Our team in Bukovel

Six lessons learned from our workation

Adriaan Kolff
Sep 9 · 6 min read

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’ and it would create 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…

Manage expectations

If you take one learning from this article please let it be this one. It turned out me and my business partner had very different expectations of a workation than our team members.

Our company is less then a year old and has grown very rapidly. This sometimes leads to a feeling that 24 hours are not enough to get all the work done.

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 a lot 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 own way of working instead of taking into account 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 and reduced the amount of working hours and gave everybody more flexibility. This greatly impacted the overall atmosphere and resulted in a spontaneous party the same night.

Involve your employees

The above mistakes could have easily been avoided if I would have 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? These simple questions and actually discussing them upfront would have put everyone on the same page and would have made life much easier.

Every single day I organized a different workshop for the team, from breathing exercises to running a virtual lemonade stand. These workshops were fun to do but in the end I organized all of them.

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my team but it was my ego that got into the way of me organizing everything and being in the spotlight all the time. Again some good reflection in hindsight…

The Marshmellow Challenge

Pick a good location

This might seem very obvious to you… The idea of a workation is that you go to a location that you can at least associate with something better than the office. Upfront we asked everybody to which location they wanted to go, the sea or the mountains. A clear majority picked the mountains and Bukovel turned out to be 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 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 and especially triple check for WiFi.

Our house in Bukovel

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 a lot of people to a beautiful location but you do ask them to spend a lot of time together and get them out of their comfort zone.

Arriving with the night train in Bukovel (not sure who the guy on the right is :))

Organize fun events

There is no better team building activity then 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 of 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 that happened at our house was one of the highlights of the week. Put your focus more on fun/vacation and your employees will love you for it.

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 send 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).

Overall conclusion

So it might sound that this was a week that did more damage then 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.

As Henry Ford once said “the only mistake is the mistake from which we learn nothing”.

Next year I will make sure to involve our employees right from the start, (try to) manage everybody’s expectations and will make a long weekend out of it with a very strong emphasize on team building activities instead of the extra work. Oh and having learned from this trip any tips are welcome :).

Adriaan Kolff

Written by

Co-founder of MatcHR, investor, entrepreneur. Obsessed with (team) culture and recruitment. Four time Burning Man 🔥 attendee and Ironman 🏊🚴‍♂️🏃.

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