Workation: More than just a Buzzword
As a result of remote work, many employees can experience what digital nomads have already been doing for years: Workation is the name of the game, a mix of work and vacation. Employees live and work in the mountains, the beach, or a distant city for a certain period of time. Several companies, such as Refurbed, Holidu or Storyclash, have already recognized the potential of Workations not only for the individual employee, but also for the entire team.
According to a Travel Trends 2021 study, about 45% of employees are eager to leave their everyday workplace behind and finally travel to distant places again over the course of this year. Even though the home office and coworking spaces have become everybody’s darling, employees yearn for a change of scenery.
The increase in flexibility concerning workplace and time is one of the greatest outcomes of our fast-advancing digitalization. For many employees, everyday work happens remotely. Meetings, conferences, and coffee chats have been shifted to the virtual space. Combining work and travel seems like the next logical development.
Companies are also recognizing this trend and increasingly offer their employees the opportunity to take a Workation. After all, as long as employees are operating within the same time zone and have a stable Internet connection, it makes little difference if people are working from home or the beach.
Employer’s advantages of Workations
Of course, this offer is not entirely altruistic. Employee engagement is more important than ever. The economic success of a company is closely tied to the effectiveness of the team and internal collaboration. What usually develops naturally in traditional offices is more difficult to foster in a remote setting. Colleagues are physically separated from each other and have fewer personal relationships. As a result, cooperation, communication and innovation suffer, which can be observed at companies such as Apple. Team-Workations are a great opportunity to give team members the chance to exchange ideas, work on projects together and get to know each other. No zoom calls and e-mail exchanges needed.
In addition, flexibility is also very important in the War for Talents. According to a Work Reimagined study, half of the questioned employees would give up their job if the position did not offer the desired level of flexibility. So in the future, Workations will no longer just be a “nice-to-have,” but become an important incentive for attracting the best employees. Additionally, they allow for valuable bonding time between colleagues.
Benefits of Team-Workations
37% of the respondents questioned by a Bleisure Traveller study said regular workations would make them happier, more relaxed and more productive.
Workplace monotony leads to demotivation and a decrease in productivity. Without some stimulation from time to time, our senses get dull, and it is more difficult for employees to be innovative and excited about the work they do, especially when there are no coworkers to bounce ideas off of.
Paired with stress, this monotony can also lead to serious conditions like burnout and boreout when working remotely. To avoid such consequences, it is in the best interest of the company to promote a good work-life balance and to enable employees to schedule regular breaks and time off.
However, during high seasons or in the middle of important projects, taking time off is not always possible. During more relaxed times, a Workation can be a great middle ground between work, relaxation and bonding time. Here, a Workation can be a great middle ground between work, relaxation, and bonding time for the team.
Sun, sea and beach: A creativity booster
Many knowledge workers are creative people and problem solvers. Their everyday tasks include out-of-the-box-thinking and the development of new ideas and solutions. However, being stuck within the same four walls every day can put a dampener on our ability to be innovative.
A Team-Workation may confront bored employees with other views and different thinking patterns. Workflow and output improve, while the innovative thinking of the employees is boosted.
Team relationships suffer when operating remotely. However, getting together as a team is essential to ensure successful cooperation. Especially within bigger companies, colleagues only tend to communicate with people they are directly working with. Even if personal relationships exist, colleagues only communicate with each other through a screen.
Working across departments is especially challenging for bigger companies. A joint Workation with employees from different departments can be a great way to improve communication and employee relations. However, for employees who have families, care for relatives or have health problems, a Workation that lasts several weeks can be difficult. If it is not possible for several members of the team to participate in the Workation, the dynamic of the whole group suffers. The browser provider Vivaldi offers employees to bring their children and partners along, so everyone can be involved in the Workation.
Where large teams struggle, it is smaller teams or individual departments that benefit the most from Workations. Important projects and to-dos are in the horizon for your team? When working together in one place, a solution can be found without other work-related distractions. A Workation in a beautiful place is the best way to let new ideas sprout.
The downsides of Team-Workations
Of course, there are not only positives to the trend. Work-life balance, the costs as well as the additional workload for HR personnel, the company and employees are important factors to consider before planning a Workation.
While some employees find it easier to juggle their private life and work when Workation is an option, others feel the complete opposite. For many employees, Workations do not suffice as a substitute for “real” time off.
Some employees that go on Workations regularly feel like the boundaries between work and free time are becoming increasingly blurred. This development is a direct product of remote work, and some employees enjoy this side effect. However, this does not work out for every employee, which is why Workations should always be voluntary.
One of the goals of combining work with vacation is to give employees the opportunity to travel to different countries, spend time with colleagues, while still being productive. However, Workations often come with high additional costs for employees.
- Europe€ 1.200*
- South America€ 950*
- Asia€ 750*
*Average costs per employee per month.
