Insights from Our Office

Why TED takes two weeks off every summer

Posted by: Emily McManus is has gone dark for two weeks. No new TED Talks will be posted until August 4, while most of the TED staff takes a two-week holiday. Yes, we all go on break at the same time (mostly). We’ve been doing it this way now for five years, and it works for us. Here’s why.

In the pre-video days of TED, the company built its schedule around the conferences. If you’ve ever run a big event, you know: the week afterward, all you want to do is lie on a beach. So the conference would end, the office would close, and everyone would disappear for a week, recover, and come back refreshed and ready to plan next year. Instant vacation.

But in the video era, that’s not how it works. Now, when the conference ends, the second shift begins. We’re collecting all the video we shot and starting to get these ideas out into the world as TED Talks. Which means that a bunch of people who just spent a 24/7 week working a conference are spending another 24/7 week dealing with press requests, following up with speakers, managing media, and editing and posting the talks from the previous week. We started to notice that for about half the staff, our post-conference recovery days were actually full-time stressy workdays. And just about the time half the staff was wandering in refreshed and full of ideas for making TED better, the other half was feeling like something the cat dragged in — but the new projects were exciting to start on, so they’d dive in. Result: Core people just weren’t taking their vacation days, because there was always something interesting to do.

So in early 2009, TED’s managers came up with a pretty brilliant idea: we all take vacation at once. I love how June Cohen, our Executive Producer, explains this decision. “When you have a team of passionate, dedicated overachievers, you don’t need to push them to work harder, you need to help them rest. By taking two weeks all together, it makes sure everyone takes vacation,” she says. “Planning a vacation is hard—most of us would feel a little guilty to take two weeks off if it weren’t pre-planned for us, and we’d be likely to cancel when something inevitably came up. This creates an enforced rest period, which is so important for productivity and happiness.”

No, we don’t all go the same place. But as the bartender said: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. The main office is empty (this year the WiFi will be shut off intermittently too). And we stay off email. The whole point is that vacation be truly restful and that we get to recharge without having to check in. If incoming email just stops, we can all rest without worrying about what we’re missing back at the office.

Our shared vacation time is a little hack that solves the problem of an office full of Type-A’s with raging FOMO. We avoid the fear of missing out by making sure that very little is going on.

June points out another reason why this works for us. “A group vacation is so efficient. In most companies, team members stagger their vacations through the summer. But this means you can never quite get things done. You never have all the right people in the room,” she says. “We’re all on the same schedule. We all return feeling rested and invigorated. What’s good for the team is good for business.”

One team isn’t taking this year’s break, though: This year’s break falls over Q4 contract deadlines, so our partnership team is in full swing, closing the sponsor deals that help support all of TED’s work throughout the year. So please, send good thoughts to the hardworking folks who help bring you TED Talks for free.

And from the rest of us, see you in August.