Workations: When work from home is away from home

Pandemic promotes new work-life balance


August 30, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Mudhouse Hostels in Himachal Pradesh

Accommodations like Mudhouse Hostels in Himachal Pradesh are popular spots for workations (Photo: Mudhouse Hostels)

For millions of Indian professionals who have been cooped up in their homes since March due to coronavirus pandemic, a break from home in the shape of workations is turning to be a life-saver for them.

‘‘Though coming back home for such a long time and enjoying the luxuries that come along with it was nothing less than a dream come true, but if you are a traveller who makes trips with just a rucksack at least twice a year, you would be able to relate to my grief of being stuck in one place for months during the long stretches of lockdowns and unlockdowns. As a software engineer for me to work all I needed was electricity and wi-fi, as a traveler I just needed a break and some mental peace. I was having a conversation about this urge of travelling with a friend who is in a similar industry and bang! We had a plan,’’ exclaims Debjyoti Roy, who works with an IT firm in Bengaluru, but who has been stuck at his home in Kolkata since the lockdown began.

Roy is extremely excited as after being confined indoors for almost four months, he will break free in less than a week when he, along with two of his friends, heads to a hostel in Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh where they will stay at least a month or two. Roy says that after a trek for a week or so, he and his friends will resume their workation or work from home but while away on a vacation. Roy is about to hop on to a trend that has become extremely popular around the world in 2020 thanks to never-ending lockdowns that have been enforced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As a concept, though, perhaps workation is not necessarily entirely new. For decades, artists, authors, film directors, script or screenplay writers have been known to go away from home and the hullabaloo that comes with it to find a peaceful spot where they can let inspiration drive their creativity.

But these breaks were rare and not for the masses. The pandemic has created a bit more level playing field as practically anyone who can work away from office and who has the finances can opt for these exotic breaks that normally go well over a month. The biggest difference between workations then and now is that now normally it is not just the person on WHF who travels. In fact, it is normally the entire family so that the spouse and the children also get a break from being stuck at home.

To cater to this booming demand, the industry has been quick to adapt – both the hotels or other forms of accommodation as well as the travel agents, most of whom now offer various kinds of workations. As most of the demand for workations is really for destinations far away from home and most of the seekers of these breaks live in major metros keen to get a breath of fresh air and stunning landscapes, hotels located in exotic places like beaches or those lost in the hills have proven to be big hits with the travellers, who only need good food, clean rooms and reliable electricity and high-speed wifi networks.

Located in Jhibi, a small village about 160 km north of Simla and enroute to Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, Mudhouse Hostels opened for business in 2017. After having remained closed due to the pandemic for over five months, it will reopen to receive guests on September 1. Anisha Agarwal, one of the co-founders, says that even though it is not yet open it already has eight confirmed bookings and over 15 enquiries every day, indicating the pent up demand for workations that is now being released as properties in popular destinations like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh or Goa restart for business.

beach destinations

Besides mountains, beach destinations like temple town of Puri are also a big draw (MIG Photos/Varsha Singh)

Agarwal says that workations as a market is here to stay even beyond pandemic and is already beginning to revolutionise the business of vacations and travel. ‘‘In India, the evolution of digital nomads has been rapid. The number of freelancers, and now with corporate WFH concept, has been sky rocketing. People are no more dependent on a dedicated desk surrounded by four walls, they seek a twisted path full of adventure and love to pack their work along with their clothes & hiking shoes. This not only gives them happiness, their productivity is also high as we found in a survey earlier this year. We have witnessed the shift from vacation to remote working already, 2021 is expected to be a boom for travel industry with travellers as well as workers, if the situation gets better,’’ she says.

The travellers opting for workation as per Mudhouse are include working professionals, millennials and families. They are in the age bracket of 26-42 years looking for a stay of 15 days to a month. Experts are now predicting that work from home will be the new normal, at least as long as the pandemic is there. Therefore, the only break away from home that people might find is through workation. According to Google Trends, workcation and staycation popularity has increased in the pandemic. A survey by hostel chain Zostel says 70.1 pc respondents prefer mountains, while beaches are preferred by 23.9 pc people and 5.2 pc opt for cities.

The travel industry, too, has been quick to seize the moment and roll out a wide variety of packages aimed at this niche but booming segment, perhaps the only bit of tourism that is kicking back to life.

“This concept is distinctive and not your regular vacation- as Workations offer short stays at attractive destinations located closer-to-home at easy driveable distances, the hotels are carefully handpicked to enable customers the convenience to continue working remotely with well-designed workspaces and Wi-Fi access for smooth connectivity. The selection of locations allows for a welcome change from a restricted and stressful work-from-home environment- with refreshing scenic vistas for a getaway or a wholesome break with the family: the perfect balance of work with a vacation,” Rajeev Kale, president & country head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India), tells Media India Group.

As more and more people feel the urge to get out travel companies like SOTC and Thomas Cook have started catering to the needs of their clients. “There has been a paradigm shift in the mindset of consumers today – with more travellers actively seeking out less crowded trips, searching for privacy and a greater sense of calm and peacefulness. This has led to an encouraging response for our packages,” Daniel Dsouza, president & country head, leisure, SOTC Travel, tells Media India Group.

The places that are in demand are those that are close to home but away from the crowded city life. “Seeing an uptick in enquiries for quick escapes like back to nature and beach destinations, workations and drivecations are a popular first choice. With a trend in Bleisure trips combining work and vacation likely to pick up pace in the coming months, mini getaways offer a perfect opportunity of work life balance through a rejuvenating escapade from ones’ routine life. Drive away packages to destinations such as Mount Abu, Mandarmoni, Agra, Nainital, Alwar, Udaipur, Jaipur, Kollam, Puri amongst others. Hill stations like Lonavala, Mahableshwar, Shimla, Manali and Dharamshala are popular choices,” says D’souza. The demand for online bookings have increased sharply as travellers consider this the most convenient way to book a holiday, he adds.

Tranquility and capitivating landscapes are almost a must for workation (Photo: Mudhouse Hostels)

Besides the mandatory parametres of high speed network, peace and exotic locations, the requirements for workations can vary sharply from something very basic like a bunk bed, common washrooms and meals to a self-contained luxurious villa, with all support staff.

Most of these facilities also provide indoor recreational facilities, besides the options of long walks in solitude that come with the location. Some facilities go the extra mile and organise treks and guided visits, if requested.

However, the fear of the pandemic is still there in the minds of travellers. “As health and safety is understandably a key concern of customers, hotels have been carefully selected to ensure a common minimum adherence of health and safety protocols are in place; also across transportation, attractions, restaurants,” says Kale.

The hotel operators too are not taking any chances and have invested in improving safety and hygiene standards to avoid any risk of infection. Agarwal says that her personnel have been trained about safety protocols and rules over social distancing and sanitisation of rooms and public areas. The risk of infection may yet be there but staying closed was no longer an option.

‘‘We are a family run small startup, with bootstrap funding. We didn’t only focus on travel but community building and encouraging entrepreneurship for problem solving. We have to be demotivational immune more than disease immune,’’ adds Agarwal. Indeed, for most travellers opting for workations, the objective is to keep their morale and motivation levels high and workations offers rooms with views that often go right up to the horizon and way beyond the pandemic.

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