Are you headed for the hills of Himachal or the pristine beaches of Goa? Does the lush greenery of Coorg beckon you, or are the royal retreats of Rajasthan more to your taste?
No, this is not out of a set of tourist brochures. It is an exploration of the multitude of fairly remote places with scenic surroundings to which working professionals are flocking these days. They are making the most of the Work From Anywhere (WFA) option their companies are giving them in the wake of the pandemic. And, for the beleaguered travel and hospitality industry, this is proving to be a lifesaver.
People are combining a hectic work week with a weekend spent trekking or swimming (depending on where they are), or simply soaking in the beauty of their surroundings. Small hostels and homestays are being sought by people as they want to minimise interaction with others and keep safe given COVID. Also, it is expensive to stay in large hotels for a long period.
Making WFA comfortable
WFA requirements include remote, not too commercial a location (so that guests can stay safe from COVID and work in peace), good internet speed (above 50 Mbps), power back-up, stable call facilities, affordable prices, simple meals with a homely touch, pleasingly decorated common work areas, compatible co-residents, and activities in the evening for de-stressing. Special food rates are on offer for this category of guests given the length of stay. Many hostels organise quiz evenings and other events as recreation.
Mumbai-based lawyer couple, Esha and Harsh Jain have had workcations at Dharamshala, Leh and Shimla. “In Mumbai, we are cooped up in our apartment with limited socialising. So WFA is a great option. Since private rooms were not available at the hostels, we decided to stay in small family-run homestays and guesthouses with reasonably well-equipped kitchens. We didn’t want to eat out every day. In Dharamshala, where we went for a workcation in 2020-end, it was so liberating to walk around without masks as there were no crowds,” says Esha.
Harsh says, “We had good 4G connectivity and that was all we needed to work wherever we stayed. There were occasional glitches but we have faced that in Mumbai as well. At these scenic places, the views were stunning, we were breathing cleaner air, it was quiet, and there was a sense of calmness. In these circumstances, our productivity was more. During the weekends, we did interesting things like paragliding in Dharamshala and camping and hiking in Leh. We looked forward to the weekends.”
A Time for Innovation
Mumbai-based psychotherapist Dr Aman Bhonsle, who is a travel enthusiast, says, “Any profession is prone to getting claustrophobic because of the repeat value of certain tasks and protocols. WFA breaks that monotony. It challenges the standard routine. For people who enjoy adventure and have an innate curiosity about new things, travel is a stimulating and inspiring experience. Also, travel throws up problems, and humankind is a species that enjoys problem-solving.”
Workcations also provide a unique networking opportunity. “You meet interesting people outside your usual circle, with whom you would not have crossed paths under normal circumstances. On the physical side, trekking would give you cardiovascular exercise you would never get in a gym. And, there is a spiritual side to it; you commune with nature. Being surrounded by nature and by making new connections, you introspect – figure out who you are and what you want from life. Of course, it requires discipline and commitment to combine work with a vacation,” explains Dr Bhonsle.
Dr Rama Moondra, dean in an academic institution in Ahmedabad and leadership coach, says, “People take a workcation to go to a remote place where they hope to concentrate better and deal with the stress that they face in urban centres. Since people have not travelled much over the past two years owing to the pandemic, any opportunity to travel, even if it involves working, is something to look forward to. However, a workcation would increase productivity only if the working professional can draw the line between work and leisure time.”
The owner of a small guest house in Leh, Dorjey Angchok, rues that the pandemic has dealt a death blow to the region. “In Leh, 80% of local people are dependent on tourism as there are no industries or much infrastructure here. Foreigners have stopped coming but the silver lining is that domestic tourism is higher because of the unique WFA concept,” he says.
He has been running Zee Guest House for 20 years. From October to May he has to keep his guest house shut as it is too cold for visitors. The guest house has 11 rooms with hot water. He and his wife Phunchok Dolma ensure that their guests get simple food – dal, roti, sabzi and chawal. “Internet service providers have improved connectivity here. Working professionals generally stay with us from 15 days to a month. I had one guest who stayed four months. Once we had six people from a tech company, a team, who stayed for a month. We charge Rs. 1,200 per night,” adds Angchok.
Book Well Technologies LLP (BWT) is an aggregator with 25-30 properties under its umbrella that are suitable for work-cationers. It has tied up with properties across the country belonging to hostel chains like Hostellers, Whoopers, Alt Life, Moustache, as well as small homestays and adventure campsites.
Adil Khan, founder of BWT, says, “The pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry. But the good that has come out of this adversity is the innovations. The two that have worked for us, are workcations and the online experiences that we offer. We started as a weekend tour platform but the pandemic pushed us to expand our horizons.”
“So far we have hosted people mainly working in tech startups. But we have had guests from other sectors too. Many of the properties also provide team bonding experiences at the request of the company,” explains Adil.
BWT has had over 200 people booking workcations through them during the past two years. Hostels and homestays have been full because of long stays. Work-cationers generally stay from 15-30 days at one hostel before moving on to another town and property for a more diverse WFA experience.
The hostels charge, on average, Rs 1,500-2,000 per night for a private room and Rs 400 for dormitory accommodation. Homely meals can be got for as low as Rs 150 a day, says Adil. Dorm facilities are availed by a mixed crowd – work-cationers, freelancers, entrepreneurs and travel enthusiasts. Since workcations are generally long stays, there is an opportunity to make friends with like-minded people.
Working professionals can avail the online experiences offered by BWT for an extra charge. These include yoga and meditation, apart from niche classes on office make-up, charcoal art, baking exotic desserts, knowing your beverages and drinks, to name a few. In addition, of course, on weekends there are options for renting cycles or bikes, trekking, paragliding and other adventure sports.
Shivani Chaurasia, working in operations at PeopleGrove, took to WFH and believed it increased her productivity. And, then she experimented with WFA. “I started exploring WFA and booked a workcation through BWT. I was a bit sceptical about whether it would work out. But the experience was smooth, in fact awesome. The property, service and facilities were good. I could focus on work as well as enjoy the nature vibes,” she says.
Ashutosh Verma, an employee of Accenture, who availed of BWT’s services, says, “We thought travelling and working during the uncertain times of COVID would be tough, but my team and I enjoyed it thoroughly!”
But there is a flip side to workcations too one must consider here, cautions Dr Moondra. “Some people may find it difficult to adjust to the local food. Some remote places may have internet connectivity issues. Also, common work areas may get noisy. Sometimes, a boss may feel you have to be on call 24X7. One of my friends cut short his workcation for this reason. Workcations are good for freelancers. Ultimately, whether a workcation is a success or not depends on the person, the profession and the boss too!”
WFA allows people an opportunity to work in a pleasing environment, away from the noise and pollution of urban centres, as well as spend their leisure time in interesting ways. That’s why workcations are resulting in improved mental well-being and generally increased productivity. In addition, work-cationers provide much-needed income to hostels and small homestays hard hit by the pandemic and its fallouts. So, looks like a win-win situation on both sides.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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