What is a workcation? (And when should you take one?)

Whitney Vige headshotWhitney Vige25 maggio 20229 minuti di lettura
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Summary

Workcations are a work and travel trend that combine working and taking a vacation. They’re on the rise, thanks in a large part to the increased location flexibility and rising worker burnout. Taking a workcation might be just what you need to destress, recharge, and get motivated—as long as you plan it the right way.  

You’ve probably been there: at the end of a vacation, packing up your things and wishing you could stay a little longer—if only you didn’t have to get back to the office. Before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of remote work, the idea of checking off to-dos in an exotic locale might have seemed impossible. But now, it’s an up-and-coming work trend that many people are taking advantage of. 

These on-the-clock getaways are “workcations,” a trend that combines work with play. And they’re on the rise—in 2021, 74% of Americans working from home said they’d consider taking a workcation, according to Harris poll data reported by Axios.

Combining work and leisure isn’t new; workers have often tacked on a few fun days to the end of conferences (a practice known as “bleisure”) or invited their partners to tag along on work trips. But the rise of remote work, increased location flexibility, and skyrocketing burnout has taken the practice to a different level. 

What is a workcation? 

Like the name suggests, a workcation is a “working vacation.” Workcations combine the travel of traditional vacations with remote work. Basically, you’re on the clock, but instead of working from your couch at home or in the office, you might be on the beach or in the mountains. 

Here’s what a workcation isn’t:

  • A vacation. Unlike a traditional vacation, which requires time off and allows you to fully log-off, workcations don’t require that you take PTO—but they do require you to work. On a workcation, you’re still expected to hit deadlines, answer emails, and attend meetings (you’ll just do it with a lot better scenery). 

  • Bleisure travel. Bleisure travel combines business and leisure travel, such as extending a business trip by a few days to sightsee or relax. While bleisure doesn’t always require you to take PTO, you’ll likely need to log a few days off if your work trip doesn’t line up with a weekend. Plus, bleisure travel isn’t as flexible as a workcation, since you’re limited to the location of the work conference. 

  • A mental health day. A mental health day is a day you take off specifically to relax and recharge, and is a great use of one-off PTO days. 

  • A sabbatical. Sabbatical leave is a lengthy period of leave, usually taken for personal or professional development purposes. Sabbaticals are typically 12 weeks long, but timing and eligibility will depend on your company. 

Make no mistake—workcations aren’t a substitute for a traditional vacation (or other types of PTO). In order to really recharge, you still need time to totally disconnect from work, and only taking workcations can be counterproductive and exacerbate burnout. This is especially true given that Americans often end up with unused vacation days, meaning if you’re taking workcations but not full vacations, you’re probably not resting and recharging enough. 

Don’t think of workcations as a replacement for vacations; instead, consider them another tool in your arsenal of strategies to combat burnout. Keep reading to learn when you should take a workcation and when you should fully disconnect.

The “whys” behind the rise of the workcation 

Workcations aren’t an entirely new concept, and they certainly existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Their earliest uptick in popularity can be traced to 2011, when a July segment on the Today Show led to a jump in coverage. But it was the pandemic that catapulted the concept to the forefront of work trends. 

In fact, according to Google Trends, interest in “workcation” as a search team began trending up around October 2020, approximately six months after companies across the country shuttered their offices in response to increasing COVID cases. Recent think pieces from sources like The Atlantic (which describes workcations as a “practice” rather than an “escape”) signify the enduring nature of the trend.  

So, what is it about the pandemic that drove a rise in interest in working vacations? The answer is a combination of factors, including the increase in remote work and work flexibility, as well as the rise in burnout across industries. 

The pandemic-fueled rise in remote work and location flexibility

It’s no secret—the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed how we work. According to 2020 data from Gallup, only about 8% of remote-capable workers worked exclusively from home before the pandemic, compared to 70% in May 2020, during the height of the U.S.’s first COVID outbreaks. And the focus on remote work has remained strong despite changes in case levels; in February 2022, Gallup reported that 39% of remote-capable employees work exclusively from home (and 42% have a hybrid schedule). 

According to data from Gallup, the percentage of American employees working remotely doubled in the weeks between mid-March 2020 and early April 2020.

