Being Intentional

On Unplugging

. 6 min read . Written by Sara Hicks
On Unplugging

I spent a good part of the last few weeks finalizing our Vacation and Time Off Guide at Reaction Commerce. As part of a phased roll out, I first shared the Guide with the Leadership Team to get their input, and we had a discussion at our Weekly Leadership meeting. I then shared the Guide along with my thoughts in my Week in Review to the full team. Finally, we had a discussion at our monthly, all company Town Hall meeting.

Here are the discussion topics we focused on during the meetings:

  • What about the Guide stood out for you the most?
  • Does the Guide align with our Core Values and Operating Principles? If so, how and where? If not, how can it better align with our culture?
  • What areas do you think need to be clarified?
  • Any areas that could cause issues or concerns for the company?
  • How can we all best exemplify our Vacation and Time Off Guide?

It's been an eye-opening experience gathering feedback on this topic. Some have suggested that they are concerned about the viability of the company with such a liberal policy, and others feel that this policy is what will help to make the company viable. It's been so fascinating.

As I was finalizing my Week in Review update, I came across this article in the New York Times about burnout culture and performative workaholism. It's a great article, so I encourage y'all to read it. If anything captures the essence of what I'm not trying to achieve, it is the concepts of toil and hustle glamour from that article. That kind of culture is beyond toxic and unsustainable at best, and downright morally bankrupt at least. As an industry, we have to do better, which is why I'm opting to share my Week in Review and our Vacation and Time Off Guide with all of you, Dear Ones. If you have any questions or want to chat about establishing healthy practices in this area, please get in touch.

Subject: CEO Week in Review - 2019-01-28

Hi team,

One of my goals in 2019 is to share more broadly about what I’ve been hearing, talking about, and thinking about on a regular basis. I plan to send these out at least monthly. I might also add an update here or there during the month as topics and concerns are top of mind.

TL;DR: It's time for y'all to get going with planning and taking your 2019 vacations, and I hope our new Guide helps!

The topic that is most top of mind for me right now is vacations and time away. Over the last several months, I've been working on a Vacation and Time Off Guide. The Guide is linked below, but I first wanted to share some philosophical thoughts about time, output, and outcomes. We'll also discuss this topic in our Town Hall next week on Thursday, January 31st at 17:00 UTC (9am PT).

Time off and time away is critical to our creativity.

One of our Operating Principles is: "Time off and time away is critical to our creativity." I firmly believe this to be true. I do my best work when I'm rested and refreshed. Time away gives me perspective that I can sometimes lose when I'm in the day-to-day routine of work. I'm often reminded of this simple fact when I do the Sunday crossword puzzle. This may seem like a silly analogy, but it happens to me all the time. I will be stuck on a few clues for hours as I hammer my brain for the right answer. Then, I'll step away and do something else—go for a run, cook some food, take a nap, or whatever. All of the sudden, when I'm not even thinking about the darn crossword, the answers come to me. It's as if I needed to give my brain some room to let the answer come to me.

As I've been researching and discussing different approaches and viewpoints to vacations, it's become clear to me that there are many facets to this topic. There are different cultural norms (and even laws) around vacations. As a U.S. native, I recognize that I have learned behaviors based on customs and traditions from the U.S. and from my family. As a global, distributed team, it is very important to me that we establish a Guide that is global and inclusive in nature and that it also matches our culture and values. (I also believe that the U.S. gets many things wrong when it comes to vacations, parental leave, and, well, much more, but I digress.)

I've also seen and experienced first-hand that time away can bring up fear about job security. People worry that they will be fired if they take too much time off. I also know that many of us have "always on" and even "workaholic" tendencies. For some, it's part of who we are, and we enjoy it. I, too, can get caught up in the work extremes. There's always more work to do, and it can be hard and a bit scary to fully unplug.

It's about outcomes, not output.

I understand why we focus so much on time. Dates are a concrete thing. To some, it can be comforting to have a date to strive toward. It's a tangible thing when everything else might feel like it is in flux (requirements, designs, specifications, architectures, and the finished product!). As a product person at heart, I get it—dates and deadlines are often a necessary fact of life, but they are also often a very challenging concern. Estimating software projects and deciding upon launch dates is only a piece of the puzzle. The other pieces are scope, costs, and quality. Without fully digressing into the project triangle rabbit hole, it's safe to say that it's complicated.

For example, let me briefly mention the launch date for Bob's. This is a date that was set by a client based on their existing contractual obligation. Since the date can't (easily) move, we were forced to then look at scope and quality as other levers within our control. For the Bob's MVP, we've reduced scope as much as possible, and we've even indicated that some of the work may be temporary. We'll do our best to hit the date to meet our obligations to our client, and in this case our friends are scope and quality.

So what does this all have to do with vacations and time off? It can feel like we can't take vacations when we have to deliver upon a commitment, and yet we won't survive without taking time off. It's a conundrum. Too often, we focus on output rather than outcomes. You'll see in our new Guide that I talk about results over hours or days worked. I really don't care about where or how long we are working. I care about outcomes and on how well we are communicating. I care about how well we are planning and our results. I care that we support each other to take the minimum number of vacations days per year. I care that we unplug on holidays and turn off work. I care that we intentionally plan for our vacations when we are forecasting and planning our roadmap and client obligations.

Establishing healthy practices around vacations and time off.

If we are going to survive as a company, we all have to take time off to recharge. If we don't, we will burnout, and we'll likely lose valuable teammates to other companies. Thus, we have to plan our business around our vacations and time off and not the other way around. To be clear, this means we need to consider our vacations and time off when we are working on our forecasts and plans for clients and product releases.

As you can see, I've got lots to say on this topic! Maybe there's even a blog post (or even a talk or book!) to be written at some point on this topic. For now, though, here's the new Vacation and Time Off Guide. Your comments and feedback are welcome, and please feel free to reach out to me directly if you want to explore any of this further. Mathias and I will be working to provide additional frameworks and processes to assist us in creating a healthy culture for us to not work!

Cheers! ✌️


P.S. I'll start. Here are my known 2019 OOO dates so far (these are on my personal calendar and on our team calendar):

  • Week of 2/11
  • Weeks of 7/1 and 7/8 (includes 4th of July U.S. holiday)
  • Week of 11/25 (includes Thanksgiving U.S. holiday)
  • Weeks of 12/23 and 12/30 (includes Christmas holiday)