All-hands OOO: What we learned from a company-wide week off

Engineering teams have focused so much on adapting to remote work that some mainstays of office life fell out of mind. During a year of unprecedented stress, we nearly forgot a good thing: vacation time.
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In a recent Uplevel engagement survey, our team shared stress levels approaching burnout. However, we weren’t seeing people take advantage of our unlimited vacation policy. It makes sense: taking a break from home just feels different than taking a break from an office. Add the fact that mid-pandemic travel is excessively complicated and it’s no wonder why getaways are rare. Many people had taken a day off, here and there, but the idea of a full week off felt out of reach.

The antidote to burnout

Preventing burnout is one of our top priorities at Uplevel, both for our customers and for ourselves. Since the team was struggling to make space for a full recharge, we got creative. During the middle of August, right before the virtual school year resumed, we took a full OOO week of company-wide vacation. Everyone, everywhere, got the same week off to enjoy as they pleased. All uses were welcomed and everybody chose what they needed, like a staycation, backpacking, renting a cabin, and Netflix marathons.

Common sense supports this concept, and science backs it up. There’s quantitative research—the gold standard Framingham Heart Study found a 30% increase in heart attack risk in male employees that didn’t take vacation—and qualitative reasoning—career destination The Muse identifies mental space for a “breakthrough” and an opportunity to “recalibrate” as top values of time off. It’s good for mind and body.

The myth of “later”

“Free vacation” sounds impossible to decline. Yet, there’s a common impulse to identify projects that “need” to get done now, or customers that “need” us every single day.

When is the right time?

We chose to create the right time: now. The wonderful reality is that it truly was. After our shared week of vacation, we reflected on what we learned.

  • By synchronizing our time off, nobody came back to an overloaded inbox. Nobody missed an important meeting. Nobody felt the guilt of ignored push notifications. Instead, we all truly logged off for a week, and returned on the same page.
  • While we remain committed as ever to our customers, we remembered that our most valuable investment is in our employees. Supporting our team with time to recharge paves the way for even better work ahead, which in turn supports our customers even better than before. By caring for ourselves, we are genuinely more prepared to care for our clients. It’s a win-win.
  • We broke the myth of “later.” The world never stops moving, so we constantly feel that the “right” time for a break is, well, “later.” Our calendar remains full. Customer launches are still on the agenda. If we never take a break, burnout will come sooner—and we’d rather choose our time off than have it assert itself.

We return to work with our busiest season in company history ahead of us. This fall, we’re onboarding new employees to our small team and launching several customers simultaneously. Thanks to our shared week to unplug and refresh, we are ready once again to don our superhero capes and work toward victory.

How we enjoyed the week [photo gallery]

Lauren from our CS team went backpacking in Montana with her husband and pup
Brian, one of our developers, made homemade ramen for his friends
Ravs, our CTO, spent time re-doing her backyard and hanging with family
Ravs also went on family hikes
Anne, one of our data scientists, worked to clear ivy in a massive yard project
Jori, who runs marketing, went backpacking near Rainier
Stef, who leads data science, went hiking near Albuquerque
Alex, one of our developers, organized a playdate for his dog Mischa to play with her sister
Our CEO Joe took an additional week off so that he could spend two weeks renting a house boat with his family on Lake Shasta