Communicating Paid Time Off and Coverage Plans
As an engineering manager, I often ask people to take at least a week off every quarter depending on the PTO (Paid Time Off) policy at their workplace. This comes up to 4 weeks or 20 business days in a workplace with unlimited PTO which is pretty good for US-based companies, where the standard is usually 2 weeks or 10 business days of PTO.
It’s also important to me to communicate to my teammates and people across the organization that I will be out of office and they can reach out to others in that situation. “How we vacation” is a section that I like to add in my Team Charter which is a document that contains all the rules of engagement on a team - how we do retrospectives and team meetings, how often we meet, how we take time off, how we track metrics, our scope of work, and so on.
🌴 Paid Time Off
Here are some of the places I update at my workplace if I am going to be out on vacation for a few days:
Company Time Off calendar
My work calendar
My Google workspace or Outlook email
It might seem like a hassle to update my status in 4 different places but I automate some of these with Google Workspace or Outlook slack integrations. These integrations are helpful for getting meeting reminders via Slack, and updating your Slack status when you’re in a meeting or out of the office.
I use the Slack vacation setting for informing people that I will be out of office. I like to set this up at least two weeks in advance on Slack with an arrow that says I will be out on these days.
Two weeks before I am out, I update the relevant slack channels with my peers and direct reports that I will be out between these dates.
The day before I am out, I update the icon to the palm tree and again update the relevant slack channels that I will be out and today is the last day to reach me.
For any urgent requests, I already give people a heads up to text me on my personal phone which is on my Slack profile unless I have a work issued cell phone. My team usually knows what urgent means and this can include massive downtime, team departures, layoffs, or personal emergency situations.
Company Time Off calendar / My calendar
Most companies usually have a Company or Engineering Time Off calendar where everyone on the team adds their PTO days. I usually update this and my own personal calendar so that I decline any meetings with a message that I will be out of office, and I can delegate meetings that I run to others on my team or cancel them. I also cancel 1-1s and skip level meetings or move them out to a better time when I am back.
Google workspace or Outlook email
Both Google workspace and Outlook have the option to set up Out of Office emails between certain dates.
Why go to the trouble of updating my PTO in so many places? I often find that as an engineering leader, people across the organization reach out to me for various needs. Knowing that I will be out in advance and knowing who to reach out to in my absence makes it easier to unblock people.
📝 Coverage Plans
I like to write up a coverage plan if I am out for more than 1 week. This could be for FMLA, parental leave, an international vacation, or a staycation. This is helpful so that I’m not a single point of failure and people know who to reach out to when I am out. This coverage plan should also be accessible to everyone at my workplace and shared well in advance for pre-planned PTO.
Before I leave for an extended period of time, I run my coverage plan with my manager and my direct reports and talk through it in 1-1s so they can give me feedback and add more to the document. I also make sure this is in a place that is available to all within the company, not just engineering.
Here’s information I usually add in my coverage plan:
Why I’m out
Personal phone and email with preference for text messages or voicemail or calls for emergencies
Last working day before I go on leave
Dates I’m likely to be out
Who runs meetings and is accountable in my absence
Location of meeting notes
Scope of work
Who owns which scope of work
Who to reach out to for things not listed here
I also make sure to move all meetings on my calendar to the team's calendar. Both Microsoft Outlook/Teams and Google Workspace make it easy to recreate or transfer any old meetings to the company or team calendar as long as you have access.
Why this works
I was the first person on the engineering team who went on parental leave at a past company and wrote up a coverage plan before my leave. After I left the company for another opportunity, a former colleague who was still working there reached out to me and said that he copied my coverage plan for his parental leave and thanked me for setting a precedent for everyone. 🙂