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This Global Startup Lets Employees Personalize Their Holiday Time Off

When your team is spread out all over the world, it’s sometimes easier to let employees write their own holiday schedules.

This Global Startup Lets Employees Personalize Their Holiday Time Off

Some people might be surprised to hear that we didn’t used to get time off for Christmas at Buffer—or for Hanukkah, Canadian Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, or any specific holiday at all. Instead, we had unlimited time off and the full trust of our teammates to make great decisions about how to use this privilege.

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That all changed midway through 2016, however. We realized that our unlimited policy was perhaps too loose and we found many team members were only taking five to 10 days off a year. We have now switched to a minimum vacation policy of at least three weeks off per year.

As part of this (and not included in those recommended three weeks off), we’re strongly urging our team members to observe the public holidays of their region or country. (And we’re testing for the first time “closing” our company down for two days this holiday season, December 26 and January 2.)

Working on a remote international team with this policy creates some really unique challenges as well as some super-cool learning opportunities.

Our General Holiday “Policy”

Our general holiday guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Default to taking time off on the public holidays of the country in which you’re living, or the public holidays of your home country that are important to you.
  • Request other time off with team leads via the tool we use, Timetastic.
  • Share early (if possible) about time you’d like to take off or may be unavailable for.
  • Ask for advice or notify the people you work closely with about your plans.

Dan sums it up pretty well in this post about the U.S. holiday of Labor Day:

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Here’s a peek at our Timetastic wall for the People (our human resources) team:

What Works, And What We’re Still Working On

Here are some things that are really awesome about this way of looking at holidays:

  • Our company trusts us to set our own schedules and make our own decisions.
  • We get to learn a ton about holidays and traditions around the world.
  • With all of us celebrating different holidays at different times, there’s pretty much always someone around to take care of Buffer’s awesome customers

And here’s one thing that we could probably do a better job of: Taking more holidays that matter to us and encouraging people to fully disconnect. We’ve struggled a bit with tracking the most essential public holidays around the world–there are thousands!

We’re working to integrate alerts to better convey to the team when there might be a holiday coming up. Our latest experiment connects Google’s holidays calendars for each country to our Slack account via Zapier:

Similar to what we’ve discovered about our unlimited vacation policy, sometimes a looser structure with no defined days off can lead to fewer holidays taken or a feeling of uncertainty about what’s appropriate and expected as far as time off. This is why we’re starting to be clearer and send teamwide announcements in advance that encourage time off and hopefully remind teammates that celebrating and disconnecting is a great choice:

A Few Holiday Messages From Employees

The main spot we share holiday plans and requests for advice is in Discourse, our discussion tool that cuts down on our need to send email.

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I rooted through our Discourse to find some neat holiday messages to share. In this one, Steven, based in Taipei, tells us a little about the Dragon Boat Festival holiday:

Another team member, Dave, took some time off for a holiday that’s important to him—Manchester Pride. Here’s how he shared his plans and worked with other teammates to ensure customers would be well taken care of.

Wonder what Christmas is like in South Africa? Here’s the plan for Niel, one of our engineers based in Cape Town.

Eric shared this note and cool photo from his Chinese New Year celebrations:

Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year. I went to the temple to make my wishes. One of the traditions is that we write the name of people we wish they’ll have health, luck (and money :D) on a kind of yellow book. We then throw this in the fire with some firecrackers (a lot actually :p) to fear of the “bad spirit.”

Seeing Teammates Take Family Time

Not all holidays have to be about observing a national moment or meaningful event. They can be as simple as taking time off to watch movies and eat Chinese food for “Jewish Christmas,” as Arielle explains below, or turning a holiday into a chance to spend some time with a loved one, as Ivana shows.

I think one of the coolest parts of our holiday policy is the ability for each teammate to reflect on their own beliefs, time, and energy and choose the holiday schedule that best represents those elements.

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A version of this article originally appeared on Buffer. It is adapted and reprinted with permission.