The pandemic fueled more than a rise in remote work—it also increased the demand for location flexibility. Recent reports have found that workers want location and time flexibility so strongly that they’re willing to leave their roles for it. Gallup’s survey of more than 140,000 U.S. employees found that 54% of remote-only employees would look for another job if their company stopped offering remote options.

Mounting burnout among Americans 

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just change where we work—it changed how we feel about that work. According to Asana’s 2021 Anatomy of Work Index, the working world faced troubling trends during the height of the pandemic and correlating work shifts, including a rise in overwork and burnout. The study found that globally, 87% of employees worked late, and 71% of all knowledge workers experienced burnout in 2020 (burnout was highest in the U.S., with 91% of knowledge workers experiencing the condition). 

Nine out of 10 knowledge workers in the U.S. experienced burnout in 2020. 

While decreasing case numbers and overall worker adjustment has lessened pandemic-driven burnout, the condition is still prevalent. Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work Index called burnout a “pervasive issue for knowledge workers” and found that almost one in four workers experience burnout four or more times per year. 

Between the dramatic shift to remote-focused work, the rising desire for location flexibility, and mounting burnout, it makes sense that workers would be drawn to trends that let them capitalize on the new way of working and provide them with the opportunity to recharge in a new environment. Enter the workcation.

Benefits of taking a workcation

Okay, so now you know what’s causing the takeoff of the workcation trend. But what about the benefits of actually taking one? From the obvious (travel without taking PTO) to the nuanced (increased creativity and productivity), there are many reasons you should start planning your 2022 workcation. Benefits of a working vacation include:

  • Travel without taking personal time off

  • Meet deadlines and keep work on track while exploring a new place

  • Reduce burnout and improve your work-life balance

  • Boost your productivity and jumpstart creativity

  • Recharge mentally and emotionally 

  • Return home refreshed and inspired 

  • Disconnect and explore during your downtime 

  • Take advantage of slow times at work without eating up PTO

  • Reduce work stress and boost mental health  

Are workcations a substitute for vacations? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of vacation days workers in the U.S. private sector receive after one year of employment is eleven days. And while numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of resting and recharging for team motivation and overall employee well-being, the reality for many workers in America is that PTO is elusive, and workers often spend precious vacation days on family obligations or emergencies. 

Workcations might sound like the answer. And while workcations are a great way to take advantage of remote-work options, recharge in a different setting, and experience a new place without taking PTO, they’re not a substitute for truly disconnecting with an actual vacation. In fact, workcations can be counterproductive, given that they further blur the line between our work and non-work lives, which can exacerbate burnout. 

Don’t let that stop you from booking your workcation—just be thoughtful about what type of break you need.

Take a workcation if:

  • You want to live in a different place and have a new experience for two weeks or more

  • You’re looking for a realistic, local experience when traveling

  • You’re okay with not being a tourist during the day 

  • You’re visiting family in a different state or country from a prolonged period of time

Take a vacation if:

  • You’re feeling overworked and need an extended break

  • You want to completely disconnect from work

  • You want to fully immerse yourself in a new place 

  • You’re struggling with your work-life balance and want to focus on your personal life

Take a sabbatical if: 

  • You feel “stuck” career-wise or think that your career has plateaued 

  • You want to develop new skills or gain a new perspective on work

  • You’re looking for a new way to improve your productivity and creativity

  • You want to jumpstart your professional development and reach certain career goals

Take a half- or full-day off if:

  • You have something specific to do, like catch a flight or see family and friends

  • You want to use the time to catch up on personal errands, like doctor appointments

  • You’re traveling for work and want to extend the trip for a day 

  • You have a long weekend coming up and want to build it out with an extra day

Take a mental health day if: 

  • You’re struggling to focus at work, or your productivity has dropped

  • You feel stressed at the thought of going to work or are experiencing the Sunday scaries

  • You feel detached, anxious, or irritable at work

  • You’re exhausted, feel consumed by work, and struggle to disconnect 

How to plan your workcation 

There are a few things to consider when deciding to take a workcation, like if your workplace would be open to the idea. Once you have approval, you’ll also want to consider where you’re traveling and how you’ll set work boundaries while you’re away. Read on for our tips for planning a workcation that’s equal parts productive and peaceful.

