July 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Summer offers work life reboot

Trend sees professionals using traditional vacation time to brainstorm, refocus priorities

As the temperature rises and the day lengthens, summer slowdown creeps into almost every workplace. But this summer, a growing number of professionals are strategically using the downtime to rebalance.

Experts estimate that when vacation mindset seeps into offices during summer, productivity slips by as much as 20 percent. Rather than give in, some professionals are tackling to-do lists, researching new projects and brainstorming fresh ideas — activities that get ignored during busier times.

Duree Ross looks at the sluggish season as a time to rethink processes at work and home. After she sent her two children to sleep-away camp last week, she took a deep breath and began strategizing how she will break out time from her daily life — chauffeuring kids, spending time with her husband — to build her Fort Lauderdale public relations/events firm.

“My husband and I are going to Colorado and we are going to spend time together like before we had kids. We haven’t had that in 11 years,” she said. When she returns, Ross will focus her attention on aspects of her business that usually get ignored during busier times, such as updating her bio and website, and retooling marketing materials. “This is an opportunity to refresh in all aspects of my life.”

Some professionals are using summer months to sharpen skills. Barrett Wolf, director of office leasing at Turnberry Associates in Aventura, has hired a business coach and enrolled in Florida International University’s Summer of Well-Being course to work on his mental strength — activities he can’t fit in during the rest of the year. “Normally, I’m 24/7. I’m using the slower months of summer to create a vision in my head for what I want for fall,” he said.

A former professional tennis player, Wolf now leases office buildings, restaurant space and aviation hangars. He is meeting twice a week with his performance coach to mentally prepare for stressful situations ahead, such as bringing a complicated negotiation to a positive conclusion. “With my new skills, I will be able to attack every scenario head on.”

Miami business coach Marlene Green says summer is for big-picture thinking about advancing in your career and personal life. It’s a natural fit, she finds. “The heat alone makes you slow down and take inventory.”

Look at what you have accomplished and either reward yourself or set goals for the second half of the year, she said. To accomplish more, she recommends reflecting, particularly after a few years of feeling insecure about the economy. “Summertime is the time to look at how are we coming across and what we need to adjust.”

It’s also time to recharge. Green says she encourages her clients to try something new at work and home, catch up with friends, have dinner parties, exercise — all the things that make workers less susceptible to burnout during the busier time of the year. “Summer is about regrouping and regenerating so that in fall, you’re raring to go.”

Inside the workplace, managers are using the seasonal slowdown to improve teamwork and collaboration.

For instance, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, VS Brooks Advertising in Coral Gables, Fla., goes into summer mode. The office shuts at 1 p.m. on Fridays. On Thursday, employees enjoy a two-hour long catered lunch, and one night a week, the staff does yoga together.

“We encourage everyone to recharge to get through the marathon that is the fourth quarter,” said co-owner Diana Brooks. But most important, Brooks said, she gathers all staff one day a week to brainstorm about the agency and client growth — with every department included. “We’re bonding as a team so that when we’re in the trenches, we’re already very collaborative.”

Some entrepreneurs want to build that same collaboration with their families, a difficult task when they spend long hours on their business most of the year. They find opportunity in the more measured pace of summer.

Eric Poses, the Miami Beach founder of the 17-year-old company All Things Equal and FamilyAndPartyGames.com, has set out on a two-month, 24-state road trip in a company RV with his wife and kids, determined to combine work and family time. In each state, he is participating in “Meet the Inventor” events and hands-on demonstrations at local toy shops to promote his board games.

“I think it’s really going to reignite a passion for my work and build momentum going into the holidays,” Poses said. “For me, it is a really good use of summertime. I hope my kids love it.”

This year, more small business owners are gaining a semblance of a work-life balance by taking a vacation. As many as 60 percent of them are planning to take one full week of summer vacation, up from a record low last year of 49 percent, according to the American Express OPEN Spring 2014 Small Business Monitor.

Business owners like ad agency co-owner Brooks plan to use their vacations productively. Brooks, a single mom, is taking a two-week vacation with her daughter on the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas.

“It’s the Mom alone time that’s so hard to get during the rest of the year,” she said. She is taking a journal to capture her creative thoughts and “aha” moments around business strategy. “I’ve found with rest comes great ideas.”