This summer, we organized our first “Workation” with MatcHR. At MatcHR, we partner as virtual sourcing and recruitment teams with our clients to cover their global hiring needs. This implies we can practically do our work from any location. We, therefore, decided to take our team to the beautiful mountains of Bukovel in the western part of Ukraine and rented a house for a full week. In my mind, we would work hard and play hard, creating an unforgettable experience for everyone. Unfortunately, not everything turned out the way we expected, and I will share my most important lessons (and there are many) about our first workation…
1. Manage expectations
If you take one learning from this article, please let it be this one. It turned out my business partner, and I had very different expectations of a workation than our team members.
Our company is less than a year old and has grown very rapidly. This sometimes leads to the feeling that 24 hours are not enough to complete all the work.
In the agenda I created for our workation I had therefore put much more emphasize on “work,” where, surprisingly enough, my employees expected much more “vacation”…
Because of this agenda, most people had to work longer hours than normal, and many of our employees felt drained of energy at the end of the day. This negatively impacted the overall atmosphere and energy. In hindsight, this has been such an obvious mistake, but we were clearly projecting our way of working instead of considering other people’s working rhythm.
Luckily, due to our open culture, my employees told me on day three that everybody was feeling unhappy about the long(er) working hours and getting up early. After this wake-up call, we changed the program, reduced the number of working hours, and gave everybody more flexibility. This greatly impacted the overall atmosphere and resulted in a spontaneous party the same night.
2. Involve your employees
The above mistakes could have easily been avoided if I had involved my employees much more from the start. I forgot to ask some very simple questions upfront… What do you expect from this week? How long would you like the workation to be? What would an ideal workation look like for you? Discussing these simple questions upfront would have put everyone on the same page and made life much easier.
Every day I organized a different workshop for the team, from breathing exercises to running a virtual lemonade stand. These workshops were fun to do, and I organized them all.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my team, but it was my ego that got in the way of me organizing everything and being in the spotlight all the time. Again some good reflection in hindsight…
3. Pick a good location
This might seem very obvious to you… The idea of a workation is to go to a location where you can at least associate with something better than the office. Upfront, we asked everybody which location they wanted to go to, the sea or the mountains. A clear majority picked the mountains, and Bukovel was a great location. There were a lot of activities to do, good restaurants and the mountains are a welcome décor to spend a week.
Unfortunately, the house we were staying in didn’t turn out the way we expected. Even though we asked multiple times upfront, the WiFi turned out to be too weak to work with three laptops simultaneously, let alone with 16 at the same time… This meant we had to go to a hotel lobby every morning, which was a 15-minute drive away, went way over budget regarding our lunches, and were working from lobby couches for a week… Ai… What did I say about the office?
The house itself was good with comfortable bedrooms, but it only had 2 bathrooms. For 16 people, this is too little, especially in the morning. Next year, we will go for more space, especially triple-check for Wi-Fi.
4. Think about the duration
Where some companies take their employees for weeks on a workation for us, it turned out that a week was rather long. The intense working hours, of course, didn’t help but especially when you organize your first workation, I would recommend starting with a long weekend or just a few days. As mentioned above, involve your employees in this.
Our employees indicated in hindsight (of course) that, on average, the ideal workweek would take four days. Don’t forget that you are bringing many people to a beautiful location, but you ask them to spend a lot of time together and get them out of their comfort zone.
5. Organize fun events
There is no better team-building activity than doing something fun together. Despite the intense workweek, we did organize a lot of fun activities. The weekend we arrived, we took the whole team on the longest zipline in Europe, went out for dinner, and we had a great time chilling and drinking cocktails at the ‘beach club’ at the lake in Bukovel. Everybody rated these events as ‘awesome’ and ‘great’ and the spontaneous party on Thursday night at our house was one of the week’s highlights. Put your focus more on fun/vacation, and your employees will love you for it.
6. Ask for feedback
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on how everybody is doing while you are on ‘workation’. Luckily our employees came to us, but it is good to have a check-in every two days. Even if you feel that everybody is enjoying themselves, you can still get useful insights.
The anonymous survey we sent out after our workation gave us some very good and honest feedback which will greatly help to organize a great new workation next year (yes we are still going :-), and yes I did ask for my employees to also read this blog for feedback).
So it might sound that this was a week that did more damage than good, but luckily it didn’t. The overall workation was rated with a 7, and our employees thanked us for taking them to Bukovel, that we covered all expenses and the team building events we organized.
Henry Ford once said, “The only mistake is the mistake from which we learn nothing.”
Next year I will involve our employees right from the start, (try to) manage everybody’s expectations, and make a long weekend out of it with a very strong emphasis on team-building activities instead of extra work. Oh, and have learned from this trip any tips are welcome :).