By Ally Marotti Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With technology allowing workers to check in at all hours from around the globe, employees are getting work done (despite all the vacations and days-off during the holiday season)
Despite all the vacant desks in the office, for some workers the week between Christmas and New Year's is the most productive time of the year.
Though one-third of workers take the entire week off, overall productivity slumps only 5 percent, according to an analysis from file-sharing service Egnyte. Some industries even saw an increase in productivity last year.
That's partially because technology is allowing people to work, or at least check in, from wherever they may be during the holidays, from grandma's house to Hawaii, said Colin Jordan, director of corporate marketing at Egnyte. "Ten to 15 years ago, they were cut off," he said.
But for some who braved the frigid weather and made it into their Chicago-area offices Tuesday, it wasn't so much about the technology, it was the tranquility that fills the office when large numbers of colleagues are out.
"I actually looked forward to coming into work today," said Halle Levy, grants manager at Healthcare Alternative Systems. "(I) knew it was for me to just kind of relax after the weekend and get work done."
Plus, Levy said her commute Tuesday morning to the nonprofit's Logan Square office was a breeze, and parking was no problem.
For Lauren Okum, the founder of a firm that sets up pension plans for small to midsize businesses and their employees, this week is always noticeably productive.
"I don't have the volume of emails and voicemails and phone calls that I typically do," she said. "I crank out so much work."
Okum, who runs Premier Actuarial Solutions out of the WeWork Kinzie co-working space in the Near North neighborhood, has gained new business by working during Christmas week. If someone is setting up a pension plan for 2017, it has to be adopted by the end of the year, she said. Many others in her line of work take the week off, but she's available for people who waited until the last minute, she said. "I'm here and I can meet the deadline," Okum said.
The business services industry, which includes companies like Okum's, payroll processors or similar services, saw a 26 percent increase in productivity during this week in 2016, according to the Egnyte analysis, which compared data from last year's holiday week with data from an average week.
Workers in that industry are dealing with year-end finances and could be setting themselves up for tax season, said Jordan, from Egnyte. The health care, education, and media and entertainment industries also saw productivity increases.
Employees at many workplaces are obligated to work the last week of December, unless they save up vacation days.
More than four out of five offices were expected to remain open during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, according to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management on 2017 holiday schedules. (That's not including Christmas Day, which 90 percent of companies observe as a holiday.)
And some workers said their work can't wait around for the holidays to conclude.
"Every minute is critical for us," said Noah Levens, co-founder of tech startup HAAS Alert.
The roughly 2-year-old company's technology is integrated with traffic app Waze and alerts drivers to hazards. The company is trying to grow and raise its next round of financing, and Levens said extended vacation time isn't a luxury the company has at this point.
"While this week obviously is not the best time for sales calls or talking to customers because other people do have lives and families ... it is a good time to get some of the grunt work done," he said.
Time off around the holidays also is a rarity in the airline industry, and the pilots and flight attendants know it, said Dennis Tajer, a Chicago-based captain for American Airlines. Their schedules are loaded during the last two weeks of December as travelers flood airports en route to holiday gatherings.
"That's what we do," said Tajer, who also serves as spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association union. "We fly people to their family events and sacrifice for (our) preferred time with family."