Workcations: Should Your Next Trip Mix Work and Play?

Traveling for business or pleasure? Both? Laptop luggers are reshaping the vacation.
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Written by Sally French
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Edited by Meghan Coyle
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Workcations. Laptop luggers. These are the latest buzzwords for leisure travelers who benefit from remote work by taking more frequent and longer vacations. For better or worse, workcationing and laptop lugging are transforming both workplaces and the travel industry as new norms are established amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should you bring along your laptop to extend your next trip? Here are some pros and cons of mixing work and play on vacation with a workcation.

What is laptop lugging?

The pandemic enabled a growing chunk of people to embrace digital nomad life. Yet for many, working remotely as a full-time traveler can be unrealistic. Instead, laptop lugging is a sort of "digital nomad lite," providing many benefits of digital nomadism without requiring you to surrender your home base completely.

The trend largely took off in 2020, when hotels began offering "work from anywhere" packages with discounted rates and perks like meals, premium Wi-Fi, separate workspaces and sometimes child care. Similar packages are still around today, as vacancy rates continue to soar.

After all, weekday hotel demand in the top 25 U.S. travel markets during the first full week of February 2022 was only 76% of what it was in the comparable week of 2019, according to hospitality data analytics group STR.

How common are workcations?

These days, 50% of people say they bring their work laptops on vacation, according to a December 2021 Expedia survey of 14,500 working adults. The survey also found that 41% say they frequently join Zoom calls on vacation.

Laptop lugging becomes even more common during the holidays. According to Deloitte’s 2021 holiday travel survey of about 6,500 Americans, laptop luggers planned two to four trips in the period from Thanksgiving 2021 to mid-January 2022. That’s twice as many trips as the one or two trips planned among people who entirely disconnect on vacation.

Laptop luggers typically stay longer in their destinations, meaning more revenue for hotels. Deloitte’s survey found that working travelers are twice as likely to increase their travel budgets from 2019 versus those who completely disconnect. Longer stays can also help hotels that have cut housekeeping services save even more money.

But while laptop lugging is good for travel operators, is it actually good for you and your employer?

Benefits of workcations

Rather than the typical pre-pandemic five-day tropical vacation, laptop luggers might spend three weeks away. But on this trip, you might send messages before a sunrise surf session, after which you resume your usual 9-to-5 work grind. Evenings enable you to explore new neighborhoods and eateries without the pressure to cram every experience into just a few days.

Other laptop luggers might prefer frequent, shorter trips. They might return home to repack and refresh their laundry supply and then opt for workcationing from an Airbnb for a change of scenery.

Given his role as CEO at virtual events company TeamBuilding, Michael Alexis is no stranger to supporting productivity anywhere in the world.

“Being able to take a longer vacation and work during it means more time to recharge while expanding your travel options,” Alexis says. “If you only had one week off, flying internationally isn't practical. You lose at least two days to travel and may be jet-lagged the entire trip. With laptop lugging, you could stay as long as you like.”

Downsides of workcations

While vacations theoretically reduce burnout, laptop lugging might increase it.

The inability to fully unplug could increase stress if you’re constantly thinking about tomorrow’s meeting or still checking emails every few hours. In fact, 61% of Americans say they don’t consider workcations to be true vacations, Expedia’s study found. And that’s low compared with workers of other nationalities. Comparatively, 80% of Canadians don’t see workcations as vacations.

Beyond burnout, laptop lugging can pose operational challenges. Time zones can become a scheduling mess, and employer policies may prohibit bringing equipment like a company-issued laptop abroad. Video calls that demand professionalism might not jibe with your vacation wardrobe.

Meanwhile, finding reliable and fast Wi-Fi may be difficult in some locations. Once you do find a signal, sending files over a public internet connection might bring about security issues. Plus, working at public spaces like coffee shops puts sensitive information at risk.

Companies might have to rethink what's a vacation

Laptop lugging has its pros and cons, and some employees might benefit from the lifestyle more than others.

“Companies need to shift their thinking away from trying to fit all employees into one format of vacation,” says Kane Carpenter, a lead at employer branding consultancy Daggerfinn.

Carpenter discourages companies from making blanket vacation policies, as some workers might benefit from a change of scenery, while others might find it distracting.

“In a world of increasing flexibility and digitization, companies can look after their workforces where each individual is,” he says. “For individuals who like to take as much time off as possible and completely disconnect, no problem. For employees who like to be tuned in, it's important for companies to encourage breaks and time off, but to do so in a creative and supportive way.”

Meanwhile, Alexis’ company has implemented policies to ameliorate issues.

“The employee must have a clear distinction between work time and vacation time,” he says. “We've had employees travel and claim that they’re available via phone, which isn't intentional work time and doesn’t meet expectations.”

Among TeamBuilding’s rules: Employees must clearly define work versus vacation hours, and work hours must entail a stable, reliable internet connection (so shaky airplane connectivity likely wouldn’t suffice). But Alexis says laptop lugging has generally been positive for his more than 100-person staff.

“As long as employees manage time and productivity well, then we’re happy to accommodate,” Alexis says.

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