HR Dive into the Pros and Cons of Workations

WORKATIONS PROS AND CONSWe have all seen them splashed across LinkedIn. The jealousy-inducing photos of someone’s beachside work setup, accompanied by a smug caption about their amazing workplace allowing them to work anywhere. Workations (sometimes written Workcation) seem to be the new trend in engaging and retaining those who want adventure but also a steady income. Sounds great right?!

In this HR blast we will dive (pool pun not intended!) into the benefits, pitfalls and serious considerations if you are thinking of implementing a workation policy into your company.

First things first, the elephant in the room…

What on earth is a workation?

A workation is exactly what is sounds like, a combination of work and a vacation.

However, it means different things to different people, and if you are considering implementing a new workation policy the key is to figure out exactly what that means to you and your organisation.

It could be a week tacked onto the end of an existing holiday giving your employee the chance to work on the beach, and take those all important social media snaps. Or it could be four months away in a foreign country soaking up the culture of somewhere new during the evenings, while keeping up with their normal schedule during the day. Ultimately how you define a workation is up to you as an organisation but define it you must if you are to be able to manage going forwards.

Why are workations the latest trend?

Now let’s be clear, before we become the fun police and talk practicalities, there are many situations where the concept of a workation is perfect. For example, one of our Jaluch team members recently returned to her home country to visit her parents for a few weeks, having barely been home during the pandemic. She took a week’s workation at the end of her two-week holiday so she could spend time with family in the evening, but keep up with her work commitments during the day. A picture perfect workation situation.

But whilst our employee went to stay with relatives in a known place with space to work and good Wi-Fi, what happens if your team member travelling to an ‘unknown’ place gets to their hotel and there is no decent Wi-Fi, the desk to work from is something jammed up against a bed with no proper chair to sit on or their laptop is lost along with their luggage? Or, where every manager’s thoughts have immediately focussed… what if there is lots of ‘cation’ and not so much ‘work’? One too many mai-tai’s can make even the most focussed minds wander!  That’s where a perfectly crafted policy comes in.

Are workations something we want to offer, and to who?

In this post-pandemic world flexibility seems to be the hot topic in engagement and retention. Only recently Spotify launched their ‘work from anywhere’ policy, closely followed by Airbnb, leading to a reported huge increase in applicants to their vacancies.

At first glance a workation is the perfect solution to fill this gap for those travel-deprived employees who want to globetrot without a full commitment to remote working, but we all know what works for one does not work for all. An employee with incredible work ethic may approach a workation in the Bahamas very differently to someone else who is less than focussed even when in the office.

How can you manage their requests fairly without discriminating, and do you only offer workations to those who can work remotely? What about your internal teams who need to be in the office? Do you allow unlimited workcations or a set number? Will a flexible working request for reduced hours combined with a workation be a step too far? So many things to consider but perhaps the answer is no workations at all?

In our motivating, engaging and retaining course for managers we often talk about how motivating your team is step one of good management practise. Good levels of motivation will go a long way to ensuring the team deliver good outputs, high quality of work, etc.

But go one step beyond motivation in order to also ‘engage’ your team members (i.e. create an emotional connection between employee and employer/team) and you will be closer to membership of the management and leadership skills 1% club 😊. Engaged staff aren’t just motivated, hardworking and diligent as their ‘connection’ to the business tends to make them loyal too. And perhaps a policy allowing workations will help create that emotional connection necessary for engagement and so support your recruitment and most critically, retention, of great people?

The legal bit: planning for workations

Who you offer your workcation scheme to is only part of the consideration.

Before waving your worker off on their way consider also:

