It seems as though most companies expect – either explicitly in their policies or implicitly through the culture – that employees check in while they’re on vacation. At least to check their email to “keep up with what’s going on”, but sometimes also hop on conference calls or do some actual work.
And the ones that don’t tend to put the onus on the employee to take care of their work before they leave. The work then piles up while they’re gone, which means they end up spending days catching up when the return. Email vacation auto-responders are courteous, but people still expect a reply when you return. Anyone who has experienced this knows that there’s a stress that builds the entire time you’re gone. You dread going back after vacation.
We do it differently. When you’re on vacation, you pass everything you do along to someone else in the company. Everyone has cross-trained someone else in the company on their most important tasks. Everyone has a vacation wiki page with all of their tasks, who should cover them, and links out to other wikis/docs with instructions. This is also incredibly useful if someone has an unplanned absence, or if someone ever were to leave unexpectedly.
This includes email. We’ve each designated someone as our backup, and using Gmail’s delegation system, that person logs in and follows that person’s instructions for processing email. If something needs a response, you forward it to yourself, reply, and CC the person on vacation so that they can catch up on the conversation when they return.
Sure, there’s still some of that stress. Your inbox isn’t totally empty when you return. And we all try to get ahead a bit before we leave as a courtesy to others. But by in large you can enjoy your time off knowing that everything important is being covered. And that’s a true vacation.