by JoAnna Haugen
The global pandemic turned the tourism industry upside-down, but one of its most significant impacts didn’t have to do with travel experiences at all. Rather, it concerns when, where, and how those in the sector go about their work.
When COVID-19 gripped the world in 2020, travel companies locked the doors on their physical offices, then spent the next several months holding their teams together with Zoom calls fit in around family obligations, appointments, and … well … life. Employees got used to this flexibility, and while some companies had to close their doors for good, many other travel brands survived — and even thrived — in this new working environment.
Now that lockdown restrictions have lifted and those doors have been unlocked, travel companies are making major decisions about work environments: What does a physical office offer a travel brand? Does it make good business sense to maintain workspace flexibility in such a global industry?
Lemongrass Marketing, a UK-based PR agency for travel brands, always embraced flexible work hours within its physical workspace, but the lockdown highlighted additional opportunities. “We realised working from home worked well for us, and we were a lot more productive,” said Mirjam Peternek-McCartney, founder and CEO of the company, “but we equally felt that, because it’s a creative industry, it would be really nice to be able to get together at least once a week.”
Images: Lemongrass Marketing Clients
The company recently moved into an eco-friendly office building, where the team meets in person on Mondays. The rest of the time, everyone is free to work from home on a schedule that works for each individual. Additionally, Lemongrass staff works four days a week but are paid for five. Because of the nature of PR, this means that everyone works Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; employees rotate having Wednesday and Friday off so a few people are always available for clients.
At Byway, which was founded during the lockdown, employees are welcome to work from wherever they wish all but two days a month. “We’re very flexible about when people do their work as long as they get the work done and are able to be responsive when they need to be,” said Cat Jones, founder and CEO of the company. “We also encourage people to work from trains and ferries, so if you’re going on holiday, that’s fine.”
On the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the month, all Byway staff gets together in the company’s London office for workshops, meetings, and face-to-face activities. “We don’t tend to get executional work done on those days, but we get masses of creative work done and team building and team bonding,” Jones said.
The current trend to rethink workspaces isn’t contained to the tourism industry. While the four-day work model is relatively new for Lemongrass, this particular movement is sweeping across the United Kingdom. In a six-month trial being run by 4 Day Week, nearly 90% of the firms responding to a mid-trial survey plan on keeping the four-day work week policy in place. Additionally, 95% said productivity has stayed the same or improved among participating employees.
“We’ve had a lot of flexibility grounded into the DNA of Byway,” Jones said. “We hear from candidates a lot that it’s nice to be mostly remote and to be personally flexible, but then also to know there is this time where you come together and you spend that face time with the team. It tends to be a really good balance, and the feedback from our team is that they love it.”
At Lemongrass, its new workplace model gives employees the headspace required for creative work combined with time to recharge in a field known for burnout and high turnover. This also benefits the firm’s clients, who prefer to work with a consistent PR team. And while this change has been a financial hit for the company, Peternek-McCartney said the choice to move in this direction is aligned with the kind of work environment Lemongrass stands behind.
“I genuinely think the four-day work week is the way the future is going to go,” Peternek-McCartney said. “We’re all working so much. We’re all stressed out. But these changes mean you have happier staff, you have more loyal staff, and you have more committed staff.”
About the Author
JoAnna Haugen is an award winning writer, speaker, and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for almost 15 years.
She is also founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact, and storytelling.
A returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer, and intrepid traveler, JoAnna is always on the hunt for her next great adventure.