1. Clear it with your manager

Before you even begin the planning process, you’ll want to make sure your workplace is open to the concept of a working vacation. You’ll probably have a good idea based on the company culture and remote work policy. You should also consider your role and whether you can perform your responsibilities fully remotely. 

Once you feel confident about the idea, bring it to your manager at a high level. There’s no need to get into the details now—you can discuss those later. At your first meeting, propose the idea and explain the ins and outs of a workcation, including what they are and how taking one will benefit you and the company. 

2. Decide where you’re going

Once your manager is on board with you taking a workcation, you can get to planning. There are two main factors to consider when planning your workcation: where to go and when to travel. 

To decide the “when,” take a look at your calendar. Try to avoid taking your workcation any week that will be extra busy, like during your industry’s on-season or when a new initiative is launching. If your industry has slow periods, planning your trip around business seasonality might make scheduling time away easier. 

You’ll also need to consider if the “where” is suitable for working remotely. For example, a spot without easy access to an internet connection wouldn’t be very suited to the working portion of your working vacation. Things to consider include:

  • If there’s a reliable Wi-Fi connection

  • The time zone of the location relative to the time zone of your office

  • If you’d feel comfortable working all day in the location, or if distractions would make it difficult to work

  • What the lodging situation is like, and if it’d lend itself to a workspace  

  • What local activities there are, and if they’re suited to your working schedule

3. Lay out a plan with your manager and team

Once you’ve determined where you’re going and when you’ll be away, have another sitdown with your manager and team. This time, discuss the actual logistics of your workcation, including any information they’ll need to know while you’re remote. Things to discuss include:

  • The dates you’ll be away and when you’re returning to the office 

  • What time zone you’ll be working in and how it compares to your office’s time zone

  • When you will and won’t be working, if the times are different than your typical working hours

  • How to best reach you while you’re on the workcation

  • Who to reach out to if emergencies arise when you can’t be reached

  • Any work you’ll delegate while you’re away, like leading in-office meetings

4. Set clear boundaries and stay productive 

Okay, so you’ve cleared your workcation with your manager, chosen the perfect location, discussed the logistics with your team, and finally arrived. Now what?

It can be tempting to throw yourself into vacation mode—after all, you’re in a new place, and there’s plenty to see and do. But remember, you’re here to work and play. Set yourself up for success by creating (and sticking to) boundaries the same way you would when working remotely from home.

If you’re traveling with family, this might mean setting clear working and non-working hours. If you’re traveling alone, it could look like sticking to a productive morning routine to get you in the work groove. Other ways to stay productive on your workcation include:

  • Use organization techniques to keep yourself productive 

  • Stick to a defined schedule for when you’re on and when you’re off 

  • Create an optimal remote office environment for working

  • Use time management techniques, such as the Eisenhower Matrix or the Pomodoro technique, to keep your work on track

  • Schedule regular check-ins with your team while away 

  • Set communication guidelines for your team, and stick to them

  • Schedule focus-time and use focus triggers (like listening to certain music) to limit distractions

5. Enjoy your time away

As employees—and as humans—in a modern, technology-obsessed world, we can struggle to disconnect, even when we’re supposed to be decompressing. 

Expedia’s 2022 Vacation Deprivation Study found that Americans struggle to disconnect during vacations, often taking their work laptops with them when they travel and jumping on Zoom calls while they’re OOO. 

It can be difficult to pull ourselves away from work, but there’s no shame in needing a break. Workcations are equal parts working and vacationing, so give yourself plenty of time to take advantage of everything your new location offers when you’re off the clock. Truly disconnect after work and stick to the boundaries you previously set. Your future (relaxed and refreshed) self will thank you.

Fight burnout and find balance with task management

Workcations are a great way to prioritize your work-life balance and destress when you’re feeling burnt out. Taking a workcation can boost your productivity and spark creativity—not to mention give you a great excuse to spend a week on the beach. But workcations aren’t a cure for work stress. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and overworked, try task management. Task management streamlines your workload, making it easier to track, prioritize, and delegate your tasks, so you can focus on the work that really matters (no matter where you are).

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