Company Culture

Crafting a Time-Off Policy for Remote Workers

In today’s digital world, working remotely is easier than ever. Countless apps allow us to talk face to face, share our screens, edit work in real time, and join meetings from across the globe or just a few miles away. Perhaps that’s why the telecommuting workforce has grown by 140% since 2005. Some full time employees work from different states or countries, but even those who are near to their office might not come in every day. In 2016, 4.3 million American workers reported that they worked remotely “at least half the time.” Some companies, like Collage.com and Automattic, have entirely distributed teams and no office at all. With these growing numbers in mind, it’s important to create directives that acknowledge and work for the distributed workforce. This is particularly applicable when it comes to structuring paid time off (PTO) policies.

When people are not physically in an office space, there’s no opportunity to pop over to someone’s cube and give them a reminder nor for them to pick up on information in casual conversations with coworkers. In order to include remote workers and make them aware of new policies, communication is especially vital. Indeed, there are several communication hurdles in implementing a successful PTO policy.

1. Awareness

Underuse is a major roadblock to any PTO policy, so making employees aware of the stipulations of the policy and that they can take advantage of it is key. The somewhat ambiguous term “unlimited time off” can often make employees feel like they’re one long weekend away from being chastised or punished for misusing their benefits. When there are no hard numbers, it’s difficult to know how much is too much, and many employees play it too safe. Although this is a problem that plagues workers in and out of the office, remote workers may feel even more pressure to stay online, since they aren’t physically in the office to begin with.

Frequent, open communication and clear directives are the best way to combat this issue. For example:

  • Make PTO policy guidelines easily accessible is an important first step.
  • Set up incentives and email reminders that let the distributed workforce know it’s okay, even encouraged, to take time off.
  • Making time for face to face meetings, over Zoom or otherwise, can help clear up confusion. Email and slack chats are efficient, but emotion doesn’t necessarily come through. Face to face communication allows management to make clear their support of time off and to better gauge whether an employee is suffering from burnout. Even gently reminding a remote worker that they’re allowed to take time off can help them feel free to vacation.

2. Permission to Take Time

The second major communication roadblock in PTO policies comes when employees do decide to take their vacation time. This is another area where distinct, readily available PTO policy guidelines are a must. Employees, especially those who aren’t in the office to observe the process for themselves, must know who they need to notify before taking time off and how much time they must give in advance. For absences in the case of illness and emergency, this might be no time at all, but if a remote employee doesn’t know that, they might still feel the need to work through an illness.

3. Delegating Work

Once they have received permission, it’s vital that workers know how to delegate their work and responsibilities in their absence. This poses an extra challenge for folks who work outside the office, and whose lack of physical presence will not serve as a reminder they are gone. Creating notification on shared calendars, away messages for communication channels, and working with project managers to assign new interim roles for short terms tasks allows work to smoothly continue in an employees absence and can all be done remotely. Covering these communication bases can also prevent vacation overlap that puts a strain on the office to cover too much work at once.

The intricacies of getting a PTO policy to work, especially in cases where offices have a distributed workforce, can be deterrents to companies even trying to implement them. The thought of having to figure out vacation time on their own can sour employees against the idea as well. But with the right communication tools the process can be simplified and accessible to all. This is where products like the PTO Ninja can come in and facilitate managing time off. Making the time off process easy encourages people to take advantage of their vacation days. Creating clear, direct communication best practices is advantageous to a distributed workforce, but is beneficial to the entire company as well.

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About Kevin Corliss

Kevin is CEO and co-founder of Treehoppr where he's in charge of strategy and marketing. Kevin is an outdoor enthusiast and travel addicted. Contact him via email at kevin@treehoppr.com.