How to Update PTO Policies for Remote Work


Every business wants to tout a healthy work-life balance for their employees. On the surface this appears easier to achieve in an office setting, where there are clear boundaries between work and home. Replicating that balance in a remote work environment requires implementing deliberate policies regarding paid time off (PTO). But most businesses didn’t have time to put that infrastructure in place before COVID hit.

“A lot of businesses have been forced to work from very home quickly without having an opportunity to think about what that should look like,” says Alice Chin, founder and CEO at Your Other Half, an HR and recruiting firm geared towards small businesses.

Here’s how to modify your PTO policies to support a healthy work-life balance for your remote workforce.

Develop Expectations for Hours Worked

Before modifying your PTO policies, you need to be clear about your expectations for hours worked. In a remote environment what constitutes a “full” day? Are you measuring based on actual hours worked, or do your employees automatically clock 8 hours per day as long as their assigned work is completed?

“Before developing PTO policies there has to be a baseline for when work happens,” Chin points out. “What are your expectations around work from home?” She recommends firm beginning and ending times, if possible, to help workers maintain boundaries between their work and personal lives. “Employees need that structure when they’re working from home,” she says.

Once you lay out expectations for time worked, you have to enforce it. Your workers may linger online late in the day, for instance, if they don’t feel like they’ve accomplished enough. You may need to let them know when it’s okay to log off.

Write Policies Encouraging Time Off

The way you write your policies affects their implementation. You might find, for example, that your workers are avoiding the use of their PTO because travel is currently restricted. “But that’s not good for your employees’ mental health,” Chin says. You can help solve this by not allowing accrued PTO to carry-over into next year. If they can’t carry their time over, employees are more likely to actually use it and take much-needed time off.

In addition to offering PTO, consider building company-wide breaks into your schedule. If your usual amount of work has been affected by COVID, for example, shut the company down to give your team a break. You’ll all benefit from time off and come back ready to strategize your next steps. “In acknowledging that employees are unwilling to use PTO, you’re proactively making that decision for your team,” Chin says.

Communicate New Policies and Protocols

Your new policies are developed with intention, and they should be communicated with intention, too. For example, Chin suggests shifting from the term “unlimited” to “self-managed” PTO. With self-managed PTO employees can still take as much time off as they’d like, but they’re responsible for planning for how it impacts their work. “This is an opportunity for an employee to think about their own responsibilities and the company’s needs and to come up with a plan to meet both,” Chin continues.

This policy helps promote a healthy company culture, but it requires deliberate communication regarding why it’s in place and expectations for following it. Be clear regarding specific steps employees should take for working ahead or finding someone to cover their work.

But the best way to communicate new rules governing PTO is to set the example yourself and actually take some time off. Demonstrate thoughtfulness around when you take off and how you set everyone else up for success while you’re gone.

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