Construction business owner on vacation (Yes, it can happen!)
Owners of small to medium sized construction companies have long feared “what will happen” if they took a long vacation. I get it. They are the leader and it feels impossible to leave town when projects are under construction and workers need to know what to do. I can assure you that it is possible by following the simple principles below.
My first construction job was for an electrical contractor and the owner never ever took vacation. He told me that he could never plan one because there was no way to predict what projects or issues would come up. That only left "spur of the moment" opportunities which were infrequent and short. If things were slow, he might take a day or two but that was it. Over the past 30 years in construction I have found that this mindset is common with trade contractors and GC’s that have less than 20 people. It’s sad because contractors work incredibly hard and they deserve a real vacation.
In this blog, we will explore what needs to be done to create an environment where the owner and other key managers can take vacation and not worry that the business will suffer.
How to take vacation if you manage crews
When people go on vacation, they usually want to unplug and enjoy their time with no thought of work or projects. That may work for employees but as an owner of a construction company, it’s not possible to completely check out. That’s the bad news. The good news is that with a few things in place and with modern technology, it is 100% possible to keep things going while on the road.
Before you can leave
Here are the items you need to have in place before you take that dream vacation.
1) A trusted employee in the field.
You will need someone that can report in and check on things and knows how you like things to be done. If you are not big enough to have a manager yet, that’s ok. You can assign this critical task to a trusted worker that is willing to step up for the time that you are gone.
I’ve been amazed at how people step up when they need to. One of my favorite subs had a family crisis and had to essentially check out for over 6 months. His lead field installer stepped up big time. He scheduled the work, got materials and even helped estimate. He kept things going well enough while the owner was out.
2) Ability to work remotely
You may need to respond to emails and even check drawings or other documents. Having a laptop or large tablet with reliable internet access is important. Nothing makes me more stressed on vacation than being totally offline. This can be tricky as some areas have spotty phone and internet service. On one of our RV trips to Northern California I had to drive each morning about 10 mins to pickup a cell signal in order to make calls and check emails. It wasn’t ideal but it worked and everything worked out just fine and we got our vacation in.
3) Ability to communicate with crew
You may be using your lead field person to communicate with the crew. That may become too much if they are not used to that role. You may want to consider using a tool like BuildCenter that has crew scheduling tools.
If you normally adjust the crew’s schedule each evening, make sure you build that into your schedule. The advantage of BuildCenter is that you can do that scheduling anytime of the day with a simple drag and drop schedule board.
4) Set expectations
Let key clients know:
Everyone deserves a vacation so don’t feel bad telling your key clients that you’ll be away next week. They should be happy for you. Let them know that you will be checking in and available if anything comes up. If you are worried about bidding opportunities, let them know that you can still bid remotely and send your field lead to the job walk.
Warn family and spouse:
I’ve made the mistake of not setting clear expectations with my family. It can lead to them feeling like work is more important than them. Of course that isn’t true but as any owner knows, we have responsibilities at work that do get in the way of family time. I suggest letting them know that you plan to check email each morning between X and X and that you may have to make a few phone calls now and then but at least you are on vacation, right?
Ask field lead to be your eyes and ears:
Whoever is going to be your field lead, talk to them about what you expect from them. Do they need to check each job? Do you want them to call you before making big decisions? Decide how much you want them to manage vs. reporting back to you and letting you decide.
Be real with yourself:
Going on vacation is a wonderful thing and I highly recommend it. The truth, however is that if you are the owner of a construction business it’s not going to be pure vacation. Assume you will have to respond to texts and emails and phone calls. The key is to carve out time to do that all at once…..not all day long like normal. When I’m on vacation with the family and I have to do some work, I have to remind myself that “at least I’m doing this on vacation and not in the office”.
During your vacation
How do you execute into vacation mode:
Setup "Out of Office" on phone and email
It’s important to setup an email auto reply saying that you are out of the office and will be returning on this date. State if you will be checking email and who they should contact if they have an urgent need. Change your outgoing voice mail message as well stating when you can respond and provide another contact if you have one.
This is key to being able to go on vacation. If you don’t do this, people will expect the same response time as if you are working. Letting them know that your response time via email may be delayed buys you some time so you can enjoy your vacation.
I know that some people worry that if they are not available to bid work or look at something, the might lose business. The truth is, people understand and they will wait for you to return from your trip.
Skim emails each morning - but not at night
I no longer check my emails late at night. I’ve learned that if I see an email with something negative, it will keep me up and I’ll get a bad night’s sleep. Not worth it. I now only check emails in the morning when on vacation. I wake up early before the family and skim through anything that looks important. I respond to the important ones and sometimes my response is “I’m on vacation but I’ll get back to you in a few days with ….”. Again, you need to buy time so you can enjoy your trip.
Do a daily check in if you feel it’s needed with your field lead. Depending on how much you trust your field lead, you may need to do a daily checking call. With facetime, you can even do a video call if they need to show you something. This call will give you the confidence to keep enjoying the time off.
After you are back
Recognize the people that made it possible. If nothing else, thank the people that stepped up and allowed you to go on vacation. It’s easy to forget that they are doing their normal job plus extra work because you are gone.
If you are new to the vacation concept, take some time to think about how to make it even better next time. You can ask those that helped you in the field or at the office what would have made it easier?
Expect that you will be busy catching up when you get back. Some might say it's not worth it.....I don't agree. Spending a day or two catching up is well worth it to you and your family to create lasting vacation memories.
If being away for a week seems crazy, start with a long weekend with a Friday and a Monday....build that vacation muscle up until you are ready for something bigger.
It is possible to take vacation while owning and managing a construction business. The key is to have things setup ahead of time so you can have that fun, memorable experience.
Using tools like BuildCenter to schedule the crews from anywhere can help keep things going without the daily calls and text messages…..giving you more time to enjoy your vacation.