When I was a kid, summer break was basically the best thing in the history of the universe. I used a computer for the first time during a summer break. Summer breaks are why I don’t embarrass myself when I speak English. They’re the reason I know how difficult it is to walk to a 7–11 in the middle of a typhoon in Shanghai.
I’m no Tony Robbins of summer, though. Most of my summers idled by. I visited my grandparents. I made plans to contact aliens with my friend, Dev.
Summer breaks are a great time to do things that everyday life doesn’t allow you to do. Often, these are the things that end up defining you. For instance, I don’t crave Slurpees during storms anymore.
The break, together with youthful delusions of grandeur, disappeared when I graduated from college. I want to bring it back. And now, as the founder of my company, Padlet, I can. (Ok, maybe the delusions of grandeur didn’t really disappear.)
So, starting in 2016, Padlet will observe a paid summer break; for 30 days every year, we will close shop. As with a summer romance, there will be no strings attached. For 2016, the tentative dates are July 2–31. This break is above and beyond our standard, unlimited vacation policy.
I want to make it absolutely clear — this isn’t another work-life balance plea. When you are passionate about something, it automatically imbalances your life. Whether you are an engineer, a comedian, a sportsman, a filmmaker, or a hopeless romantic, passions imbalance your life. Nor am I trying to promote a “you have one life, wander, go tie a rope to your ankle and jump off a bridge (while Instagramming)” lifestyle.
I am doing it because it seems like a smarter way to work. Is it possible that by tweaking the work calendar, we can actually get more done?
Padlet is one of the largest websites on the planet. And we’re a small team. When we encounter complex problems, our only choice is to develop simple, creative solutions. We have found that the solutions appear in the moments we least expect them (thank you, Noe Valley Recreation Center tennis courts). Simple, creative ideas require a certain clarity of thought that is often achieved by stepping away from the desk.
Vacation policies are theoretically designed for this: to give people time to step away and regain a sense of purpose. But they are flawed. No one’s taking 30 days off. By going away at the same time, we alleviate the most common cause of unused vacation days: the belief that the company will suffer in your absence. Here is a typical vacation calendar:
Imagine the things you can do with a month long break — you could learn a musical instrument, catch up on those TV shows your friends keep talking about, read, travel through South East Asia, spend time with a long distance partner, call Comcast and actually speak to a customer support rep, write that manuscript you have been meaning to, or find a better job.
My instincts say that no matter what people choose to do, they will come back from the break with more energy, better ideas, clearer thinking, and a sense of belonging to something unique.
After all, a month is only 8% of a year. Is it unreasonable to believe that we can’t be 10% (because math) better at work for the remaining eleven?
Maybe we should get new clothes, backpacks, hamsters, and stationery for our “back to work” day. That was the great part of summer breaks — the synchrony of it; everyone came back the same day with new stories and new socks.
I’m thinking through this problem like I think through everything: with a heavy dose of humor and skepticism. Maybe it will be a colossal failure costing us a lot of goodwill, time, money, and opportunity. We may come back with nothing more than bad tans.
But we are a startup. We experiment with our software all the time, constantly looking for a better way of doing things. Some experiments work, and we celebrate; some don’t, and we laugh them off; most are inconclusive (stupid A/B tests). I am just doing the same with how we run the company. If this doesn’t work, I’ll go back to the drawing board, and try something else.
Wouldn’t it be pretty if it worked, though?
Nitesh Goel is the Founder of Padlet.