Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

A deadline with a view

As people opt for workcations, the distinction between leisure and work blurs

I hadn’t budgeted for this. I take pride in my ability to be five steps ahead of myself but this time, I had clearly failed. My cab driver informed me that there was no Wi-Fi at the tea plantation—the cellphone signal might at most be available at certain vantage points.

Driving up, I started feeling restless as the magic bars started disappearing from the phone one by one. A few more minutes, and my phone felt as heavy as a stone on my lap. I stared morosely at it as the picture-postcard scenery flashed past.

I was on my way to a 150-year-old restored bungalow in the Nilgiris and I felt appropriately sheared of modern technology. But this was not a vacation. It was a workcation, and the Internet was critical. My computer was in my bag, lovingly wrapped in my swimsuit.

So even before my bags could be unloaded from the cab, I asked the caretaker where I could get a phone signal. He pointed towards the horizon, where the tea bushes met the sunset. It seemed I had no option but to take a chance and hike.

Of course, it is this exact nature of modern-day communication, its ubiquity, that had allowed me to take a workcation. So, there I was, trampling through a tea plantation, chasing 3G on my phone to download a file to my computer. And possibly enjoy a vacation.

Workcation, to be honest, is just an annoying portmanteau word for “working remotely". The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported it as a trend this summer. It differs from a “normal vacation" in that it allows you to wander off to places while putting the finishing touches to a report, managing conference calls, delegating work and not dipping into your annual leave days. Technically speaking, a workcation should enable the perfect work-life balance.

This is especially relevant for a country that seems to love going to work. According to a 2011 study by online travel agency Expedia, India is the world’s fifth most vacation-deprived nation. It seems that we don’t use a fifth of our allocated days off. And of those who do, 54% clandestinely check their work email.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. After 10 years in one job, my father had a lot of earned leave. Our yearly sojourns were as tightly packaged as his cling-wrapped work life.

In my own full-time jobs, though, I have scraped the bottom of the barrel when it comes to vacations. I have used every possible combination of casual leave, earned leave, weekend, medical leave and national holidays, but since I left a full-time job nine months ago, I don’t have a structured month, or even a week bookended by weekends.

Luckily, I belong to a hopefully growing group of workers for whom the distinction between leisure and work time is not defined. Workcations are possible only in certain kinds of professions (for workers whose occupations are not tied to a physical location) and lend themselves to certain kinds of holidays. To balance Skype calls while on a trans-Himalayan hike would be kind of impossible. My break, which was pretty low-key and agenda-less, was perfect for this sort of balance. I could work at a wooden table on a long veranda, look at the bee-eaters, go for a walk if I wanted a break. In essence, it wasn’t very different from my regular freelancing life in Delhi, except that I didn’t have to look out at my neighbour’s mouldy wall.

What I did miss was the anticipation of a holiday. While I was in a full-time job, a vacation would be my year’s time marker; if one was done, it was time to think of the next. In a workcation scenario, however, there are no euphoric ups or sapping lows. While I didn’t have to account for a drop in annual leave, I also had to remember that the holiday was not about leaving everything behind. I had to remember to schedule my Google calendar. Gone were those last few heady days in office, just before a vacation, that were spent online, browsing sights and checking the weather app. What I missed most was setting the vacation responder on Gmail, telling the world of my absence. Now, I had to be accessible everywhere.

Time takes on a different tint depending on how much you need to control it. For a break to actually count as one, I think, time needs to lose its value. It is not until the days have blended into one and the beast has been tamed into irrelevancy that my mind stops tightening into a stress ball in the morning.

A workcation day, however, is still divided into discrete boxes, so there is no time to waste. There is no time to amble, to slip into a nap or discover a gem of a bar on an aimless walk. You can’t circle out serendipity on a scheduler app.

HOW TO MAKE A WORKCATION WORK

Timetable

This sounds like a very anti-vacation thing to do and seems to take the spontaneity out of a trip. But it helps to designate time for work and leisure. The more productive you are, the more time you will have to yourself.

Flexibility matters

Things won’t always go according to plan. People will change call schedules, deadlines will be crossed. It’s critical to be ready to replan according to the circumstances while you are on a workcation.

Account for bad connections!

Call ahead and find out because the worst thing is to be stuck waiting for an email you can’t download.

Be serious about downtime

Research your holiday thoroughly. Since time is of the utmost value, it is good to know what you want to see and where you want to eat.

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