There’s growing interest amongst staff in taking workations, which mix leisure and work. According to Slack’s Future Forum study, 93% of knowledge workers globally say they want the freedom to decide where and when they do their job, and research from Anywork Anywhere reveals that Google searches for the term ‘workation’ have increased by 455% globally in the first week of August 2022 alone.
The workation trend has its roots in the growth of remote working during the pandemic. Now that flexible working is more common and international travel has restarted, it is technically feasible to work from anywhere – even the beach. Many large companies agree. PwC permits staff in the US and UK to work remotely for up to eight weeks, tech firms such as Twitter and Meta and others let people work from anywhere, while others including Netflix and LinkedIn now offer unlimited vacation time.
What is a workation?
A workation is when staff work remotely from a location that’s not their home, normally combining a full working day with the leisure benefits of a vacation. The definition has changed since Covid – ironically it used to refer negatively to the 54% of staff that couldn’t switch off and disconnect fully when on vacation.
A workation can be:
- Short term, by enabling employees to take a longer trip that would be outside normal vacation allowances
- Medium term, over a summer or winter to gain the benefits of better weather
- Permanent, as in the case of digital nomads who don’t have a home base
Successful workations do require planning. While most employees already have a laptop, they need somewhere where they can work effectively without interruptions and most importantly a reliable, high speed internet connection. In some cases, for longer-term workations, a working visa is also required. In fact, over 30 countries now offer a digital nomad visa as they seek to attract these visitors. To help employees more and more hotels are offering workation friendly facilities (ranging from printers, working spaces, and IT support to supervised childcare. Airbnb-style rentals can be easily adapted for workations, particularly as many are already standalone flats or homes.
What are the benefits of workations – for staff and employers?
Workations have the potential to benefit both employers and employees. They can help organizations retain skilled, experienced staff who might otherwise leave, and as with all remote working workations bring down office costs. It can revitalize staff and improve their health and morale, meaning they are more productive and happier in their role. It can also provide flexibility when it comes to time zones. For example, if a US employee is on a workation in Europe they can be working when the US is asleep.
On the employee side, there are a range of workation advantages. They give people new perspectives through immersion in new cultures and locations. A change of scene is good for recharging batteries and increasing productivity and creativity – research has found that travel changes the brain’s neural pathways in a positive way for example. Staff can take longer vacations, such as visiting Europe or Asia without having to quit their job and are able to spend more time with their family. They can “follow the sun,” moving away from winter conditions in Northern Europe or the Northern US to cheaper, warmer locations, avoiding having to heat their houses at colder times of the year.
What are the challenges of workations?
Thanks to the combination of omnipresent technology and the acceleration of remote working caused by the pandemic, we’re entering a new world of work. Workations, like homeworking, are a key opportunity for employers and staff to benefit through flexibility and new innovations.
However, like all change they bring challenges – for employers and employees alike. HR teams and managers have to ensure that staff on workations continue to play a full role in their teams, especially if they are long-term digital nomads. There must be clear, agreed expectations in place about when employees are going to be available and contactable, especially if they are in different time zones. Essentially employers have to trust that people will work effectively, wherever they are based. HR and managers also have to manage any jealousies within the wider team/workforce – it can be difficult for some people to believe that their colleague isn’t just spending their time sat by a swimming pool rather than working effectively.
Effectively a workation is just like working from home, but with greater temptations. Echoing this, 61% of Americans surveyed by Expedia say they don’t consider workcations to be true breaks. To overcome this challenge employees need to successfully manage their work/life balance, which means putting in place a routine with clear boundaries. Employees also need the right support framework in place – from IT, internet access and childcare, to help with different regulations and healthcare. There’s a danger that they’ll get the worst of both worlds – working more and not getting the benefits of the place they are staying in, particularly when time zones potentially mean working later into their evening.
How do HR teams manage workations?
Some organizations may decide that the challenges of allowing workations outweigh the benefits, particularly if they are focused on bringing staff back to the office. However, for those that do want to offer workations they should follow these five key best practices:
Put clear policies in place
As with home working, companies need to set out transparent policies and guidelines for workations. Policies should include who is eligible to take them and where people are allowed to work, legal issues (more on that below), and set clear expectations about when people will be available – and when it’s OK to be off duty.
Understand the legal implications
Depending on the length of a workation and the country someone is visiting, local legal regulations around work might need to be met. HR teams need to be educated about legalities and the impact on employee benefits (like health insurance), and employee policies need to make it clear who is responsible for obtaining things like working visas when necessary.
Focus on engagement
Out of sight shouldn’t be out of mind. HR teams need to ensure that staff on workations still feel part of the company, demonstrate engagement, and reflect company culture and values. That means consistent listening – collecting and acting on feedback to deliver the individual employee experience that they are looking for and getting the performance you need.
Put the right tools in place
You can’t expect people to work effectively without the right support. Ensure you provide the digital tools that employees need to collaborate and work with the rest of their team, backed by accessible IT support to keep them up and running.
Train your managers
Managing staff on workations is going to be new to most managers. That means they need to be trained on how to manage geographically dispersed teams effectively, especially on how to avoid favoritism or overlooking those that aren’t in the office or working the same time zones as everyone else.
At time of ever-increasing competition for knowledge workers companies need to meet their changing requirements if they’re going to increase retention and grow their revenues. Offering workations as an option for staff helps engagement and retention – but it won’t be successful unless clearly managed to ensure that both staff and employers get the full benefits.