Should remote workers take ‘quiet trips’?

(NerdWallet) – Emily Smith was working two jobs – at a hotel and in retail – when she realized she badly needed a break. Smith, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, says her employers usually didn’t grant vacation days, so she made up a fake family emergency, claiming she would have to work from home. She went to Las Vegas instead.

“I went on dates by the pool and timed my flights to take place outside of work hours,” she says. “All my work was done on time, so none of my bosses asked.”

That was back in 2012, when most jobs required in-person presence. Some 10 years later, more people are working remotely (or by the pool like Smith). According to US Census Bureau data released in 2022, more than 27.6 million people worked mostly from home in 2021. That’s triple the number of people who worked from home in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with the rise of telecommuting, some workers are hesitant or don’t feel the need to tell their employers when they plan to work from another location outside of their home. That’s why they started going on “quiet trips”, where employees work from a vacation destination without revealing their true whereabouts to their boss. Often these workers will take advantage of free time activities, combining work and play into one trip.

RV rental website RVshare commissioned a survey by Wakefield Research on quiet travel and other travel trends in September 2022. According to the survey, 56% of working American adults said they would “very” or “extremely” participate in silent journey. And 36% of Generation X and Millennials claim that it is already planned for 2023.

For those with employers who are tight on vacation days, quiet trips can be rejuvenating. However, some employers don’t condone secrecy and don’t want workers anywhere but their home office, period. But does it even matter if the workers share their place of residence?

” Learn more: How to rethink “home” and “travel” if your job is now remote

Problems that can accompany silent journeys

Amy Marcum, human resources manager at HR services provider Insperity, warns that quiet journeys can cause friction if word gets out.

“Some employees may feel that their colleagues are taking advantage of the generous work-from-home policy, which leads to conflict,” she says.

Executive coach Robin Pou points to another negative consequence: the breakdown of trust between employees and managers.

“The leader always finds out, which makes them wonder why the employee was trying to hide anything in the first place,” he says. “This erosion of trust can be a cancer to team dynamics.”

Lisa M. Sanchez, executive director of human resources at ArtCenter College of Design, says she’s not convinced that employees are effective while on silent trips.

“Who’s motivated to work when there’s a turquoise beach and a fruity drink waiting for them?” Sanchez says. “What do you do if they’re called for an impromptu emergency meeting and they’re on the run?”

Then there are the security concerns of taking employer-issued computers out of town or logging onto unknown Wi-Fi networks. In addition, there may be unexpected tax implications for employers if workers work from another state or country for too long.

” Learn more: The best credit cards for remote workers

Why silent travel isn’t necessarily a bad thing

The whole premise of silent travel could help uncover problems in the workplace to begin with.

“Leaders need to look in the mirror and ask themselves what kind of environment they’ve created where their team member doesn’t feel comfortable talking directly to them,” Pou says.

Business and leadership coach Mariela De La Mora says the need to know where employees are at all times is “unnecessary at best and patronizing at worst.” She says some of her best colleagues were full-time digital nomads.

“Working remotely has only boosted their productivity and commitment to their role,” she says. “This is especially important when you’re hiring Gen Z and younger millennials who value and expect freedom in their roles — and who won’t be as easily swayed by policies that feel outdated.”

How employers can better support employees who want to travel

Whether it’s pro or anti-quiet travel, there’s one thing almost everyone agrees on: Free time is important.

“A change of location can spark new ideas, increase productivity, improve morale, lead to higher quality work and improve work-life balance,” says Markum.

Sanchez says employers should create clear opportunities for employees to rest.

“Don’t unreasonably withhold free time, don’t create 24/7, and avoid engaging employees after hours,” she says.

As for Smith, she has since quit those two jobs and is now her own boss. She runs a travel planning company called The Female Abroad. But she says even if she had to check in with someone else, she’s all for quiet travel.

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