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Have Macbook, will travel

Have Macbook, will travel

The rise of remote working is leading to a boom in “workations” among millennials

The rise of remote working is leading to a boom in “workations” among millennials

India Stoughton | July 11th 2017

In January this year, Krystal Patel, a 29-year-old freelance accountant from New York, sublet her flat and set off to visit 12 countries in 12 months. But this was far from a grown-up gap year. Patel is part of a growing tribe of digital nomads who manage to work full time while trotting the globe. Lacking the time to research the best places to stay and work in a dozen cities, she turned to We Roam, a company that promised to do all the hard work for her. For $2,000 a month, it flies groups of travellers to a new country every 30 days and provides them with accommodation and 24-hour access to a co-working space. It may cost more than staying in an Airbnb and working out of a café, but for Patel the benefits outweighed the cost. “I’ve always liked to travel as much as possible but I’ve never been able to take much time off work, so this was a really cool opportunity to be able to explore a lot of new places, and not just as a tourist.”

We Roam is one of several young companies targeting millennials with “workations” ranging from two weeks to a year. They are tapping into the rise in self-employment and the increasing popularity of remote working. A study from 2016 found that 66% of employers allowed their staff to work remotely at least occasionally, up from 34% in 2005. In June, Automattic – the company behind Wordpress, a blog platform – announced that it was closing its office in San Francisco and encouraging all employees to work remotely.

Rebekah Lipsky, a 33-year-old, New York-based independent contractor for consulting firms, spent February in Medellín, Colombia, on a trip organised by Unsettled, a “lifestyle incubator” that offers month-long excursions to places including Cape Town and Barcelona. She says the chance to be part of a community of like-minded travellers was a major draw, having found it hard to make friends when working abroad before. “By the time I found my tribe it would be time to leave…I loved the idea of just showing up and it being like, ‘Here’s your 25 new best friends!’”

Most companies encourage people to find their own balance between work and leisure. Smaller groups tend to evolve as participants fit their work around organised excursions and spontaneous social activities. Some find it difficult to knuckle down, given the temptation to explore a new city, and its bars and restaurants. “I’ve found that it’s really hard to stay healthy but after the second month I realised this isn’t a vacation, this is real life, so you kind of have to live like you would at home,” says Patel. Aware that self-discipline can be a problem, some companies offer coaching sessions to help participants manage their time and stay on target. 

Michael Youngblood, co-founder of Unsettled, emphasises the importance of setting realistic expectations. “A lot of people come thinking they’re going to break through with their meditation, they’re going to go to every beach, they’re going to bust ass on their work projects,” he says. “You can get a lot done but you can’t reinvent your entire life.”

Most people on these trips work in computer programming, law, consultancy, online start-ups and accounting, but some companies also accept musicians, artists and writers. We Roam only takes applicants in full-time employment. “We really police and actually turn people down, which isn’t really happening in a lot of this market,” says co-founder Nathan Yates. He and Mevish Aslam, founder of workation company Terminal 3, believe that real potential for growth lies in collaborating with major corporations, who are keen to attract and retain talented employees with itchy feet. Yates says We Roam has already been approached by “household-name blue-chip companies” wanting to develop tailor-made programmes.

Some employers will take more convincing. In March, IBM – one of the pioneers of remote working – announced that its staff would need to start coming into the office or leave the company. Being constantly on the move is not for everyone, and there’s a reason that 90% of We Roam’s clients are aged between 27 and 35. “I thought this was something I could do for a couple of years, but I’ve decided I would rather have one home base, a year at a time at least, and travel from there,” says Patel. “I do want to see a lot of places and this is an efficient way of doing it but it’s difficult to reset every month indefinitely.”

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