By Jaimy Ford 

Both my husband and I work from home. Both manage projects and people. Me, as a full-time freelancer, and him, as one of a handful of remote workers for a large corporation.

This time of year brings a crazy amount of excitement, coupled with a bit of anxiety. Why? Because vacation time is approaching. While we are so looking forward to our trips, in the back of our minds, we know how hard it is going to be to truly unplug from work.

I’ve watched my husband try to resolve issues from a hiking trail in New Hampshire, from poolside at an Arizona resort, driving down the interstate on the way to North Carolina, and from a no-service area campground in Virginia (you should have seen him walking around looking for a single bar of service). I, myself, have fielded emails while sitting by the ocean, rushed to write copy while riding as passenger to the airport, and logged in to knock out some tasks before the rest of the family wakes up.

While few people would be reluctant to contact an on-site worker who is on vacation, many don’t take issue with contacting a remote worker. Maybe it’s harder to remember that remote workers are on vacation because they can’t physically see that they are out of the office. Or maybe people think that because remote workers have such a great work-from-home situation that they should always be available. Or maybe it’s because remote workers make themselves always available. I know in 10 years of working and managing remotely, I am totally guilty of that last one.

Regardless the reason, it’s unfair. People need vacations, but not enough of them are taking them. Last year, Americans wasted 658 million vacation days. But even when people take them, many do some level of work while on vacation. While I couldn’t find a recent study to suggest that remote workers are more inclined to work on vacation, what I did find was a whole bunch of advice on how remote workers can do the job while on vacation. So there at least seems to be some perception that remote workers should be working.

You and your employees need a break. You need a chance to have fun, spend time with the people you care about, relax and distress. It’s critical to remaining engaged with the work and avoiding burnout. It’s not just a perk of the job; it’s a mandatory component to keeping productivity and morale high. So this summer, ensure that you all can fully enjoy the vacation you deserve by taking these steps now:

  • Review employee job descriptions and ensure that they are up to date. That will allow you to see the critical tasks that someone must cover when an employee is unavailable.
  • Cross train staff to cover that critical work. Consider splitting one person’s tasks among several people, so no one is doing double duty when a team member is gone. During the training, the employee who usually does the task will be available to answer questions.
  • Schedule projects so no one is working until midnight to wrap things up before vacation or is slammed when they return to work. If employees begin delegating work a few days before they leave, they will be available to answer questions.
  • Limit contact with employees who are vacationing. Instead of allowing anyone to call and interrupt them, tell employees to come to you first. You can decide whether the matter is urgent enough to interrupt someone who is supposed to be off work. If it isn’t, note what you need to ask when the person returns to the office, so your team will be better prepared the next time.
  • Tell your team members that you expect them to give work their full attention at work, and to relax when they are on vacation. This is so critical because many employees fear that they will look lazy or be considered not a team player if they truly disconnect. Tell employees to unplug completely and that you will call them only if an issue is urgent. That sets their mind at ease while they are away.
  • Set the example. If you work the whole time you are on vacation, your employees will follow your lead. You need time to decompress too, so use your vacation time the way it is intended … to relax! Preparing your employees with training, granting them autonomy and giving them decision-making authority (within reason) are critical to ensuring that they can hold down the fort when you are unavailable.

Anything crazy ever happen while you were away on vacation? How did your employees respond?


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