Workcations: The travel trend mixing work and play

Of course, there may well be some people who prefer to commit fully to either work or play, rather than combine the two activities. Rachel Fu, professor of tourism, hospitality and event management at the University of Florida, US, says that whether people enjoy the workcation experience will depend on “a variety of individual personalities and behavioural choices”; some may feel they are only on holiday if they are totally unplugged from work, for example.

But Fu suspects that many white-collar workers have developed the skills needed to pull off workcations during the pandemic. “Our behaviours have been forced to change,” she says. “Home is school, home is where we work. We have all been trained to switch: ‘OK, now we have a Zoom meeting’. I think after the past two years, we can switch from one thing to the next very effectively.”

That doesn’t mean that workcations should replace actual holidays, however. People need time away from work; workcations should complement paid time off, rather than serving as a substitute – otherwise, risk of work-related stress and burnout could increase. An Expedia survey released in February showed that while 78% of Americans aim to feel ‘unproductive’ during holiday, half bring their laptops and 41% dial into Zoom calls. Many are not happy about it: 61% of respondents said they didn’t consider trips which combined work and play to be proper holidays. This suggests that many people still value work-free vacations, but struggle to pull them off.

Workcations also raise equity issues, even after the pandemic further recedes; not everyone can work remotely or afford a week in rented accommodation. Increased workcations or bleisure “could actually create more of a divide in organisations between people who have location-specific jobs, and people who don’t”, warns Maznevski.

But she says the trend could also give people opportunities they might otherwise not get; whether that’s adding an extra day to a business trip to explore a city you never imagined visiting or boosting mental wellbeing through a week in a natural environment even though you’ve used all your paid holiday allocation.

Manage your expectations

Given the level of interest from workers now accustomed to staying productive in multiple environments, workcations look like a practice that’s here to stay. “As long as you deliver, many companies don’t care [where you’re working from],” says Fu. Accommodating workers will be in companies’ interests; it’s already clear that flexibility will be key to worker retention moving forwards, especially as the new generation of workers, in particular, value the ability to work from anywhere. According to a January 2022 survey conducted by Kayak and YouGov, 38% of Canadian Gen Z workers plan to take a workcation in 2022, Kayak tells BBC Worklife; a higher percentage than older cohorts.

Both Bhaia and Drane are planning on taking more workcations. In fact, Bhaia has already been on another 20-day workcation and has a new one planned for March. She points out that would-be workcationers need to go into their trip with realistic ambitions.

“You can’t go into a workcation expecting the rest and relaxation you get from a regular getaway,” she says. “Expect to be busy if you want to explore your surroundings while managing work at the same time.” She recommends planning ahead, taking longer stays to accommodate enough time for both work and play, and if you’re going with travelling partners, pick people who have the same goals as you. “Vacationers and workcationers don’t mix,” she cautions.

Drane says he used to think that the professional and the personal should be kept separate. But when changes to how we worked during the pandemic allowed him to combine doing his job with spending important time with his family in a rural environment, he became a workcation believer. “The beauty for me of the workcation,” he says, was that he was able to fulfil professional duties “whilst allowing me to spend meaningful time with my family”.

He’s booked his next workcation back to the Lake District for October, and says both he and his staff will continue to benefit from this new flexibility. “In the past, people often had to wait until retirement to do the things they’d dreamed of,” he says. “That’s no longer necessarily true, and I plan to take advantage of that.”