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Emily Weissang

Navigating Public Holidays in Multinational Project Teams

In globally distributed teams, it's hard to keep track of public holidays happening in each region. But this doesn't have to spell trouble for your projects.

What happens when your nation’s biggest football event of the year turns your city upside down? Or when a hair-raising motorcycle race descends on your island home in a well loved (but nail-biting) annual tradition?

You know it when you feel it. It’s time for a public holiday.

There’s something special about public holidays. It’s a convivial atmosphere; there may even be community parties and celebrations going on. Whatever the occasion, it puts people in a good mood. And most people you know are all going to be off work at the same time - making it the perfect time to get together with family or catch up with friends.

But as globally distributed teams become more and more common, we’re increasingly coming up against a problem that we didn’t have when we all worked from one office, in one location. 

Different regions have different public holidays. And this can make for scheduling headaches, especially when you’re the person in charge of project planning and rolling out assignments to globally distributed workers.

So, as the person responsible for resourcing programs and projects, how can you make sure that public holidays are honored, without timelines and deliverables being impacted?

Do employers have to give time off for public holidays?

The amount of holiday that workers in different countries are legally entitled to varies widely, as do the laws and norms around public holidays. 

In some countries, certain public holidays are legally protected, meaning that employees are entitled to take the day off. 

But in many countries (such as the US or the UK), there is no legal requirement for an employer to give their employees the day off on public holidays - even widely celebrated days, such as New Year’s Day.

However, just because it’s not a legal requirement doesn’t mean that employees won’t expect the day off. For this reason, many companies choose to roll public holidays into their employee’s leave entitlement. For instance, a contract will grant employees “X days of annual leave including X days of public holidays”. This means that some of the employees’ PTO allocation will be automatically assigned to public holidays.

Quibbling about the right of employees to request public holidays off is probably not a hill that employers want to die on - especially in a competitive labor market where employee retention is top-of-mind. 

Even in international teams where different team members will have different public holidays, it’s probably safest to assume that your team members will want to take their local public holidays off as part of their PTO.

This may create some complexity for resource managers when it comes to ensuring that project schedules are not impacted by staff absences. But, in many respects, it’s no different to PTO planning. Indeed, arguably it’s somewhat easier, as it’s more predictable.

How to incorporate Public Holidays into project schedules

Understand which days your team members will be unavailable

The first step to preventing public holidays from impacting project schedules is to understand which days your team members will be off work.

One way to navigate this is to educate yourself about the public holidays in each region where your team members are based. This might involve researching the relevant laws and regulations in each country, or speaking directly with your team members to get a better understanding of their local practices and customs.

Additionally, you may wish to create a comprehensive spreadsheet that incorporates all of the public holidays across the relevant regions, so that you can easily keep track of when team members are likely to be unavailable. 

To save time, you could even ask your team to populate this for you, as they will have a better understanding of the norms for their area.

Utilize technology to help iron out the issues

Needless to say, however, plotting out the public holiday calendar for the entire team will be a far easier process if there’s only 30 people rather than 300, or even 3000. Bigger teams will stand to benefit from an automated solution that captures the nuances of regional holidays based on location. Not only will this save time, but it will be far more accurate in the long-run.

A modern resource management solution like Runn is geared towards the way the working world is evolving - and that means being primed for globally distributed project teams. 

Runn marks region-relevant public holidays on your resource calendar, giving you an at-a-glance overview of who is on a public holiday and when. All you need to do is add your team members into their location-relevant holiday group, and their local public holidays will automatically appear on their schedule.

Adjust task timelines

Once you have an understanding of when your team members are going to be away, you can create or adapt schedules that take these absences into account.

As with accommodating employee PTO in your project plans, the key is communication and making sure you have all the right information in good time. The more notice you have for planned staff absences, the easier it is to fit these into a project schedule. 

Once again, having a calendar that clearly marks your team’s local holidays is the way to go. If you can get a bird’s eye view of when particular team members are unavailable during a project timeline, you can start making adjustments to compensate, moving things around and reassigning and reallocating if needed.

Naturally, it’s best practice to build staff absences due to public holidays into your project schedule from the beginning. And, as you can see below, Runn makes this simple by automatically blocking out public holidays associated with an employee's location. In this example, we won't be able to accidentally book an employee based in England on May 1st, because it's a public holiday in that region.

Runn automatically blocks out regional public holidays, so you won’t accidentally schedule a person to work on a day when they will be away

However, even if you are retroactively building public holidays into your project schedule, Runn can help. It will show you, in real-time, what the impact of any staff absence will be - whether the deadline will be impacted, for instance. With this information, you can decide whether the team members’ absence will need to be covered for or not.

Allocate backup resources

If there is critical ongoing work that cannot be delayed by a team member being absent for a public holiday in their region, they may be happy to miss the holiday and take an alternative day off instead. However, this isn’t the only solution, and it’s far from ideal.

Ultimately, your team is entitled to a certain amount of time off work, and honoring this time is vital for their wellbeing. An over-stressed and overburdened team is vulnerable to burnout and dysfunction. It is essential to create plans so that employees can take their local public holidays and PTO without projects being negatively impacted.

One way to do this is to allocate backup resources or temporarily reallocate work to a different team member - someone who is available to work on the day when their colleague is off for a public holiday.

Needless to say, it’s easier to reassign work when you have a transparent overview of the entire resource pool’s allocations, availability, and a detailed record of everybody’s skills. This way, you’ll be able to find an appropriate person to take over the work.

In Runn, this can be completed in seconds thanks to the skills database. In no time, you’ll be able to identify if there is someone available who has the right technical expertise, and enough time in their schedule to pick up the slack.

And once you’ve decided to reallocate the work to this team member, you’ll find that transferring assignments between people in Runn is as simple as drag-and-drop.

Balance the needs of your team and your project

At Runn, our team is fully remote and based around the globe - so the issue of planning around public holidays in different locations is something we’re familiar with. But we keep it simple by covering public holidays with a blanket policy. Everyone takes the public holidays associated with their region - and if this is fewer than 12 days (the number of public holidays we have in New Zealand), then they can take the extra days to make it up to 12. 

And because we use Runn here at Runn for our own planning and scheduling, the rest of the team can easily see who is available and when. Transparency and clarity really is the key to making sure that work carries on as scheduled even if people are away on different days.

Working in a global team definitely has its quirks and challenges, and public holidays are a part of that. But, with Runn, we have the ideal infrastructure to work effectively together, even if we are thousands of miles apart.

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