In addition to on-site yoga classes and ergonomic desks, companies may have a new wellness initiative up their sleeves — granting workers an annual period of remote work.
Remote work has proved popular with many workers, with 54% of employees saying they want to keep working from home after the pandemic ends, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
But that's not likely to happen. Many more companies are expected to transition to hybrid work arrangements this year for the best of both working worlds — flexibility with the focus of an office environment, less loneliness yet less of a commute.
Yet, a hybrid schedule of say, three days in the office and two days out will not allow for one of the greatest perks of the work-from-home scheme: the extended "workcation."
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Workcations — and their lesser-known cousin, the wellness sabbatical — blur the lines between work and vacation. They're work, for sure, but with a better view. Research shows they can be a therapeutic change of pace that supplement, rather than replace, regular vacation time.
Will annual remote work become the norm?
"A block of time is an interesting concept," said Lynne Cazaly, a workplace specialist and author of "Agile-ish: How to Create a Culture of Agility."
She said the idea could be attractive during certain seasons (summers, yes, but also snowy winters), school holidays and other "tricky times of the year."
Short durations of remote work would also let employers compete with companies that are instituting indefinite flexible work arrangements, said Cazaly.
"Many leading indicator companies — like Spotify, Twitter, Square, Unilever, Atlassian — have said their employees can forever work from home," she told CNBC. "Companies … know there is a growing war for talent … if you're not offering these kinds of evolving benefits, there's a competitive disadvantage there."
Just look at Google. In an email to employees last week, CEO Sundar Pichai announced workers could now take four "work-from-anywhere weeks" (up from two) to give "everyone more flexibility around summer and holiday travel."
Fewer pandemic-style problems
The problems many employees felt working from home for the past year — such as isolation and lack of social interaction with colleagues — aren't as likely with short-term stints away from the office.
In fact, workers who use the time to travel can improve their mental well-being, rather than harm it, said Susie Ellis, CEO of the Global Wellness Institute.
"Academics have actually studied the impact of sabbaticals on well-being, whether the traditional one-year academic variety or a-month-or-more work sabbatical," she said. "The research indicates [they] decrease people's stress, boost overall wellbeing and help people work more creatively."
Employers' concerns may be equally as manageable. According to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 68% of executives said workers should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain company culture, once the pandemic subsides. For employees working that schedule, one month of remote work is akin to asking for 12 additional off-site days a year.
Furthermore, the move to hybrid schedules means the old way of working (with everyone in the office) and pandemic-style working (with everyone online) may both become a thing of the past, said Cazaly, adding that a mix of "people here, there and anywhere is where it's at" now.
Will it work for your industry?
While some industries cannot easily work from home — retail, construction, entertainment and health care, to name a few — Pew's research showed a majority of workers in these industries can:
- information and technology: 84%
- banking, finance, accounting, real estate or insurance: 84%
- education: 59%
- professional, scientific and technical services: 59%
Yet among those sectors, another obstacle awaits — buy-in from company leadership. From Facebook to Google, the tech industry is embracing the flexible work trend, while the titans of banking have started to publicly reject it.
JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon indicated last week he is no fan of the work-from-home trend, while Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called it "an aberration that we're going to correct as quickly as possible."
Jaya Dass, managing director of recruitment agency Randstad in Singapore and Malaysia, cautions employees to do a "reality check" before requesting remote work opportunities.
"Being able to work collaboratively and determine work outcomes in a remote setting is not as easy as it sounds," she said. "If your performance does not meet your manager's expectations this past year, they may be waiting for you to return to the office to assess if remote work is the variable factor that is impacting your work."
At the same time, Dass noted it wouldn't be wise for businesses to unnecessarily decline employees' annual remote work requests, or else "you may risk losing their trust and loyalty to the company."
Tips for getting an annual period of remote work
1. Don't wait
When is the right time to ask for annual remote work? "Now, now, now," said Cazaly, adding that some companies may revert to pre-Covid work practices as time passes.
2. Do your research
Review your employee handbook or speak with someone in human resources to determine if your company already has a remote work policy, said Amanda Augustine, a career coach at the resume writing service TopResume.
"If no such policy exists, don't let this deter you," she said. "Instead, search online for news of other organizations — ideally competitors, companies that share similar traits or that your CEO admires — that have stated they plan to allow at least some of their employees to continue telecommuting after the pandemic."
3. Be strategic
Consider your manager's personality when deciding how to start the conversation.
"If your boss prefers people who are direct, schedule a meeting with a clear objective: 'I'd like to schedule some time with you to discuss extending my period of remote work,'" Augustine said.
If your manager is less direct, broach the subject during your next one-on-one meeting. Either way, make sure the conversation takes place over video, not via phone, said Augustine.
"This will allow you to observe your manager's body language and help you gauge whether your proposal is being well-received," she said.
4. Arm yourself with data
Use research to explain how remote work can be a win-win for you and your employer.
"Studies have shown that companies that offer work-flexibility options can avoid employee burnout, increase retention rates, decrease absenteeism, improve productivity and improve overall employee morale," said Augustine.
Cazaly agrees: "Companies know that happier employees are more engaged, productive and stay longer."
5. Show you're a hard worker
Even though remote work has shown productivity gains in the past year, companies may push back against short-term remote requests if they are concerned staff won't work efficiently away from the office, said Cazaly. To combat this, demonstrate you have a great work ethic and are committed to your role, she said.
Augustine calls this sharing "your professional wins." Remind your boss of the goals you've met or exceeded since you started working from home, she said.
6. Prepare for objections
Prior to making your case, eliminate possible objections from your employer. Boost your Wi-Fi, purchase a new router, fix lighting for video calls and purchase noise-canceling headphones, Augustine advised.
Then assure your managers that while you're away, you'll be accessible and will never compromise on quality work, said Randstad's Dass.
If companies aren't budging, try another option
If employers balk at a one-month request, ask to combine two weeks of remote work with two weeks of vacation time.
Kristen Graff, a Singapore-based sales and marketing director, negotiated with her employer to spend a month in Hawaii this summer with time evenly split between vacation and remote work.
"I know I'm probably the exception, but I didn't want four weeks of vacation," said Graff, adding that one of the things she most wanted was a "change in environment … from a productivity and inspiration point of view."
Graff said she would be interested in an annual period of remote work, but she feels the idea is "really dependent on the person."
"It takes a lot of self-motivation," she said. "You have to work, otherwise you'll ruin it for everybody."