Wanderlust Wendy

Workaway Success Tips for Hosts & Volunteers

After our successful first Workaway experience in Uruguay, we had two less stellar encounters in Chile. We left both of them early. The first experience, at a homa-culture farm near Curacavi, Chile, I came down with a cold on the first night, and needed to sleep through the first morning to recover. I was then asked to leave to recover elsewhere, to contain my germs. The second experience, at a bio-construction site in Valparaiso, Chile, the expectations were misaligned, and I felt taken advantage of our time and labor. We left only a few days before our committed terms, but it was time to go.

I reflected upon these two encounters along with our positive experience, and drew some lessons for both hosts and volunteers to have a successful experience with the Workaway platform.

Tips for Volunteers

Be Open Minded & Helpful

Most of the Workaway listings are unique lifestyles that differ from the usual 9-5 grind. That’s part of the thrill, but with its uniqueness comes with ideas and ways of doing things that will put you squarely out of your comfort zone. Go in with an open mind and receive the experience with gratitude. This for me was easier said than done. My usual analytical mind always wants to make sense of the new situations, which inevitably goes to judgement rather quickly. Recognise these feelings, and keep an open mind!

Keep your living space clean, and be helpful. Hosts often have volunteers because they can’t afford to hired help, and have more than enough work to go around. During our farm experience, I spent afternoons helping out around the house in addition to our morning farm work. It adds to the experience, and allow more interaction between me and the family.

Just Go With Their Way

Keep an open mind part II. My day job used to be a financial analyst, and it was engrained in me to analyze operational efficiency, cost savings, and devise effective strategies. Well, that’s the old job. Workaway hosts don’t always have the resources, nor the business acumen to do things very efficiently. Of course that’s not true for all, but that has been our experience. If a project or a business wants to turn a profit and scale, trading room and board for (often unskilled) volunteer labor isn’t the best way.

Recognise that their way may not be your method, and just go with it. Provide constructive feedback when solicited, learn a thing or two along the way, have an enjoyable experience, and call it a day!

Do Your Research

Read listings carefully and make sure you understand the offering. If you don’t like sleeping in tent, but that’s all that the family can provide, then it’s not for you. If you want ample time to travel the region, but the site is in a hard to reach place, then you should reconsider. Message volunteers who have left comments on the listing for an insider view. The Workaway feedback system isn’t ideal. Unlike AirBnB, the system isn’t blind. Host can see your comments then leave one for you, which disincentivize volunteers from providing honest feedback.

Have Contingency Funding & Plan B

Sometimes, things don’t work out. Workaway allows you to travel cheaply and have unique experiences, but you should have emergency funding in case you are asked to leave, or if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. And don’t be afraid to walk away from an experience when necessary. The arrangement is a two-way street without any binding contract. Your host can cancel on your at the last minute, or asks you to leave, and you also reserve the right to walk away.

Tips for Hosts

Volunteers Are Not “Free” Labor

The important aspect of the Workaway arrangement is exchange. Volunteers hail from around the world to lend you their time, labor, and sometimes expertise. In exchange, you offer housing, food, and the unique experience. Yet, remember that Maslow’s Needs Triangle? Food and shelter are basic needs. It doesn’t matter what fantastic culture experiences you offer, if you don’t make efforts to feed your workers, and provide a place for a good night of sleep, they won’t be happy workers.

Our second Workaway host in Chile offered groceries for only one meal per day, and even then he put forth absolute minimal effort. Yet, he offered to buy beers and take us out to bars to show us the local nightlife. That’s nice, but food trumps beer.

Have a Plan and Communicate Effectively

The most frustrating part of our experience with Workaway was always not knowing what we should be doing. We wake up each day, never sure of what we need to do. Our hosts either also do not have any idea, or simply didn’t communicate. The experience is much more rewarding and smoother if workers know what they need to do, and understand the expectation. Spend 10 minutes at the end or beginning of each day to discuss your plans with volunteers will put everyone on the same path towards success!

Set the Right Expectation

Be clear about all the help that you will need from volunteers; better too much information than not enough. Our bio-construction Workaway in Chile didn’t work out because of misaligned expectations. Our host rented rooms on AirBnBs in the house that we stayed. We apparently were expected to keep the kitchen, bathroom, and other common areas cleaned for his many guests, on top of our construction duties. This expectation was not clear to us, and disagreement rose.

Volunteers are often more than happy to lend a hand, but you have to let them know what they are expected to do in exchange. Do not assume that they should know. Better overcommunicate than miscommunicate.

Update Your Listing & Respond to Requests

The Workaway platform could use some facelift to be more user friendly, and efficient. But until that happens, please make an effort to update your listing & respond to messages. For every Workaway experience that we secured, we had to send out at least 5-10 requests. Many never responded. Please respect volunteers’ time and update your listings to reduce requests, and respond to a request when you receive it. 

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