We're in the middle of a remote work revolution we didn't see coming — because of a pandemic we never wanted. In March 2020, all kinds of companies and employees were thrown into the great remote working experiment of 2020 overnight as the home became the new workplace. Some struggled with this new reality, while others embraced it and even found ways to thrive. Employees and companies who were happier, more productive, and saw better results from remote work wanted to make the arrangement permanent.
Still, the sudden mashup of home and work blurred lines in new ways, and some people also found themselves working more than ever, complete with more video meetings, longer hours, and the inability to turn off. According to an Atlassian study, American workers have been working an average of 32 more minutes a day since the beginning of the pandemic, and 23 percent of workers reported thinking about work during their off-hours more than they used to.
Stressed-out parents also felt the weight of navigating remote school while working at home, being stretched too thin, and finding a lack of available resources — often forced to choose one or the other. The situation has had devastating effects: 1.8 million fewer women are in the workforce since the pandemic began, leaving a large and unfilled talent gap.
The Ability to Unplug and Find Balance
After living through uncertainty and imbalance, having clear boundaries at work is vital to workers' sense of security and normalcy. Workers need time away to completely detach and recharge — or risk major burnout, leading to a host of mental and physical health problems. In Mental Health of America's "Mind the Workplace" study, nearly 83 percent of those surveyed felt some level of emotional drain from their job. And 41 percent of respondents said their boss or supervisor didn't provide enough emotional support to help them manage their stress. Gallup polls found that 61 percent of women and 52 percent of men feel stressed on a typical day, both up from before the pandemic.
And it's more than just an isolated issue: According to economists, “the great resignation” may be coming: More than 1 in 4 workers are preparing to look for a new job once the pandemic subsides, and a lack of work-life balance is often one of the reasons why.
The Rise of “Workcationing”
A vacation is the one guarantee of relaxation and separation from work — or, rather, it’s supposed to be. Yet, the term “workcationing” has crept up more in conversations since remote work became the norm. There are two major issues with this concept. First, people often use the term “workcationing" to mean “working while on vacation” as if it’s a positive trend. In reality, though, workers need to focus on their mental health and unplug from their job more than ever. Unfortunately, overworked employees often feel pressure to respond to work while on vacation.
Remote Work Isn’t a Workcation
The beauty of "working from anywhere" is the flexibility it provides employees, as geographic ties to the office are no longer necessary. But as remote workers can "work from anywhere, the term "workcationing" is also being used to describe the concept of remote work itself. There's just one hitch: Working from anywhere doesn't mean vacationing, and it doesn't imply working less: It's just working.
While it's true that remote workers are traveling the country in RVs and swimming with turtles to start their morning, this is the exception to the rule. Most remote workers' "work from anywhere" location isn't Bora Bora. It's their home office, co-op space, or local coffee shop. Most workers are still sidestepping cat litter boxes or Legos while doing a load of laundry between Zoom meetings and lunch. Remote work requires as much, if not more, self-discipline and juggling as working in the office.
Whether you call it workcationing or something else, calling remote work anything but what it is — work — is a misrepresentation, and treating a vacation like anything else defeats its purpose. Let each one serve its intended purpose without muddying the waters.
Helping Remote Workers Create Boundaries
Because work is becoming less about 9-to-5, boundaries are more easily blurred, putting additional strain on workers. "The kind of work that more and more people do doesn't fit neatly into time and place," said Michael Leiter, a professor of psychology at Acadia University.
It's also crucial for leaders to set boundaries for employees and enforce limits to the workday. Ensure, for example, that the use of technology is deliberate, time bound and has a purpose. When taking a vacation, lead by example (like this CEO, who announced his vacation plans and asked employees to email him theirs). Encourage employees to take vacations, not workcations. Consider companywide days off, and prioritize mental health days for employees, so they can mentally get away from the office — even if they're just in the next room. "Disconnecting from work has to be celebrated at the highest level to set the tone for everyone else in the organization to recognize that recharging is supported and encouraged," said Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab.
Perhaps most importantly, leaders and managers throughout organizations need to make the workday more manageable and flexible, so it's easier for employees to take the time off they really need in the first place.