The world of work is awash with buzzwords, and 'thought leaders' love inventing new ones for their monthly Business Insider articles.

Workations have grown in popularity recently, yet apart from the name, it’s not too clear what they actually are. Is it just another word for sabbatical, is it remote working, is it going on holiday with your laptop?

What is a workation?

A workation (sometimes spelled 'workcation') is a working vacation (in the UK we might call it a 'workoliday', or a 'woliday' 😂).

Combining work and vacation, it involves working while away from the office, mixing your leisure and work time. This definition from HR Technologist gives us a good flavour:

"A workation is a vacation that allows you to work remotely while integrating elements of leisure that let you unwind, relax and be more productive."

You’ll notice it’s a bit vague - there’s not really any official definition. The main idea is that you take a vacation (holiday) away from your regular location of work, but not from the work itself. They’ve been introduced at some firms in the US and Europe that focus on employee wellbeing and alternative ways to increase long-term productivity.

They’re becoming more popular these days not just due to cultural changes but with some decent tech. You've got laptops and tablets, collaboration tools, project management software, messaging and teleconferencing apps, and all kinds of time-tracking and productivity gizmos that make remote work, well... work.

Is a workation the same as a sabbatical?

Nope. A sabbatical generally involves not working, although it can involve  training, volunteering, or studying for a qualification. But generally speaking, no, it's not the same.

A workation would only include rest at the usual times - after the workday or at weekends (if you work a standard 5-day week).

An article in The Muse  suggests that it be counted separately as holiday time.  

“…let’s be clear - I’m not advocating workcations in lieu of actual vacations. Rather, I’m advocating them in addition to your real time off. Taking a workcation gives you a chance to get a change of scenery, without using your precious vacation days. You still get to enjoy a fun new place or spend time with far-off loved ones during your nights and weekends (and lunches), but you don’t have to deal with the stress of preparing for, missing, and recovering from a week off of work.”

What’s the difference between working remotely and going on workation?  

Not much in a practical sense. But remote work tends to be a permanent arrangement, and most remote workers are actually based at home.

So in theory, a workation is less of a commitment than full-time remote - they're designed to be temporary trips rather than new lifestyles.

  • An additional week at the end of your family holiday where you switch to working and your family continue hitting the beach - not a bad way to make the most of the summer holidays.
  • What about a month off to head on a long haul flight to an exotic destination.
  • Or maybe even an extended stay with family or friends who've moved abroad.

Persuading a boss that it's feasible might be a challenge, but with the big switch to remote working through COVID maybe you'll find your boss more open to the idea. You're going to have to prove you can work away from the office, and show that it won't affect your productivity.

What are the benefits of a workation?

Workations might be attractive to companies that offer unlimited holiday time - rather than someone disappearing for weeks at a time, they might take workations instead - although it could be argued this doesn’t make for a good work-life balance. (We’ve written before about the downsides to unlimited allowance, and workations probably aren’t a fix.)

In theory, on workation you've got time to travel for longer than a regular holiday - you can see the world while still earning money. It’s likely to change up your routine, and help refresh your creativity & outlook on the world. That’s definitely a good thing.

Finally, if you're unable to get holiday time approved due to staffing issues, a workation could be a way forward.

So if you want to see some new scenery and spend your evening time on the beach instead of on Netflix, a workation could be a good idea.

What are the downsides to a workation?  

Downsides? Surely not?

Well, the title of this Mic.com article might dampen your enthusiasm: “What is a workation? This hot new travel trend might be the saddest sign of our times.”

It laments the modern loss of work-life balance and highlights the absurdity of spending a load of money to travel somewhere exotic and waste it by working all day.

It’s true - expenses will include airfare, accommodation, food & drink (you’re unlikely to be cooking for yourself), plus renting office space or a hot-desk at a coworking space. Your employer might cover some of this, but it's unlikely if they're already paying for office space back home.  

If you’ve got kids and a mortgage, it's going to be difficult. Unless you can somehow rent your home out  - but the effort needed to make that work might not be worth it.

When I went travelling in 2018 I had planned to build a business on the road, and it just didn’t work. Travelling - even just being in a new place - can refresh you but can also prove a heavy cognitive burden as you adapt to different surroundings and culture. Coming home and finding a regular spot to work (even if it is in rainy Manchester) was the best thing I could do for my productivity.

There’s a danger with workations that the lines between work and rest are blurred so that you won’t be able to switch off properly. Can you really enjoy the sun-drenched vistas of the Dominican Republic if your phone is pinging with Slack messages you're not allowed to ignore?

Also, there will be tax and right-to-work implications if you’re working abroad. Many digital nomads and freelancers ignore this, but if you’re working in a country you’re not a citizen of, you’ll need a working visa, which are significantly harder to get than a tourist visa.

Admittedly, it’s hard for authorities to track, and many of us will have replied to an urgent work email while away on holiday (which is technically working), but do you really want to risk it with today’s all-encompassing digital paper trails? (And for UK workers travelling in the EU, this topic will only get more complicated in the near future.)

Final thoughts

Workations straddle a strange line between holiday, remote work, and sabbatical. There are situations where they might work, but one of those three would probably a better choice.

What do you think? Should we build a ‘workation’ option into Timetastic?