticks around the office (or virtual office) during the holidays, employees may be in charge of website-related tasks that they’re unfamiliar with. Here, it helps to document your team’s processes, including how-tos for maintenance tasks as well as troubleshooting guides for potential problems.

Documentation can be shared in a Google document, a company or team wiki, or your website’s code repository — anywhere that’s readily accessible. Review your team’s documentation and check that it is thorough and easy to follow.

Monitor website activity.

Like automation, website monitoring isn’t just for vacations. A website owner should be monitoring their site’s activity on a daily basis, checking for irregularities or trends in traffic or security.

You don’t want customers experiencing issues with your website before you find them. Website monitoring is like a visitor that never leaves your site, detects anomalies, and tells you immediately. Configure your monitoring software to send alerts for prioritized events while you’re on vacation, so you’re not catching waves while your website is crashing.

But what happens when your monitoring software detects an event, or multiple events at once? Which ones do you handle first? Cindi Brinson says you should plan this out in advance as well: “Identify key potential site events, and pre-determine what severity level they fit in under. E.g., home page goes down (P1), can't add products to cart (P1), about us page has issues (P4, that can wait).”

Set expectations for how quickly your team responds to issues at different severity levels (P1, P2, P3, etc.), and consider adding these to your company’s service-level agreement.

Don’t neglect support.

As we know, your website doesn’t simply go on vacation when your team does, and neither does your customer base. Even if your support staff is limited during a holiday period, that doesn’t mean you need to halt support operations altogether.

Keep some form of support resource available to website visitors in your team’s absence, whether that means taking on temporary support staff to handle tickets, live chat (another great use of automation), and/or a thorough knowledge base that covers that majority of customer problems.

You may also consider letting customers know in advance — via your website, email, or both — that your customer services will be reduced during the holidays. Specify the dates you’ll have reduced support so customers know exactly what to expect. While this will inconvenience some, it’s still nice to receive a notice. It shows that you’re thinking about customers, and allows them to prepare accordingly.

Give Your Web Team a (Proper) Break

While we all need time off to stay happy and productive, your business website doesn’t take breaks. In order to sustain your online business when the holidays come around, it all comes down to proper planning.

Now for the final step: Once you’ve prepped, you can shut your laptop and disconnect. Yes, your website is important, but so is your spa day.

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