The work-from-anywhere perk is evolving apace. So-called workcations are set to become increasingly popular, but how can employers ensure that these alleviate, rather than fuel, burnout?
Photos of laptops perched on beaches and mountainsides are popping up all over people’s LinkedIn feeds, illustrating how working from anywhere (WFA) is fast becoming a signature benefit of the new world of employment.
The number of adverts for jobs offering remote work on LinkedIn and Indeed in the UK increased by 329% between January 2020 and March 2022, while the number of related searches leapt by 790% over the same period.
In the first quarter of 2022, remote tax consultancy The Work From Anywhere Team published a survey of firms employing more than 2.7 million people around the world. It found that 54% of respondents allowed WFA and a similar percentage believed that this facility would become a core employee benefit in their industries within a decade. Half of those operating such a policy allowed staff to work from anywhere for more than 60 days a year.
Adapting to the digital-nomad lifestyle
Ecosia is a Berlin-based green search engine that allows its employees to work from anywhere for up to six months each year, although it encourages people to avoid flying wherever possible. Meanwhile, Pleo, a Copenhagen-based fintech unicorn specialising in expenses management, lets its staff work from anywhere indefinitely. Its flexible benefits programme even enables employees to buy an extra 10 days of annual leave.
Ecosia’s chief marketing officer is Hannah Wickes, an Australian who’s planning to work in Scotland and Portugal for the next two months. She sees the allowance as a way of rewarding people who may have been barred by Covid travel restrictions from visiting relatives and friends overseas for the best part of two years.
“This approach means that employees often want to combine their annual leave with a workcation and make the most of their travel time,” she says. “It’s not uncommon for team members to spend up to two months a year taking advantage of our flexible policy.”
Pleo’s “people person”, Jessie Danyi, is “living and working around the world, one continent at a time”. Having spent from April to July this year in Morocco, the South African is currently visiting relatives in Hungary. Her plan is to return to Africa after a month and spend six weeks on the coast of Kenya.
Although the carefully curated LinkedIn posts glamorise the digital-nomad lifestyle, anyone seeking a workcation will need to consider the more mundane realities of WFA. For instance, employees at Ecosia must first run their travel plans past their colleagues, particularly if they’re going to be in different time zones.
Numerous practical challenges might deter would-be travellers. Danyi acknowledges that it can take a lot of effort to sort out visas, travel arrangements and suitably equipped accommodation. Finding a decent Wi-Fi connection takes priority over admiring the scenery, for instance. What’s more, you are actually working – meaning that you’re unlikely to get as much time to explore as you might have hoped. Not having a base or a local friendship network can also be exhausting, she admits.
“Travelling with work brings trade-offs on how adventurous you can be,” Danyi says. “If you’re working full time, that leaves mornings, evenings and weekends, of course. Sometimes, if you’ve had a busy week, you just want to watch Netflix and catch up on your sleep. Or maybe you need to drive to the nearest city to buy an ethernet cable because your Zoom calls are lagging, so you end up using your weekend for admin.”
While she was in Morocco, Danyi was able to gain a deeper appreciation of the country’s culture, while also finding enough time for some surfing. Overall, she believes that the rewards of her experience there outweighed any downsides.
Striking the right balance
Workcations might also be the only method by which self-employed people, especially entrepreneurs starting a new business, can get away. Rachel Allison, who founded communications agency Axe & Saw in London in March 2021, recently spent a fortnight working from an Airbnb in Porto, where she enjoyed the local cuisine and also went surfing.
Allison admits that it was tricky to get the balance right initially. But, once she managed to “nail it”, she reaped the benefits.
“In the first week, I was putting in my normal hours – on Zoom calls all morning, during lunchtime and even at 5pm. That left me feeling frustrated and frazzled,” Allison admits. “But I was keen to make things work. I became aware that usually there’s not so much going on from Monday to Wednesday, so those were the times to get my head down. Once I’d cracked that, my productivity rocketed.”
Is a workcation an adequate replacement for annual leave? Not for Allison, who says that her time in Portugal “allowed me a rest during an extremely busy period for my business, which is still new. But a proper holiday would undoubtedly still be the most effective way to recharge.”
Danyi believes that firms embracing WFA will see more of their employees adopting a partial digital-nomad lifestyle that follows the seasons. Brazilian entrepreneur Marcos Carvalho agrees, predicting that more people will become autonomous workers in decentralised companies, giving themselves more time to pursue their passions.
If travel is one of these and you also have young children, how to care for them properly while you’re working abroad adds to the list of challenges. Carvalho co-founded Boundless Life in September 2021 to address that very issue. His business offers accommodation, childcare/education and co-working spaces in countries including Portugal, Greece and Italy.
While Boundless Life does attract corporate nine-to-fivers, it’s built a significant following among self-employed people and entrepreneurs who share Allison’s discomfort about leaving their nascent businesses unattended for long.
“Being with us helps them to feel they’re in the right place to achieve a better balance with their families, while giving them more creativity to direct towards their work,” Carvalho says. “That’s why entrepreneurs are attracted to this lifestyle.”
While he is comfortable with the fact that his own lifestyle regularly blurs work and leisure travel, Wickes, Danyi and Allison are all conscious that a workcation could do the opposite of its intended purpose and actually increase the risk of burnout.
It’s therefore crucial to establish strict work/life boundaries while taking one, according to Rowena Hennigan, an Irish national who runs her training and coaching business, RoRemote, from Zaragoza in north-east Spain.
“Exhibiting self-discipline in your work, downtime and wellbeing matters even more in this context,” she stresses. “To avoid the fear of missing out, you need to know when you’re working and when you’re actually experiencing the location you’ve travelled to.”
Hennigan believes that unrealistic expectations and blurred boundaries will inevitably cause tension, making the experience unbalanced and, ultimately, counterproductive. Being clear about when you’re an employee and when you’re a traveller, she recommends, is the key to getting the maximum mileage from a workcation.