I’ve worked at a number of different companies during my working life and I’ve noticed a theme that must be affecting team productivity worldwide. I’ve realised that, despite all the technology we have for communicating and collaborating and regardless of how much we interact with each other in the workplace, there is very little awareness of when our colleagues have planned time off.

Often, the first time we become aware of a colleague taking vacation is when we receive an automated out of office email, in response to a time critical question we have just emailed them, which politely informs the recipient that they will be back in the office in a couple of weeks time.

I have lost count of the number of times this has disrupted my own planning – not necessarily the bigger ticket planning, where I specifically consider the availability of my team, but the smaller things – the conversation I wanted to have with the design manager about tweaks to the website, or the impromptu update meeting I wanted to hold with all my managers together.

The people I manage also suffer similar pain. By them not knowing when their peers are away, it affects their planning in just the same way that it affects me. Surely all of these minor team inefficiencies when multiplied across every team in every office in every country across the world add up to a humongous waste of time?

In fact, let’s do a back of the envelope calculation: It’s pretty difficult to determine how much disrupted or modified plans actually cost, but I’m going to come up with a finger in the air cost of 15 minutes each month. That doesn’t sound too unreasonable, as I know I spent at least an hour rescheduling a meeting recently where one of the key people was on vacation. So, that works out at approximately 3 hours a year.

Now let’s make a big assumption and postulate that everyone suffers the same pain as me. So we multiply 3 hours by the number of professionals and managers in the USA, which currently stands at 64 million. That equates to 192 million hours per year or, assuming an average gross hourly pay rate of $30 per hour, a total inefficiency cost of $5.7 billion every year. Do I have your attention now?

Some more forward thinking organizations have found ways to solve this problem, for instance by encouraging employees to schedule an Outlook meeting with their colleagues for the duration of their  absence. But that can clutter up everyone’s calendars and if someone forgets to change the Free/Busy setting from its default setting “Busy” to “Free”, it means that it effectively renders everyone as unavailable for other meetings during that time.

One solution to this pain point is to use an HR management system designed to allow employees to request time off from their manager. These solutions record the approved time off and are able to display it as a calendar feed that is compatible with MS Outlook and other shared calendar programs. But I feel these solutions should go one step further and intelligently email or notify me in advance if one or more of my team or peers are away the following week. In fact, in an ideal world, I’d like to be warned a couple of weeks in advance of certain people in my team taking time off.

Am I describing a groundbreaking solution? No, not really – but it surprises me how pervasive this problem is, especially in large organizations. My start-up Workteam is passionate about encouraging companies to eradicate this inefficiency altogether, so we’re making our Time Off Tracking module free for organizations of all sizes to use.  If your organization doesn’t already have an effective solution to this problem I strongly encourage you to visit http://workte.am to see how we have solved this and how you can use it in your company at no cost.  https://app.workte.am/account/signup is where you create an account and can start using our cloud based solution.

I’d like to hear from you about my estimation of the costs of the time-off unawareness curse. Does your unawareness of your colleagues’ time-off ever cause you to be inefficient? How much time does it lose you each month? Drop me a line.

Simon Bates is CEO of Workteam, an HR Management System for businesses of all sizes with a focus on growing employee engagement. Visit http://workte.am to find out how it can benefit your organization.