Workations: A Path Towards Sustainable Employment?

Erin Brandt, Contributor.

Workations as a concept are nothing new. Employees, executives and business owners brought paperwork with them on holiday and maintained remote contact with the office long before we entered the Digital Age. Even the term itself has gone mainstream, as evidenced by its inclusion in the online Urban Dictionary and articles in the Globe and Mail.

Definitions vary, but the two main (and contradictory) understandings of workation seem to be:

  • A vacation in which you bring your work with you and stay connected, digitally or otherwise, to the workplace.
  • Something similar to a staycation, but instead of taking time off and staying home, the person reports to work and goofs off, e.g.by online shopping.

The first definition suggests a work-life balance fail, where rather than taking a true break, employees stay constantly engaged with the workplace. The second is a similar fail, but for opposite (and obvious) reasons.

Is there a middle ground, where a worker blends work and travel for the mutual benefit of employer and employee? We think so – in fact, workations may be one way to help build sustainable employment relationships.

Mutually Beneficial Workations

As we’ve explained elsewhere, a sustainable employment relationship depends on several key factors, including reciprocity, respect, and transparency. With that in mind, here are four tips for creating a mutually beneficial workation:

  1. Communicate clearly and transparently. It’s important to have a direct, open discussion with your employee about your expectations for what and how much work she will do while she is away. You might do this on a one-off basis, or by creating a company-wide policy with your staff’s input.
  1. Collaborate Both you and your employee need to consider and agree on things like cost sharing (i.e. travel, meals, accommodations) and his availability and accessibility during the workation.
  1. Be creative and flexible. Workations can take many forms. An employer might extend an employee’s vacation period with the understanding that the employee spend some of her time away working. Perhaps an out-of-town conference or trade show can be combined with sightseeing or other leisure activities? Or, an office retreat could be expanded to include opportunities for non-work team-building activities.
  1. Set and respect reasonable boundaries. Once you have both agreed on parameters for the workation, you need to stick to them. Like most aspects of a successful working relationship, this responsibility is mutual – just as you will expect your employee to be available to you at certain times while he is out of the office, he has an equal expectation of freedom on the terms you discussed before he left town.

Other Things to Consider

For those of you considering incorporating workations into your company culture, here’s a quick list of additional pros and cons to add to the mix:

Pros

  1. Workplace flexibility, in the form of workations or otherwise, can be a creative way to attract talent.
  2. A workation has the potential to increase engagement as it can help inject some fun and adventure into an employee’s daily work routine.
  3. An employee can take an extended absence from the office environment without the risk of becoming disconnected from his workplace or colleagues.

Cons

  1. Workations will likely not afford employees adequate time to completely refresh and recharge – as such, they should not be seen as a replacement for vacations.
  2. Unforeseen work demands could interfere with the “-ation” aspect of an employee’s trip. Employers need to consider how to deal with the unexpected.
  3. If the workation location is too remote, this could affect the employee’s ability to stay digitally connected. While this may seem obvious, it’s crucial to address “nuts and bolts” issues like wifi and cell coverage before the employee hits the road.

Have questions about workations or want to learn other ways to increase workplace flexibility? Contact us!

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