In some cases, the company may bear a part of the costs that a Workation entails, depending on the internal agreements. In most cases, the cost is split between employers and employees. As an example, the Austrian start-up Ready2Order the company provides the technical set-up and accommodation. Travel and food costs are paid by the employees themselves. App development provider IKANGAI, on the other hand, is funding the accommodation with the savings that otherwise would have gone towards office resources.
Before embarking on a Workation adventure, the company should check wether the journey is affordable for the employees. Travel and living costs can differ from country to country. A February 2022 Workation Check by Expat News reports that the average cost of a Workation in Europe’s most popular travel countries amounts to EUR 1,196 per employee for an entire month. This number entails transportation costs, food, lodging as well as the costs for recreational activities.
When working abroad, many things need to be arranged in advance for the Workation to be successful. Determining the destination, duration, accommodation and transportation as well as clarifying the legal aspects: Workation planning entails a lot of work. In many cases, this effort falls on the HR department. Alternatively, the planning work can be distributed amongst different departments and employees in order to lessen the workload for everyone.
Having a clear structure for Workation planning
Before a company can get stuck into planning a Workation, the conditions for the Ocean Office should be defined. As a general rule, a company should already have a strong remote work policy in place for the Workation to run smoothly. On this basis, Workation arrangements can be added to the already existing agreements. This is especially important if only a part of the employees participate in the Workation and the rest continues to work from their home country. To save time and resources, it should be the aim of the management and HR department to establish standardized regulations across the company.
In order for all legal and administratory aspects to be in place, there should be a deadline for employees to announce their Workation to managers and HR personnel. This deadline can be different from company to company. However, there should at least be two weeks between the beginning of the journey and the announcement. During this period, colleagues can also be informed about the upcoming Workation of their coworkers.
When it comes to working hours, a wide variety of arrangements can be agreed upon, depending on the wishes of the employees and their supervisors. A Team-Workation could look like this:
- Working hours stay the same over the duration of the Workation. So, for example, eight hours of work per day for a full-time position. Management may offer the team a more flexible time model for the duration of the Workation, so that coworkers have more time to enjoy the Ocean Office.
- Alternatively, employees could also reduce their working hours for the duration of the Workation. Ideally, coworkers find activities that they enjoy doing together, so the free time can also double as a team building activity. If the stay lasts longer, employees may choose to alternate between one week of normal working hours and a week of time off.
Seperating work time from vacation time already begins at the start of the trip. Companies must determine whether the travel time or working on the plane falls under working time. What happens if employees miss work because of cancelled flights, time differences or poor internet connections? The answers to these questions must be clearly communicated before the team embarks on their Workation.
Employees need to know when they need to be available for questions, check-ins, and meetings. Are there fixed business hours? If so, does the Workation employee have to be available during these hours? And does it matter if people don’t respond to e-mails as quickly as usual? Of course, this is also closely tied to the working hour agreements.
When it comes to accessibility, possible time zone differences need to be taken into consideration. This may not be a big problem in Europe. However, if the travel destination is further away, meetings and deadlines may not be kept. For a relaxed and stress-free Workation, it may be sensible to choose a time zone that is the same or similar to that of the team at home.
Equipment, accomodation and coworking spaces
A great deal of Workationeers is operating remotely. Therefore, they may already be equipped with the right technology and tools. However, whether the chosen accommodation also has the necessary equipment to make the trip worthwhile, is a different question.
The chosen accommodation should have access to a stable internet connection. Regular Wi-Fi reaches already faces challenges when more than five video calls are happening at the same time. To ensure that the Internet at the accommodation is satisfactory, it could be clever to ask the landlord for details, for example by carrying out a speed test. As a general rule, for the connection to work smoothly, 20mb bandwidth per employee is advisable. However, if several employees are using the bandwidth, 40mb is a safer bet. In addition to the Internet, the accommodation needs desks, ergonomic seating, good lighting and, if required, printers, tablets, etc.However, for productive work, employees may also need post-its, notepads, pens, headphones, or certain documents. Whether these are provided by the accommodation or brought along by the employees, has to be clarified individually.
In addition, data protection should also be taken into consideration. Is the Wi-Fi connection in the accommodation, the coworking space or the café next door secure? For your own Wi-Fi, this can be determined with the help of a network check. However, this is not allowed when working with someone else’s network. Devices can be encrypted via VPN clients and thus at least protect the privacy in the direct environment. Offers from leading VPN providers like NordVPN or Surfshark can be easily installed on the device. However, since malware can also be transmitted by others when surfing on the same Wi-Fi, it is recommended to have a virus scanner and firewall installed on every device.
And how should employees deal with technical problems in a different country? Ideally, an employee from the IT department will also take part in the Workation to provide direct assistance if technical difficulties arise. However, this is not always possible. In order to avoid technical pitfalls, the latest version of the software, including the necessary updates, should be installed on the work devices before the start of the trip.