  • Policy/Procedure – As the saying goes in the HR world… Get it in writing! A written agreement between yourselves and your employee will help with any ambiguity and crossed wires. Don’t forget to have your Jaluch consultant check your contract and policies, revisions may be needed around working outside the UK, travelling on business, working in different time zones, attendance at meetings, data protection, caring for company property, insurance requirements etc. Docs Wizard members can download a workation policy as part of their premium membership.
  • Cyber Security – Logging onto questionable Wi-Fi can send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened IT and/or data protection professional. Consider if your company devices have the appropriate level of protection (and your staff have been GDPR trained!) before embarking on a workation spree.
  • Tax – Check the requirements in the proposed workation country to make sure your employee isn’t going to fall into any double tax pitfalls. Not really your responsibility but just flagging to the employee the need to check such things ensures you have no legal exposure here.
  • Insurance Liability – Now this one is pretty critical. Does your business’s insurance cover foreign working and travel? Would they interpret a permitted workation as foreign working and travel on business? Make sure you take legal advice before allowing your employees to galivant around the globe, you never know what is missing from your insurance policy until you need it.
  • Technology – Be clear in the agreements and policies who will be responsible for lost, stolen or damaged tech whilst travelling. Who could have predicted your employee dropping their company phone in the sea while snorkelling would be a real HR issue of the future to contend with.
  • Data Protection – Don’t ignore any data protection issues when your organisation’s data may be leaving the UK for extended periods of time. With a quick google anyone can break into a secure hotel ‘safe’, your company data and IP should be at the forefront of your concerns.
  • Health and Safety – Regardless of their location it is the company’s legal responsibility to ensure a safe and secure working environment for the employee. If it’s all too complicated, are you going to skip the requirement to a do a home/remote working assessment of fire procedures, office trip hazards etc? We’re not sure most deckchairs would pass a DSE assessment anyway. If your H&S paper trail ends at UK borders, what legal exposure do you have?

Enough of the legal stuff for now. Let’s focus on what really matters to managers! How can you trust that your worker is going to execute the same level of output as they do in their normal working environment?

It all comes down to accountability.

At Jaluch we have written about accountability before and regularly deliver training on the topic but so often it is at the crux of how to make an organisation cohesively work, and once again here it crops up. In a fully accountable working culture (truly a rarity!) your team relies heavily on each other. They hold each other and themselves to account and trust in each other’s honesty, integrity, and clear boundaries. All this of course can only work if management instructions are clear as to what is required, quality of output expected, timing of delivery etc

As much as it is you as the company’s responsibility to ensure a watertight workation policy and appropriate documentation, it is as much the responsibility of your team member to decide if a workation situation is the right environment for them to do their best work.

We all love a holiday but consider also the practicalities of working and the distractions such as:

  • intense heat/cold
  • screen glare
  • sand in your keyboard
  • all-inclusive alcohol
  • sketchy Wi-Fi
  • time zones
  • lack of privacy when dealing with sensitive information
  • distractions from friends and family

Not to mention the overwhelming urges to eat gelato, jump in a swimming pool, or go camel riding, might all sway your accountable employee not to enter the realms of temptation.

A few ‘what happens’ scenarios…

  • What happens when your employee is sick on their workation but has no access to a GP so is unable to provide a fit note?
  • What happens halfway through a workation when you pull the plug as clearly it has become more ‘cation’ than ‘work’?
  • What happens when a laptop is stolen and your employee is unable to work for the 7 days it takes to get a new lap top out to the
  • What happens to your no drinking whilst at work policy?
  • Will workations undermine your dress code at work policy or your attendance and time keeping policies?
  • What happens if you have someone who requests three x 8 week workations in one year, will that be harder to agree to than one x two month holiday requested by a different employee?
  • If you turn any requests down, will you be accused of some sort of discrimination if you have agreed to someone else’s workation?
  • What if this becomes the ‘slippery slope’ to so much more, easement of procedures, 4-day week, flexi start and finish times, cameras off at all meetings etc?

To protect the business:

  • Create a policy and publish it so there is a level playing field for all staff
  • Train your managers so they understand the policy and are confident to respond to any requests
  • Ensure you discuss any requests for workations at length with your employee and capture it all in writing
  • Follow up any discussions/agreement with a clear contractual letter that is then held on file
  • Be prepared to manage the situation and if necessary to end any agreements that are not working

We would all love to be working in the Caribbean or on some incredible Polynesian Island but if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right so as not to store up hangover headaches for ourselves and our businesses in a few months’ time when it doesn’t all turn out quite as we expected.

Don’t let the paperwork draft you down. Here’s how Jaluch can support on a ‘no contract required’ basis:

We’d love to talk to you about what we do and of course, most importantly, how we do it….plain English, no jargon, great customer service, always fair pricing.

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