I’ve been lucky enough to close out the last week of the year for the past seven years I’ve been at Buffer. We started this at the end of 2016 and have maintained it every year since.
Closing out the last week of the year is an opportunity to pause and recharge. It’s like a reset, except company-wide. I love talking about this practice at Buffer because they get a lot of questions about how we continue to operate while we’re shut down for a week.
Since we work with a lot of small businesses and creators who can sometimes struggle to work during the holidays, it seems especially important to share how we do it.
So in this post, I’m going to explain what it means to shut down for a week as a company whose customers always use it, why we do it, and specifically how our larger teams manage that time off while still looking after our product and our customers.
Let’s dive in!
What does it mean to close a week?
At the end of each year, we close the last week of the year. The exact definition of “closed” varies from company to company: some companies will completely shut down operations while others will only close particular sections of their business.
This gives everyone extra time to rest and creates an environment where no one worries about missing projects or updates while they’re offline because we’re all offline. We’ve done this sort of thing before, closing for a longer weekend in the summer, and it’s always been refreshing for our team.
When I say we’re closed, that means most of the company is shut down (I’ll explain in the next section), we’re not releasing new features or changing our product at all, we’re not publishing new blog posts, and it’s intentionally a moment of rest.
In our business, building tools for small businesses and creators building an online brand, this time of year is also very slow. So, unlike other industries that may pick up during the holidays, we can lean into the break by shutting down the business during a naturally slower period.
How does this look in practice?
For most of the Buffer team, closing for the holidays means a total disconnect. Our two largest teams, Engineering and Customer Advocacy, need to create systems where we can still serve our customers and ensure Buffer is operational while leaving room for additional downtime. So, this is how Engineering and Law face the rest week.
How our Advocacy team manages a closed week
Our Advocacy team is a group of absolute professionals who look after our clients. This year, they’ve helped resolve more than 60,000 customer support requests with an average first response time of just three hours.
Over the years we’ve been closing, they’ve found the right balance to make sure we can still help customers while giving our advocates that extra break.
To begin with, we take steps to make this period visible to our customers. They send a clear message that we are closed for the holidays in all the main channels where we communicate with customers. These include a banner for people on Buffer, an autoresponder to customer service email, a Tweet pinned to our account, and several other places.
This year, the message reads:
The Buffer team is looking at a company that closed between December 24th and January 1st.
We are still responding to emails and customer service messages, but will take longer than usual to respond. We will contact you as soon as we can. Happy holiday!
For Lawyers, we ask that each person on the team work one full day or two half days in this period. We have 21 people on the Advocacy team and will have two or more people online most days. We don’t always have people on December 24th or 25th, or January 1st, and that’s fine with us.
The team has a clear schedule, expectations for when people are online with how to prioritize their work and get back to clients, and guidelines for emergencies. (We have these guidelines in place all the time, but it’s always good to review them before the holidays.)
How our engineering team handles a closed week
Similar to Advocacy, for our engineers, we need to have some engineer coverage that is on call in case something happens.
For engineering, their break looks different because they are on call, meaning they are available if something breaks, rather than being completely online during that time. This means that the burden of being on call can be spread among fewer people because they are less likely to have to be online.
The way the on-call schedule works is that there are various specialist or senior team members who are immediately placed in all on-call positions. Then we ask for volunteers from the rest of the engineering team to be on call throughout the week.
In addition to having people on call, we also do a code freeze before the end of the year. This simply means that we stop submitting new code and making changes to Buffer. The purpose of this is to increase our confidence that things will go well for the on-call engineers and our advocacy team.
Some questions from our community about the week-long shutdown
We reached out on social media to see what questions people had about the closure for a week, and we got some good questions. Here is our answer:
Do customers find this frustrating or do they ever complain?
We haven’t heard any major complaints or frustrations about this in the past, and if things ever haven’t gone as planned, we’ve adjusted our plan for the following year. We make sure to be very transparent that we are taking this time off through our communication channels. We still have our Advocacy team hanging around online and can answer anything urgent.
Did this affect your bottom line?
No, we intentionally choose a slow time so that we are closed. Therefore, it is the right time to take a break without any major impact. Also, because the Advocacy team is still monitoring urgent customer requests and the Engineering team is on call, we can still resolve any issues that come up and our customers are still supported.
I’d love to hear about the benefits your company has seen and how it positively impacts employees!
The biggest benefit we’ve seen from the holiday shutdown is that our team is more rested and refreshed. It’s a unique opportunity for everyone at Buffer to take a break, instead of being in places throughout the year. It means that the energy levels of the first few weeks of the year are always very high for us. Taking this week off for everyone at the same time also gives us a bigger chance to relax because no one has to think about projects moving forward without them or miss out on team communication. After all, we are all offline. That’s great for us as a team, which translates to great for our product and our customers.
Do you take breaks at work or in your business, and if so, what is your approach? We would love to hear from you Twitter or Discord.