The winter months bring a bevy of holidays, starting as early as Halloween in October on through New Years. What does that mean for small businesses and startups? You can expect some distractions.

Whether it’s planning a New Year’s Eve soiree or buying gifts for family members, your team’s productivity may  dip as the holiday season gets into full swing.

It might be tempting to take the hardline Scrooge approach, and simply make it clear that your team is expected to keep up their usual focus despite the social celebrations and obligations of the holidays, it’s not always the best way to approach the situation.

Instead of leaving productivity to chance, consider implementing “holiday-friendly” working strategies. Here are some ways to keep your team engaged that are actually more effective than simply proceeding with expectations and routines that don’t acknowledge the need for work-life balance, or even the additional stress that many people feel during the holiday season.

1. Consider offering more flexible hours

Between kids’ functions and other personal responsibilities, your team might have a tough time making it to work at the same time each day.

If you can offer employees the opportunity to switch up their work hours to meet their family and social obligations, you’ll ease their psychological burden—which can be heavy at the holidays.

This doesn’t mean that your team simply comes and goes at will, or that they’re obliged to work less than their regular full-time hours. Encourage them to plan ahead and communicate well with you and their colleagues. Use shared calendars (like Google Calendar) so that it’s easy for the team to plan ahead around when people will be available for collaboration and meetings. If you already have a flexible working arrangement in place for your team, make sure that they’re checking in regularly with tools like Slack, and that you’re making full use of remote-tools like Skype or video conferencing.

As long as the work is getting done, and shift are covered, research shows that flexible working hours are actually a productivity booster.

2. Try not to demand overtime work unless absolutely necessary

Sometimes client work demands overtime; that’s to be expected and honored.

However, if a client’s project can be finished tomorrow without creating any friction, there’s no need to make employees stay late tonight. During winter holidays, overtime is seen as a punishment by some and may end up affecting the quality of the work that’s being done. Make sure that you’re thinking ahead, so that you can build in enough breathing room to finish your major projects, knowing that you’re more likely to encounter issues like staff on vacation, and slow responses from your clients during the holidays.

There may be times when overtime is necessary. If you can, offer overtime as a benefit for those who want to make a little extra during the holidays, rather than an obligation. If it’s not possible to offer that flexibility, do whatever you can to plan ahead so that your team knows and can plan for times when they’ll need to accommodate. Say thank you. Even when doing the overtime is simply an expectation of a certain role. Thank them for their service, and let them know that their work matters.

3. Disallow online holiday shopping during work hours

This is a really important way to manage productivity during winter holidays, because it’s so pervasive in the workplace.

When it’s possible to do the bulk of your holiday shopping on the internet, who wouldn’t be tempted to do it 24/7 and get it out of the way?

Remind your team about policies that pertain to doing personal activities (like online shopping) during work hours and using company property. If you set this expectation, be an example. Don’t do your shopping during the work day either.

4. Be realistic about holiday banter

The holidays are actually a great time for your team to connect with each other, sharing stories about terrible travels or amazing food and destinations.

Be realistic and accept that employees might be a little chattier this time of year. You can join in too, even if you’re the boss. Just make sure there’s a balance between the time spent talking about Aunt Jane’s ugly sweater collection and the client’s portfolio.

Be mindful of people’s time in meetings. Don’t spend a full fifteen minutes on topics that are outside of the agenda—your team will appreciate your respect for their time. Be proactive. If your team just can’t keep a lid on their excitement, schedule an in-office lunch potluck, for instance, if it seems like the team really wants to connect.

5. Have team meetings to discuss external and internal deliverables

No one loves to have meetings ad nauseam, but during the holidays, those meetings can help everyone stay on the same page. For instance, a standing Monday morning meeting can set up the week for efficiency, rather than leaving output levels to chance. Don’t let it go on too long, and remember to document what was said (and share with your team) so that everyone is on the same page.

Don’t be afraid to be very pointed during the weekly meetings; explain to the team what absolutely has to get done, and ask members to be accountable for different elements of projects. If you need to put some kind of scoring system in place to keep everyone productive, so be it. Halfway through the week, check to see if progress has been made. Actually, a year-round project management system like Basecamp can be really helpful on this front. It makes it easy to see whether projects are overdue.

You don’t have to micromanage; simply make everyone aware that you’re serious about keeping the workflow going. If employees begin to slack off on their work, you’ll know immediately and can intervene before disaster occurs.

6. Ratchet up your company’s social networking posts

Why ignore the fact that everyone’s in holiday mode on PinterestTwitterFacebookand Instagram? This is a prime time of the year to promote your business page, so encourage your employees to post pictures and thoughts.

This puts a very human face on your business, and it is usually fun for workers. Additionally, it may attract more readers to your blog or sites, which will only help in the long run.

7. Help a nonprofit as a team

‘Tis the season for giving, so why not take a Friday afternoon and help at a women’s shelter, the local food bank, an animal protection society, or other community-minded organization? Or as a business, sponsor some local families in need, and give team members the opportunity to contribute by selecting and wrapping gifts.

It’s also a good time to think about employee giving. Think about supporting an organization whose mission aligns with your business values, and take up an employee collection, and match it with funds from the business. It feels great to give back, and your team will appreciate knowing that they’re working for a company that is interested in community involvement.

8. Allow workers to leave early on New Year’s Eve

Traffic is notoriously bad on New Year’s Eve day, so surprise your employees by allowing them to leave the office early that day. It’s better safe than sorry, especially if the weather is a factor.

Besides—they’ve been productive lately because you’ve been following these guidelines, so they definitely deserve a nice break!

9. Have fun—the holidays only roll around once a year!

Finally, don’t resist the holidays. Embrace them, and use this time as an opportunity to test some productivity tools and strategies. Your flexibility and understanding can go a long way to building good-will and loyalty year-round.

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Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a business blogger with a passion for green initiatives and workplace satisfaction. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter, or at her blog Productivity Theory to learn more about her.