Workations? The future of travel blends work and play.

It may be possible to change your latitude (and attitude), while still being productive and getting paid.

By Kayla Voigt

In the past, there was work and there was vacation. The forced separation was largely due to the idea that work must be done in an office—exactly the last place you’d want to kick back and relax. With the rise of remote work, lines have been blurred and people have discovered that the most unappealing aspect of their jobs might not be the work itself but the location. What if it’s possible to change your latitude (and attitude), while still being productive and getting paid? The answer is the “workation.”

The rise of the workation

In 2018, the word workation entered the public lexicon—a portmanteau of “work” and “vacation” meant to describe blended travel-and-work experiences like retreats or long-term digital nomadism. While not a completely new concept, it’s gained steam over the last year or two, redefining the nature of business travel post-pandemic.

Even as travel shut down throughout 2020, demand for workation programs, like the ones long-term travel booking platform Outsite offers, skyrocketed.

Photo courtesy of Getty

“We’re building a global platform so that people can live and work anywhere,” says Emmanuel Guisset, founder of Outsite. “Our members tend to book extended stays from one week to four months, working remotely. Since the pandemic, our bookings exploded because more companies are introducing more flexibility.”

Opening up remote work or hybrid work models means employers can implement benefits-based business travel programs, using travel as a building block to an intentional, enriching remote-based culture.

Remote Year, an immersive year-long work-and-travel program that moves participants from country to country, can’t keep up with demand, either. “Overnight, everything flipped on its head, and we had to rethink our business,” says Sam Pessin, co-founder and president of Remote Year. “For years, everybody wanted to travel on our programs but weren’t allowed to work remotely. And now, everyone can work remotely but no one can travel internationally. This year, we’ve had a massive uptick in signups and interest, especially for our retreats and one-month programs.”

Employees don’t have to choose a built-in program to plan their workation. Tourism boards around the world introduced new visas designed to lure digital nomads, like Aruba’s One Happy Workation program (which facilitates months-long stays) or Estonia’s e-residency card (where you can stay up to one year.)

The new business travel is a perk, not a chore

What’s more, employees want the kind of flexibility remote-and-travel programs offer. After spending the past year working remotely, 94% of people would prefer it for the rest of their career, at least some of the time, according to Buffer. That number jumps up to 99% for workers who were remote pre-pandemic.

Why? One-quarter of respondents said that flexibility to work from anywhere mattered more than pay, benefits or office culture. Giving your employees the option to work from anywhere turns business travel from a slog of weekly flights and lonely days on the road into a sought-after perk that facilitates remote work from exciting locations.

Photo courtesy of Getty

Flexibility and autonomy—like working from “hacker homes” in Tulum or Tahoe—are the new ping-pong tables, pinball machines and beer on tap. Flashy company events and free food used to be a hallmark of working in Silicon Valley—but now, the companies that will attract the best talent are the ones that prioritize flexible arrangements, making business travel a part of culture-building. In fact, 65% of current remote workers would agree to take up to a 5% pay cut in order to maintain that flexibility, and 45% would trade their health insurance.

Increasingly, employees and executives consider remote work options—especially in far-flung destinations like Mexico, Columbia or Costa Rica—as an extension of existing corporate benefits, both on the vacation policy side and for wellness-oriented benefits like sabbaticals.

“I love to think of long-term travel as an alternative sabbatical program,” says Pessin. “Companies are choosing sabbaticals as a way to build employee loyalty and retention, and swapping that to remote work is this great win-win for everyone because your employees are still working, they’re getting that enriching experience, and they’re building their remote work expertise and capabilities. It’s an amazing opportunity to build great benefits programs and long-term retention with your team in a way that resonates with your people.”

That’s why 46% of companies surveyed plan on continuing to support location-independent remote work even after the pandemic fades away, following big names like SpotifyTwitter and Salesforce.

“I think they won’t have the choice,” says Guisset. “If companies want to have a great talent pool, they have to adapt. Personally, I would never want to work for a company that tells me to go to the office every single day. Our team is 100% remote.”

How to enable long-term travel for your employees

So, what type of travel makes sense for your employees post-pandemic?

“There’s really two versions that I see happening with this,” says Pessin. “Companies that are fully remote can enable longer-term travel programs as a lifestyle, because then they’re developing employees and giving them global experience and cultural exposure in a productive setting. But for hybrid companies, I do think many will announce semi-flexible policies, where employees can work remotely for one month a year, for example. If they don’t, employees are just going to quit.”

The most important thing? According to experts, it’s about giving your team members the choice, flexibility and support for what’s right for them. Not everyone is going to pack up their belongings and hit the road with #vanlife—but having the choice matters, whether or not they take it.

If companies want to have a great talent pool, they have to adapt.

We’re seeing more and more requests for companies that want to offer remote work services as a perk on top of their vacation time, for a certain amount of location independence each year.

—Emmanuel Guisset, founder of Outsite

Pessin and Guisset believe that with work-and-travel programs, you access a level of support and community employees need to continue to be productive on the road.

“We’re seeing more and more requests for companies that want to offer remote work services as a perk on top of their vacation time, for a certain amount of location independence each year,” says Guisset.

As tech companies return to in-person or hybrid office plans, retreats and get-togethers are one way they’re jumpstarting relationships with one another that exist beyond tiny boxes of home offices or couches punctuated by the occasional pet in the background.

“Most of our staff is fully remote, and so we model Remote Year based on what we do,” says Pessin. “We have in-person meet-ups that are high-intensity, short-time periods, usually a few days to a week in length, building culture and creating strategy, which are two things that are really hard to do remotely. Giving our team a space to connect in a beautiful destination around the world is so important, even for a company like ours that’s focused on remote work.”

Photo courtesy of Getty

A new kind of business travel in a remote work era

One thing is clear: Business travel will never be the same. Rather than focusing on how to return to traveling for work, like organizing conference bookings, teams are thinking about why that’s valuable—and what type of business travel actually benefits their business.

“I think one of the major issues with business travel in the past was, you’re lonely,” says Pessin. “It’s just not a great experience to have three or four days of your week. What will grow is not travel for work but travel while working, which moves from a business expense to a benefit program where you can invest in your employees. I think companies will look for partners and technologies to work with on that.”

Guisset agrees. “I used to go to San Francisco and New York to meet investors pretty regularly, but now I can Zoom and save two days of travel and money on hotels and flights. The same is true of conferences. I can’t imagine going back.”