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Embracing Workcations : When Work is a Vacation

The urge to travel remains stronger than ever before, but the nature of it is changing – travel that is safe in both reality and perception; and work to break the shackles of being chained to a desk! Pleasure in the job, after all, puts perfection in work.

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In the pre- coronavirus era most of us were fatigued by the rut of a 9-to-5 office job, six days a week; and even getting to spend a Sunday at home was a much cherished luxury. Most of the activities were planned keeping in mind the priceless day to be spent at home ... or partying, or shopping. With the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, an overwhelmingly large number of people have been forced to work from home. Schools and colleges have been shut. It seemed like everyone’s fondest dreams had come true. 

Families were finally getting to spend not just quality, but also lots of quantity time together. Banishment of household help seemed providential and social media was rife with pictures of everyday mundane activities causing a flurry of family excitement. People started to connect with themselves and hidden talents started to surface.  It all seemed nice and cosy for a few days but then it stretched into weeks, and then months, and now most predictions suggest this way of life may continue for another year or two! The fairy tale days seem to be over and the drudgery of work and study from home has set in. The monotony of being confined at home, especially in larger cities with small (nay tiny) apartments in crowded neighbourhoods, is setting in. So if work has anyhow to be done remotely, then many have started asking why not relocate to a more scenic and serene place?!

Before the coronavirus pandemic, it is estimated that only about 7% of the Americans worked remotely on a regular basis but now almost two-thirds of the people in the US and nearly one-third of the global workforce are working from home – and over 80% of them do not want to ever go back to the old routine. Many of them consider this the perfect opportunity to pursue the fantasy of transforming into a digital nomad – to live and work wherever the heart desires! On the other hand a number of countries are facing major financial hardships from lack of tourism. So teaming up together for a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship, avenues have opened up for longer-term travellers and/or short term immigrants who can choose to invest in uninterrupted high speed internet connectivity and liberation of a new genre. 

The Caribbean island of Barbados took the lead by devising a ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ allowing people to stay in the country and work remotely for a year at a visa fees of US$2,000 per individual or US$3,000 for a family, with a certificate of having an annual income of at least US$50,000 or the means to support themselves without burdening the country. Free school education is offered as part of the deal. The combination of powerful sunshine and abundant sea beaches, coupled with a low cost of living and spending in a stronger currency, sounds supremely attractive when envisioned from the window of a small, dark, home office. And the best part is you get to keep the job you like, earning the same money and yet working  remotely from a dreamy location.

Close on the heels, Bermuda has created a ‘One Year Residential Certificate’ at an application fees of just $263 to live anywhere on the 21-square mile island, enjoy the pink shores and leave the country and re-enter at any time. It sounds more lucrative but comes with a caveat of having the highest cost of living in the world and children can only enrol in a limited number of private schools offering international studies. Expensive yes, but classy.

Digital nomads are getting attracted to Estonia too, a Baltic country with a cost of living 30% lower than the US, offering an e-residency one year visa focussing on freelancers and self-employed professionals with an assured monthly income of at least US$3,530 a month, from a remote work job. Similarly, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, known for its snow-capped mountains, coastal charms, rich wine regions and buzzing cities, has announced a ‘Digital Nomad Visa’ to attract remote workers. Jamaica, Mexico and Albania have also released advertisements for similar ‘extended stay visas’. All of these countries do have stringent pre-requisites of carrying a valid health insurance, rigorous Covid-19 testing and essential quarantine stays. The cons of relocating to these scenic workplaces include working in a different time zone from the parent office country and dealing with a language barrier at times. But a whole of lot of millennials don’t really mind such small inconveniences in the bigger trade-off. 

Many countries are promoting ‘workcations’ as a national project with Japan leading the way. Japan’s environment ministry has decided to support hotels and tourist facilities in 34 national parks and 80 hot spring resorts to improve tele-working infrastructure. Japan is developing dependable Wi-Fi so that workers can pursue their jobs in natural surroundings, liberated from drab and dull office and home settings. The Japanese hope these measures will offset the financial crisis caused by the lack of foreign tourist arrivals. 

Closer home, Indians are availing workcations to destinations within short driving distances, having cooler climes and access to outdoor activities. The most sought after destinations are in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where vacation homes are working overtime to keep up hygiene and digital connectivity. Most of them do not allow inter-state travellers, need a self-declarations on health conditions and track travel history. The package promises range from ‘zero contact’ to ‘full service’ with on site stay for staff, including a nanny for the children. These stay-homes have taken the requisite permissions from the local authorities to prevent any risk posed to the locals and largely do not encourage the visitors to venture outside the premises, except on supervised excursions. Not only the homestays, but even campsites in Chikmagalur, Palampur, Kumaon, Kodihalli and Coorg have become digitally hyper-connected; larger guest houses are selling accommodation ‘villa-wise’ rather than ‘room-wise’; and travel behemoths like Thomas Cook and SOTC have tied up with the likes of Apollo Clinics to launch an ‘Assured’ comprehensive health and safety travel program for corporates opting for a continued work-away-from-home model with emphasis on long-term rentals. 

The urge to travel remains stronger than ever before, but the nature of it is changing  – travel that is safe in both reality and perception; and work to break the shackles of being chained to a desk! Pleasure in the job, after all, puts perfection in work.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Anurag Yadav

The author is a Consultant Radiologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. She specialises in Cardiac Imaging. She is an inveterate traveller.

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