COVID-19 has transformed the world of work forever. That’s a fact.
Remote work is more popular than ever before. In 2019, around 5% of full-time work was done from home, this grew to 60% in April and May 2020, and now it has declined and stabilized at around a quarter (a fivefold increase on 2019 figures).
This remote work movement is triggering other working trends; the best known is working from anywhere, but a new, related, one is ‘workcations’.
Workcations are where employees mix up their routine, go to a new location, and blend work and vacation time. And they are becoming increasingly popular globally – with brands big and small embracing this approach to workplace flexibility.
A study by JobSage found that 61% of Americans have taken a workcation at some point in their living, and a third are keen for a workcation this year.
CompareTheMarket’s study found that almost half of UK office workers have taken a workcation in the last year, and 35% are keen to take one in the next 12 months.
All of this makes sense as the data suggests that employees globally are struggling to take their paid time off.
The Pew Research Center found that half of US workers aren’t taking all the annual leave offered by their employer.
This is corroborated globally by Visier. The data analytics company found that globally a whopping 40% of workers never take any holiday.
This is because they are worried about falling behind, or felt bad about putting more work on their overworked coworkers.
But, are workcations the silver bullet solution to workload and work-life balance challenges?
UNLEASH sat down with experts to weigh up the pros and cons – what should organizations and HR bear in mind when considering offering workcations for their employees?
The productivity benefits of workcations
Let’s start with the positives.
The CompareTheMarket UK study found that the change of environment (31%) and having a better quality of life (26%) were the main benefits employees cited of workcations.
Research from Localyze and Equalture came to similar conclusions – not only did workcations increase employee happiness, but it improved motivation, productivity and creativity.
Talking exclusively to UNLEASH, Pitch co-founder and chief people officer Vanessa Stock shares: “The outdated belief that productive work can occur in the office is flawed, and points to a fundamental lack of trust in organizations.”
Centuro Global’s co-founder Asma Bashir agrees and believes that workcations help build trust between employees and employers about productivity and time management – and this has real benefits for retention.
Another major positive is that workcations can allow employees to extend their holidays – 80% of US workers surveyed by Marriott Vacations Worldwide are considering taking advantage of this perk.
Localyze’s co-founder and CEO Hanna Asmussen tells UNLEASH: “This suggests that in a more globalized and digitalized workplace, employers are wanting to make the most of the opportunities available to them to enrich their personal and professional lives”.
Employers who support them here, rather than stand in their way, “gain a significant competitive advantage”.
Kristie Sullivan, founder of Executive Remote Worker, argues and that in addition to driving productivity and cultural enrichment, workcations are also beneficial for employees’ wellbeing and stress.
LinkedIn’s head of global clients for EMEA and LATAM Becky Schnauffer exclusively tells UNLEASH: “We’ve seen LinkedIn members posting [about] how they have used workcations as an opportunity to enjoy a change of scenery, often citing the benefits this has brought for their wellbeing, while others highlight the benefits it can have for creativity, learning and productivity”.
“Going through the process of planning a workcation inherently lends itself to improved work-life balance.
“The successful business professionals I’ve worked with are very mindful about allocating sufficient time for both work and play – when it’s time to work, they work. When it’s time to play, they play”, adds Sullivan.
The downsides of workcations
While some organizations and individuals, may be able to reap the work-life balance gains of workcations, that doesn’t mean every employee and employer will be able to.
Research by Ceridian found that employees are really struggling to switch off from work when they’re on vacation – 47% of 2,000 workers in the UK, the US and Australia said they couldn’t fully disconnect from work on holiday, this was because they were too busy at work (17%) and there was no-one to cover while they were away (15%).
With workcations because colleagues and teams know that employees are still semi-available, it is even harder to set those boundaries and balance work and play.
This is a serious worry for employers and HR teams, because it means that employees aren’t returning to their normal work routine rested and recharged because they’ve had no time to reset, and recover from their burnout and stress.
The JobCase research found that 47% of Americans had only taken a workcation because they felt unable to fully uplug so it was easier to just work while on holiday.
Of course, the opposite is true. As Centuro Global’s Bashir exclusively shares with UNLEASH, HR needs to ensure that employees are actually working – there may be a “temptation to be on ‘vacation’ more than to be working”.
Of course, the negative impact on work-life balance is a crucial concern for HR leaders and employers, but for Bashir the biggest issue around workcations is compliance and risk management.
Localyze’s Asmussen agrees. “The main cons are to do with the administration complexities around topics like taxes, insurance, labor laws, the list goes on.
“If not implemented properly, workcations can introduce the risk of breaching compliance and local regulations.
“HR teams must consider the employees’ destination, nationality, residence, length of stay and many other factors to ensure they are compliant throughout, which can quickly balloon into unmanageable admin work”.
Ingenovis Health CHRO Denise Triba shares with UNLEASH that there may be IT security protocol challenges, as well as issues with health benefit coverage.
No one size fits all with workcations
Ultimately, challenges around work-life balance and compliance aren’t insurmountable for HR leaders keen to reap the retention and productivity benefits of workcations.
LinkedIn’s Schnauffer advises that planning is essential to a successful workcation. “It takes both leaders and employees to plan ahead and communicate their intentions clearly – for instance, setting up meetings in advance of travel and having an understanding of when you’ll be contactable around time differences, so employees can fully switch off when it is time to unplug, and employees can feel confident that it’s not impacting overall work”.
Molly Johnson-Jones, co-founder and CEO of Flexa, also has some advice for UNLEASH readers.
She shares: “The most important thing is that workcations are never seen as a substitute for proper annual leave policies. Staff should have sufficient holiday allowances to go away and rest, and should be encouraged to switch off from work completely during that time.
“If staff are additionally given the option of workcations, individuals should be able to stick to their working hours as much as possible”, adds Johnson-Jones.
Pitch’s Stock agrees that communication and transparency, particularly around hours and availability, are key for successful workcation policies. “The work of keeping people in the loop of your whereabouts…should start before the workcation begins, such as setting clear blocks of availability for video calls or contactable hours”.
Sullivan adds: “A well-planned workcation has a clear schedule that sets expectations and boundaries before, during and after a workcation.”
On the compliance and regulatory challenges, HR tech has a huge role to play to support HR teams.
Asmussen from Localyze comments that tech can help by creating “a central hub that streamlines the evaluation of local regulations for multiple countries”.
“Technology can also store workcation requests in one place and provide employees with the ability to self-serve in parts of the process. This helps build a scalable and enforceable workflow, while alleviating pressure from HR teams,” she continues.
Yes, a workcation may seem like a big leap – but people were saying that about remote work five years ago, and now it is normal.
The key is not to dismiss workcations out of hand. And instead ask your employees if this is something they would like, according to Ingenovis Health’s Triba. Plus, talk to vendors about how they can support you.
For Centuro Global’s Bashir, “it is possible that once all the questions are addressed and the cost-benefit analysis has been done that this could prove to be the benefit that secures top talent over the line against competitors”.
Sullivan concludes: “Any organization that wants to be relevant in the future will need a laser-focus on attracting and retaining top planet.
“To do so, I believe these companies need to incorporate some version of workcations as an employee benefit” – HR teams just need to make sure it works for their organization.
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