Remote work fuels another new trend: “working holidays”
There remains an unanswered question in the age of remote work: what happens to company culture when employees never meet in person? As we enter the third year of the pandemic, some workers have started new jobs and have never met a single IRL colleague. This strange new reality has sparked a recent New york Time trending article. Authors Kellen Browning and Erin Griffith wrote, “The phenomenon of job-hoppers who have not physically met their colleagues illustrates how emotional and personal attachments to jobs can crumble. This has contributed to a laid-back attitude towards workplaces and created uncertainty among employers about how to retain people they barely know.
The specter of employees quitting over these loose ties to a remote workplace is precisely what CEOs and senior executives dread and is one of the reasons many believe permanent remote work is not Not possible. Some companies are rushing back to the office, and a big reason is the difficulty of maintaining corporate culture in a Zoom-only world. As the Omicron variant once again marred return-to-office plans, company retreats sometimes became the only way for employees to meet in person. Companies have also used team-building retreats in the past, but in the past two years of the pandemic, meetings in exotic locations have become more important.
And for employees who can work anywhere, there has been a broader and growing trend of “working holidays” (or “workations”) that mix business and leisure. Working holidays and bleisure travel were already emerging before the pandemic, as was remote and hybrid working. But the pandemic has made it the only option for many businesses that have found themselves without an office. In the first year of the pandemic, workers who were constantly hunkered down at home working long hours sought a change of scenery. The increase in short-term rentals is proof of this. Whether with a spouse or a group and friends, employees who could work from anywhere did just that, bringing laptops to resorts in Florida or cottages in the Finger Lakes. from New York.
Recent survey data from Airbnb reveals that people with remote work capabilities are actively booking longer stays (trips longer than two weeks). And for leaders worried about the erosion of workplace culture, corporate retreats have become an important business trip. Eric Hrubant, owner and president of CIRE Travel, a concierge-style travel agency specializing in business and leisure travel planning, said companies saved a lot of money on travel in 2020, but they had spent more in 2021 on “closed-door meetings” which encouraged team cohesion. “If everyone is working remotely, many companies still want to have that face-to-face interaction and they want to do it in a more relaxed atmosphere,” Hrubant said. “Lately, we’ve been planning more ‘all hands’ corporate meetings in places like the Caribbean and Florida.”
The hard-hit hospitality and tourism industries have noticed the changes in business travel and have responded accordingly. For example, Hyatt launched a “Work from Hyatt” extended stay package at 90 hotels in North America and the Caribbean. Tourists to Barbados can apply for a “Welcome Stamp” visa to work remotely from the island for up to one year. This type of digital nomad journey seemed limited to social media influencers until recently. But now that about 45% of Americans work remotely full-time or at least part-time, according to a recent Gallup poll, working from literally anywhere is a real possibility for many. Nicole Nichols, research director at a consulting firm, Recount Restlessness that she and her husband left Boston over the summer for a week’s working vacation with another couple in the Berkshires. “It was basically an elevated work-from-home experience,” Nichols said.
Hrubant said he’s noticed businesses have become much more relaxed in allowing employees to work from anywhere since the pandemic. “Most companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, are extremely flexible with their staff,” he said. “For example, my chief marketing employee asked if she could work from Mexico in February. So she and her husband rented a small hacienda and they’re only going away for a few days, basically to work from Mexico for a month. So, every night after work, they’ll have a little margarita and sit in the pool.
As companies eagerly await a return to the office, taking advantage of these types of flexible working holidays has several advantages. Companies can send workers to luxury resorts to get away from dirty laundry and the pressures of home and do more focused work. As long as employees are available for calls and meeting deadlines, moving away to a new location can do wonders for recharging their batteries.
Forced vacations are especially important for workers in places like North America, where our workaholic lifestyles lead to burnout. Employees in Germany and Canada get an average of 29 days of PTO per year, and workers in the UK get an average of 28 days. In the United States, we pale in comparison to a paltry average of 10 PTO days each year. The United States has no minimum federally mandated vacation days, leaving employers to set their own policies. And even when Americans have paid time off, we don’t take it all. Only 53% of American workers emptied their PTO bank in 2017, according to a survey by Kimble, a software company focused on professional services automation. The main reasons given by people for not taking vacations were feeling pressured by management not to take time off, feeling they couldn’t afford to travel, not wanting to be late for work and feeling overwhelmed by deadlines.
However, not everyone thinks the idea of a working holiday is a good one. Remote work has already blurred the lines between work/life balance, leaving some wondering if they’re working from home or living at work. The average duration of employees working from home in the UK, Austria, Canada and the US has increased by two hours a day since the start of the pandemic, according to data from business support company NordVPN, as many remote workers log off their computers at 8 p.m. Opponents of working holidays say it only prolongs the trend of burnout even further.
After all, it’s a holiday or not, and a working holiday is a bit of an oxymoron. If you’re working, it’s not a vacation. “There’s obviously nothing wrong with working remotely in nicer places, especially if you can afford it,” James Dennin writes in Microphone. “But the fact that workers are so short of vacation that ‘work’ might be an interesting compromise? This is a sad and frankly disturbing sign of our time. Add to the fact that many American workers, at least, are already working or checking their emails on vacation. According to a 2017 survey by Travel Leaders Group, about 62% of Americans admitted to checking their work email or voicemail while on vacation.
Working holidays have their pros and cons, and in America it’s probably more evidence of our addiction to work. But all is not bad. For CEOs and executives, team building activities at remote resorts where employees can bring their families or a plus one are great ways to solidify company culture while offices remain idle or barely busy. The idea of a working holiday may sound dreadful to some, but it could be that with flexible and hybrid working becoming the new norm, the balance between work and life continues to fade. Employees certainly need time to disconnect, but maybe the idea of blending work and personal life into a more messy harmony isn’t so bad. Whenever we return to the office, it will likely be with a more fluid schedule where not everyone is always on deck. Companies that want to build better cultures in these changing times should probably come to terms with the idea that oddities like working holidays for remote employees who never meet their colleagues in person might be odd enough to work with.