The chosen accommodation is noisy, dark, or simply not equipped with the necessary tools needed for a successful Workation? In major cities, but also in smaller places, coworking spaces allow you to work with your team in a productive manner. The environment is not only specifically tailored to the need of employees, but offers a clear distinction from time off.
For travelers who enjoy cooling off in the ocean during breaks, or brainstorm better with a cocktail or two, there are also plenty of coworking spaces that include a beach, pool or bar. The Surf Office is a chain of coworking spaces that offer their accommodations in many locations within Europe and the USA. These include popular vacation spots such as Gran Canaria or Lisbon. This form of coworking is also popular in Asia, and is offered in at the Kohub Thailand, for example.
Also, working in temperatures of 90 °F or more takes a toll on the employees as well as the work output. Laptops and smartphones also overheat when the temperatures are too high. When choosing an accommodation or a coworking space, organizers should make sure that air-conditioning is available.
Laws and regulations
Labor regulations are different in almost every country. What applies within the EU, may be different in other countries, like the US. Companies should make sure that they are aware of maximum working hours, worker protection, registration requirements, work permits, business premises, taxes, medical care, and insurance before sending teams on a joint vacation.
To manage labor issues better, Workations should be temporary. The longer employees work abroad, the more difficult the labor and tax situations become. The basic regulations look as follows:
- Labor law: Before embarking on a Workation, employees need the permission of their employer as well as a legal visa from the destination country. As a result of the pandemic, various popular travel destinations are offering remote work visas, specifically catered to people on Workation.
- Insurance: Within the EU, insurance law remains valid for regular work stays. If you decide to travel outside the EU, the insurance situation depends on the agreement between your country and the destination. If in doubt, it is always worth investing in travel insurance since health insurance alone may not cover every risk involved in travel. The additional cost for health insurance depends on the duration it is booked for. In most cases, the cheapest way are annual policies, which average 10-20 euros per person per year and cover all trips within that time period.
The rules around Workation should be recorded in writing and be available to every employee. The document can be gathered in a separate section of the company’s internal Notion account, for example.
Who’s doing it right?
So, companies need to invest a lot of time and resources to make the Ocean Office work. But what are the first-hand experiences? And are there positive outcomes that companies experienced that actively offer Workations?
The answer is yes! The Austrian startup, Storyclash, has made remote work an everyday part of their work. Since February 2021, the company is also offering employees the opportunity to go on Workations. They can travel for up to two months a year, and employees are supported by the company with access to coworking spaces. The most important thing for the company is to support the work-life balance of its employees and offer them the opportunity to travel more.
Workations are also well received at the booking platform Holidu. The company has already been operating remotely since the pandemic, so combining work and travel was the next logical step. Since the team employs people from around 40 different nations, Holidu also has numerous offices throughout Europe where employees can work together.
The company has found their personal solution for efficiently managing Workations. Currently, employees must attend the office 1-2 days per week. However, these days can be missed eight times a year. “In order to quickly provide employees and companies with clarity about what is possible and permitted, standardized processes should be set up and guidelines defined,” says Cora Graßhoff, HR Manager at Holidu. Presence quotas such as this are a step in the right direction, but they don’t have to be the solution for every company. Remote work is the future. If their position allows for it, employees should be able to work in a complete remote setting if they so desire.
Workation as a team building opportunity
Whether a company is operating remotely or not, to strengthen a team in the long run, shared experiences separate from work are essential. In addition to conferences, day trips, and conventional team building events, Workations have emerged as an attractive way to strengthen the team spirit. Hiking trips, joint cooking sessions, or a game night – the informal atmosphere of a Workation lays the foundation to improve relationships between colleagues. Workshops and targeted team building activities also work extremely well at the Ocean Office.
- Living and working together: Holding meetings in person can create a whole new framework for ideas and foster collaboration. Once the Workation is over, the connection continues online.
- During the Workation, the team gets to know each other not only on a professional but also on a private level. This strengthens the emotional connection within the team and unites the common vision. As a result, colleagues work together more efficiently.
- Communication: Colleagues that know each other can communicate better. This way, it is easier to address problems and make necessary decisions. The interlocutors feel safe and valued in their opinion, which helps the company to further develop.
- Team culture: Face-to-face contact is highly valuable for a team to grow together. Colleagues should have the opportunity to spend time with each other at least once a year. By choosing the Workation model, the team can develop the relationships that already exist from online interactions and work out possible conflicts.
Although there are stumbling blocks to the Workation trend, having your own Ocean Office can be a win-win situation for both employees and employers. Good planning and communication can significantly improve employee satisfaction, team cohesion and productivity. In addition, companies that jump onto the Workation trend now position themselves more prominently in the labor market and attract the best talent.