The Hidden Complexities of Workcations and How to Navigate Them
By Hanna Marie Asmussen, Co-Founder and CEO of Localyze
The popularity of workcations (an extended vacation whereby someone works remotely from a different country) has risen in recent years. With 94% of workers planning to go on a workcation in 2023, the travel buzz after Covid isolation is still in full swing.
It’s no secret that workcations have benefits for both employers and employees. Organisations retain ambitious global talent who want new experiences, and employees get the support of their employers as they travel, pursue personal goals, and upskill. But before introducing this benefit – and quite literally promising the world – know that it comes with hidden challenges.
Picture over 100 employees wanting to pursue workcations across 20+ countries during the summer. To stay compliant with local regulations, each request could need special consideration based on the employee’s country of origin, their destination’s visa requirements, length of stay, required equipment, etc. The list goes on, not to mention that organisations open themselves up to the risk of operational disruptions with employees rapidly changing time zones and even, in tragic circumstances, getting caught up in natural disasters and cancelled transport.
Workcations are a step forward for the mobility of the global workforce, but only if managed correctly and proactively. It’s tough to decide on policies when there are still no industry benchmarks to refer to, but as business leaders, we can exchange ideas. As a CEO of a global company, here are the factors I would consider when implementing a scalable program.
RISK MITIGATION AND COMPLIANCE
To control the amount of risk workcations can introduce, organisations must consider how temporary work in different locations could affect the following areas:
- Payroll reporting and tax withholding requirements.
- Immigration law and visa requirements.
- Employment law and employees’ legal rights, including working time limits.
Working requirements may differ from country to country. For instance, working time limits in France are set at 35 hours, whereas in the UK, the limit rises to 48 hours per week.
The truth is, no team can create an extensive policy that covers every possible workcation request as there are too many possibilities. But organisations can introduce foundational policies that explain initial requirements, including how long workcations can last before impacting taxes and payroll, which destinations are not approved for health and safety reasons, how to file a request with the HR team, and what information to include.
From there, employees and HR teams can work together to establish finer details around visas (is one required?), insurance (is additional health insurance required and who will arrange it?), and safety (of their temporary working space – and country – abroad).
THE RISK OF DISRUPTION
Working abroad or not, illnesses or natural disasters have the potential to throw a spanner in the works, causing delays if not considered in advance—but when abroad, things get more complicated. Think that’s a little paranoid? So did companies in 2010, when the Icelandic volcanic eruption led to the cancellation of 95,000 flights in only five days, leaving thousands stranded and causing unmeasurable business disruption. The way we work today has been entirely transformed after a global pandemic no company prepared for.
The unexpected is the only thing to expect – and we must plan accordingly, ensuring teams know the protocol for what to do when disaster happens. Before approving a request, it is vital to clarify safety measures at accommodations and to guarantee those employees have access to medical assistance and key contacts in case of an emergency. Ground rules outlining how to handle cancelled transport and what support the HR team can provide in case of considerable delays are vital.
SETTING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
So far, I’ve focused on how to hold up responsibilities as an employer, but for workcations to be a productive long-term benefit for everyone, employees also have to proactively work with their organisation. Communicating the expectations of their responsibilities is essential.
For example, employees should ideally avoid ‘workcating’ in multiple locations throughout the year, over the maximum number of days outlined in company policies. It’s their responsibility to be cognisant of time zone differences and their potential impact on teamwork and projects. People should not feel guilty about their workcations, but like any good team member in any workplace, they should be considerate of the impact on their colleagues and plan accordingly.
Trust and clarity are key to avoiding crossing boundaries intentionally or unintentionally. The more fluid working arrangements become, the more important communication and clear mutual expectations become. As a company leader, it’s your job to instil clear policies that clarify all details and seek accountability from everyone across the organisation, especially senior leadership— who set the tone and are not exempt.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
The future of work is global and flexible, and whilst this opens new opportunities for companies to offer more competitive benefits, it also increases risk to operations and compliance.
The answer isn’t to avoid risk by hiding away from workcations but to consider the complexities proactively and implement guardrails that protect the company and its employees. Consider your organisation’s unique circumstances, establish rules to guide and support your employees, and iterate your policy as you observe what works and what doesn’t.
An ambitious team that thrives from diversity of experience absorbs new cultures and feels like work-life balance is respected in all aspects, is one that will thrive and perform. Preparing for the unexpected is preparing for success, because resilience and agility are key components to success in the future of a mobile, global workforce.