Pause: A staff time-off tracker

Project Overview
Pause is a time-off tracker that helps organisations manage their employees' time off. Think of products like Bamboo HR. Time-off tools are a form of communication between organisation and employee, one reaped with friction and a lack of clarity.

An MVP was launched in December 2020 with 20 beta organisations and formally launched in June 2021. The tool is built for web & mobile and includes a supporting Slack integration.

We will look at the HR/admin workflow, specifically 'time-off policy creation' flow.
Pause officially launched on 22 Jun 2021. The following data is as per 15 Jul 2021.
  • 136+ distinct organisations with a total of over 1700 employees use Pause; now growing organically
  • Over 2000 leave applications have been filed using Pause since its beta launch in December
  • Nearly 50% split in number of deductible and unlimited time-off types applied for; testimony to the value of such policies
  • 15+ different time-off types over and above Annual have been created across organisations (paternity, bereavement, cramps), making policies inclusive and employee focussed
  • 3-4 organisations offer 'Covid-19 vaccination' time-off to aid recovery from vaccine side effects, inspired by our 'employee-first' principle
  • Pause has garnered praise across review sites like G2 and Capterra as well as social media platforms like Twitter
Pause: Time-off Tracker
Founding member
November 2020 - July 2021

Team & my role: Product designer (and so much more)

8 teammates, including a CEO, a fellow designer, 4-5 engineers and a market researcher in a remote first format. We were later joined by a seasoned writer and two design interns. Pause went from start to launch in 10 months.

As a founding member, I wore several hats through an agile product development process:

  • Product Designer (web & mobile)
  • Product Manager
  • People manager and mentor
  • UX writer
  • User researcher
  • Content writer
  • Marketing strategist
  • Sales associate
  • Customer service representative

Founding hypothesis

Modern workplace tools need to evolve with the times– remote world, distributed teams and focus on employee well-being. Time-off tracking tools are wanting of disruption wherein they prioritise employees and are uncharacteristically simple and transparent.

Beachhead Market

Small enterprises (eg: agencies and startups) with upto 100 members.

Two core user segments

  • Admin: HR or founder of a company with the main task of creating leave policies and overall staff time-off management
  • Employees: their primary goal is applying for leaves and staying up to date on their balances. Team leads would be responsible for approving leaves as well.

Focus: Admin workflow for 'time-off policy creation'

We will focus on the Admin workflow, specifically 'time-off policy creation' because all employee experience stems from simplifying this back-end system of policy creation and communication. HR fatigue is also a rising problem where company policies are complex and opaque.

Admin (user) goals

  • Onboard organisation and employees onto Pause with minimal effort
  • Build a leave policy that is employee-focussed & transparent, while also scaling with the organisation it belongs to


    Time-off policies are derived from national laws and/or industry best practices. Consequently, their articulation in time-off tracking tools de-emphasises the employee.


    • Employees have to jump several hoops to find their leave allowances and balance, especially in small, fast paced teams
    • Employees take fewer to no leaves, leading to burnout and churn
    • Teams leads are unable to plan with conviction due to limited visibility into team availability
    • HRs bare the burden of a lack of communication, increasing their workload especially at the end of fiscal year

    Research: user interviews and competitor analysis

    To understand how time-off policies are designed and built, we conducted 8 user interviews with admins and HR representatives of agencies and startups. We created an interview guide, conducted interviews remotely and then synthesised that data to arrive at key observations, data points and insights.

    In addition, we also deep dived into time-off policy creation across competitor products to explore existing interaction patterns and user flows.

    leave tracker screen shots

    Research insights

    • Employees will take the leaves they require irrespective of policy, if driven by external circumstances
    • Existing Leave policies are becoming archaic, especially given changing work cultures
    • Employees and team leads suffer most with the lack of transparency in time-off tracking, due to ineffcient communication & planning

    Types of leaves

    • Deductible leaves: annual and sick leaves (have a strict yearly/ monthly limit)
    • Special leaves: maternity, paternity and bereavement (have limits that are based on the law)
    • Public holidays: derived from national/state calendars

    Product strategy: A new way to look at time-off policies

    We took a radical approach of removing the numeric cap on people-centric leaves like Maternity and Bereavement, calling them 'non-deductible' or 'unlimited' leaves. We later added a soft upper limit to the table upon customer request. But this does not feature in allowance calculations.


    • People seeking less frequent leaves like maternity and bereavement will take the time off they need despite a suggested limit.
    • If an employee chooses to deviate from the norm, they would have an offline discussion with their managers
    • If employees violated a policy, HR/ managers would contact the employee offline (don't design for the bad actors)
    • An employee will only receive public holiday based on one location; their core location

    Guiding principles

    We decided to solve this issue by first defining the values that would guide our decision making through the process.

    Past explorations & design process

    We started designing this feature the traditional way. This approach retained attributes like adding numeric limits to all leave types. Deep discussions with engineers resulted in debates about leave allocation calculations its impact on the backend system. There were a few problems:

    • Leave allowance calculations were still complicated for the user; a reality we were categorically trying to move away from
    • Adding a limit to every leave type meant that employees were forced into a rigid system, which then bred exploitation of those systems and decreased team trust (as exposed through research)

    Edge cases

    Policies could technically change at any time. This was especially turning out to be true soon after onboarding, when admins realised they had changes to make. A close collaboration with engineers led to a deep session to handle edge cases of changing policies mid-cycle.

    Product touch-points

    I. Leave application flow

    When applying for leave, employees generally choose the reason for taking their leave from the various kinds offered by their organisation. There were two key problems here:

    • Employees weren't aware of their leave balances while applying
    • Employees didn't know how leaves would be deducted from their allowance

    We opened communication at every step of this process, for which the leave calculations from the policy was imperative to keep accurate and clear.

    We designed this for desktop as well as mobile and Slack to work with brevity and build a differentiator.  

    II. Onboarding

    Onboarding organisations onto Pause was imperative; we had to enable admins to bring their current systems, policies and people onto Pause or even create a new policy from scratch. We invested disproportionately in this feature, shrinking the onboarding experience from 21 steps down to 3, which then only took less than a minute. Our assumption was that a quick onboarding was rare for SaaS products and would give us a competitive advantage and reduce drop-offs tremendously.

    III. Profile

    Profile is a user's go-to place to stay updated on their leave balances and time-off records. The data is directly calculated based on the leave policy structure and the start date of the leave cycle/employee. Keeping this numerically accurate, yet profoundly clear was imperative.

    We designed the components, interactions and flows across both platforms to remain the same to reduce engineering effort and maintain consistency. Designed for Desktop and Mobile.

    IV. Inviting new members

    Inviting members of the organisation onto Pause was the backbone of our product– the product  was of value only when all members of a team are updating their time-off data accurately. Allocating leave allowances when inviting (and also bringing older ones in during onboarding) was the most challenging part to design, given its inherent complexity and the consequent


    • Helped us realise and execute our ‘employee–first’ principle
    • Simplified time-off calculations for employees across all touchpoints like ‘Profile page’, making it easier for them to understand their balances and take the time-off they need
    • Built a system that is differentiated, yet flexible. It works for any kind of organisation and time-off policy
    • Helped pivot our core proposition from ‘mental health’ to ‘improved communication’ while being ‘employee focussed’

    Feedback from users

    As a young team, our eyes were consistently peeled for feedback. We were available across many channels– Intercom (chat app), review sites, twitter and email. While we kept an exhaustive record of suggestions, here are some of the nicest things we heard.

    pause web app testimonials