How to Handle Holidays for Your Remote Team

What holidays should you recognize when you have remote team members around the world? There's no one-size-fits-all approach. We look at best practices and potential approaches for planning your holiday policies.

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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With major holiday seasons spread throughout the year — Christmas and Hanukkah in December, Lunar New Year in January or February, Ramadan in May, and more — it’s always a good time to revisit how you manage holidays for your remote team. If you have a remote team distributed all over the world, how do you give your employees the right public holidays without creating a logistical nightmare for your HR team?

Having a plan in place for handling holidays helps your remote team take the time off that matters most to them, and it all starts with creating a holiday policy that’s fair and inclusive to all. Empower your employees to take their holidays off through clear documentation and communication of that policy. Here’s how you can do so:

Determine which holidays to recognize

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to choosing which public holidays to give employees off, but companies that hire remote employees all over the world primarily have three options:

Choose a set schedule of paid holidays for the company as a whole

Picking certain holidays for the entire company to have off can be a great pick for certain remote teams, specifically those that primarily or only hire domestically. This option works best when you don’t have to keep track of the public holidays of multiple countries where you hire remotely. For example, Referral Rock is one 100% remote company that follows this policy, with all of its 17 employees located in the U.S.

However, this strategy may not be flexible enough for employees that celebrate holidays outside of what your company designates, which could especially be an issue for globally distributed teams. By dictating which holidays the company celebrates as a whole, it’s exclusive in nature and doesn’t guarantee employees get the holidays off that really matter to them. For example, not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, so a policy that mainly includes U.S. public holidays would cater to U.S. remote employees over international ones.

On the other hand, if you try to include every public holiday celebrated by all of your employees, you risk incurring unnecessary costs and hits to productivity by having too many company days off.

Grant local holidays on a country-by-country basis

For global remote teams, it may be the safest bet for legal compliance to give each remote employee the public holidays observed by their country of residence. Buffer is one company that implements this policy, saying that they assign their employees their country's holidays as days off to lift the burden from them requesting time off. Another globally distributed company, Zyte (formerly Scrapinghub), does the same, claiming they've found that most employees prefer having their own country's holidays off.

If employers hire international workers as employees, whether through a local subsidiary or an international HR platform like Pilot, the employer is bound to the local labor laws of that country — which may include providing government-mandated public holidays as paid time off. If you hire international contractors instead, though, those restrictions might not apply.

Since every country recognizes different public holidays (see our posts on Canada or Brazil for reference), it can be difficult to keep track of them all, especially if you hire in multiple countries. And if your holiday policy will be different for each employee by country, you’ll have to make sure each international employee’s contract reflects that — a potential compliance nightmare.

That’s where Pilot can help; our team of experts in international HR and labor laws is ready and waiting to review our clients’ contracts for compliance issues.

Provide floating holidays

Instead of either of these fixed holiday options, some companies choose to offer floating holidays, since they offer greater flexibility and inclusivity for globally distributed remote teams. With floating holidays, employees can schedule and request whichever holidays matter most to them without schedule restrictions from their company or country. This means employees aren’t forced to adhere to federal holidays that don’t mean anything to them and can request time off for meaningful religious or cultural holidays that might not be recognized by their country.

On the flip side, while floating holidays may relieve the pressure on HR to choose which holidays the company should recognize, they can still create administrative burdens. You need a system that allows employees to track their floating holiday accrual or balances (alongside PTO) and request their time off. Floating holidays also require greater communication to keep everyone in the loop about who’s taking time off and when, since, unlike company-mandated holidays, not everyone will be off on the same days.

Document and communicate your holiday policy

Once you’ve decided how you’ll give your remote team holidays, you should clarify your holiday policy so all your employees know which holidays they either have off or can request off. In the case of the latter, your holiday policy should explain how employees will do so.

Here are things you should clarify in your holiday policy:

  • How much notice should an employee give before requesting time off?
  • Are there are any restrictions to requests, such as if there are certain days or months too busy to request time off or if there’s a limited number of employees who can be off at any one time?
  • How should employees request holidays off, such as through a time-off system or a request to a direct supervisor?
  • How do floating holidays accrue (such as 10 per year or 1.5 per month), and where can employees track their holiday time balance?
  • What’s the difference between company paid holidays and other types of leave employees are eligible for, such as PTO, vacation, medical, or family leave? Can they mix and match time off requests?
  • Will floating holidays carry over to the next year, or are they “use it or lose it?”
  • Do holidays count as PTO, and will they be paid out to employees upon their departure from the company?

Communicate your holiday policy early and often to your employees. Introduce employees to it through their job offer letters. Prominently highlight your holiday policy in your employee handbook and any internal knowledge bases or wikis. Remind your remote team around important holidays to take their time off — it’s a good idea to keep in mind which holidays your team members may celebrate so you can remind them in time.

Promote transparency in your remote work policy so employees are never confused about what’s expected of them. Make sure they know where to find your company’s holiday policy or who to ask for clarity.

Support your remote workers in successfully taking holidays off

Enabling your employees to take their holidays is an investment in their coming back healthier and more capable of doing their best work. Studies show that vacation time increases mindfulness, improves heart health, reduces stress, boosts capacity to learn, and improves the quality of sleep.  But it’s up to you to make sure your employees can actually take their holidays. Create a company culture that promotes a healthy work-life balance and build processes around your holidays so your team feels like they can — and should — take their holidays off.

Encourage employees to help set up their team for success before they take off. Some examples include assigning a point of contact for matters while they’re out, adjusting deadlines around holidays, and setting up vacation auto-response emails and Slack out-of-office statuses.

Remote teams can’t just look around the office to see who’s there and who’s not. Instead, set up a schedule or calendar via Excel or Google Calendar that keeps track of who’s on holiday so everyone’s aware. Pilot can keep you in the loop; we show companies all the upcoming country-specific holidays that may apply to their employees around the world.

If you determine holidays by country or by company mandate, add those holidays to the shared calendar for visibility. For floating holidays or requests, add them individually to the calendar, either through automation tools or manually. Encourage your team to check the schedule before messaging someone who might be on holiday.

Having visibility into time off is crucial for remote teams. Leverage these calendars and views to plan for times when your remote team will be running light and to adjust expectations accordingly.

Promote cultural diversity and employee satisfaction by celebrating holidays differently

Handling holidays can be a logistical pain point for remote teams, but with those challenges, you have the unique opportunity to lean into and appreciate your team’s different cultural backgrounds. Remote work allows you to expand into global talent pools and increase workplace diversity, so take advantage of the chance to embrace your team’s cultural differences, bringing everyone closer together. Sharing is caring — turn holiday celebrations into learning opportunities for cultural enrichment. By handling holidays for your remote team with care, you can create a remote work environment where employees can freely share the holiday spirit and happiness of their holidays with each other.

At Pilot, we help you empower your remote team members to do their best work. We make sure your employees are paid on time and in their own currency, and those employers have nothing to worry about when it comes to local, federal, and global compliance — with holidays and beyond. Streamline your remote team’s HR and payroll concerns — try out Pilot today.


⚖️ Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.


Cover photo courtesy of Denise Johnson on Unsplash

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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