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During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers urged staff to avoid offices and work remotely. Many seized the opportunity, packing their laptops and embarking on "workcations." Travel agencies are now catering to this market.
Combining business travels with leisure is nothing new. In the past, many of those fortunate enough to be sent on business trips would often extend their stay in a different city, or a foreign country, to fit in a bit of sightseeing or shopping.
And then there are the countless creative freelancers who in recent years packed up their laptops along with some personal belongings and set off for the big wide world, safe in the knowledge that with a stable internet connection, they can be productive and earn an income from literally anywhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, has made this digital nomadism much more mainstream. With companies calling on staff to stay out of offices and work remotely, many seized the opportunity to temporarily move to another town, city, or even country. The combination of business and pleasure — or "bleisure" — has grown hugely popular since 2020.
"We figured if we have to work remotely, why do it from a small, contained apartment in Berlin?" said 34-year-old Joseph Saverin. "Provided there is a reliable internet connection, we can work remotely from essentially anywhere."
When the pandemic began, together with his partner he spent six weeks working and vacationing, or so-called workcationing, in northeastern Germany's Lake District. Both usually live and work in Berlin, he told DW, so they picked something close enough to home.
Saverin is a researcher at Berlin's Technical University, while his partner earns a living as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Saverin loved spending time in the rural state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. "We were both in a better mood because of it," he said. "Every single day we looked out on a lake, and went swimming in the mornings."
For Saverin, the allure of living and working somewhere different for several weeks, or even months, is about taking a break from your everyday routine, experiencing a stimulating new environment and meeting different people.
"Lunch looks a lot different," he said, laughing. "Your lunch break could entail going out to a field somewhere, or getting on your bike for 20 minutes and then sitting somewhere where the sun is shining; it's incredibly good for the soul."
Workcations are growing ever more popular, so much so that Germany's biggest tourist agency, TUI, has begun specifically catering to this market. Company spokesman Aage Dünhaupt said TUI saw an increasing number of guests bringing laptops to TUI hotels in 2020 when the coronavirus began spreading globally. He said TUI quickly proceeded to retrofit some 40 out of its 400 hotels with desks and office chairs, as well as better internet connections, to appeal to guests looking to enjoy some downtime yet continue working.
Full-size computer monitors, keyboards and other devices are also available. Breakfast times were moved forward to better suit conventional office hours; and fast, light lunch options also started being offered.
Dünhaupt estimates that since 2020, tens of thousands of guests have spent a workcation at a TUI establishment. The Canary Islands, he told DW, were the most popular destination in this sector. Little wonder, as the Spanish archipelago just off the Moroccan coast is known for balmy temperatures and copious year-round sunshine. That makes it an appealing location to escape Germany's colder months.
"We even saw guests abroad our cruise ships working on laptops," said Dünhaupt. He explained that ships circling the Canary Islands are able to receive a stable internet connection.
As tempting as it sounds to lounge on the deck, enjoy the ocean breeze and work, internet connectivity suffers tremendously out at sea, which is why TUI is not explicitly marketing cruises to workcationers.
Nico Gramenz has a keen interest in the future of work. He is the CEO of Factory Berlin, a global network for creators and innovators designed to foster professional interaction and exchange. Factory Berlin also has workspaces in Berlin and Hamburg.
Gramenz said that in industrial times, companies were focused chiefly on measuring productivity. Now, he argued, there is a growing awareness that workplace satisfaction is also a key factor in a company's success. "Work satisfaction correlates with productivity," he said. Workcations, in his view, can help enhance overall happiness and lead to better output. "Having a satisfying sea view and the option to hold a brainstorming session, then take a stroll along the beach with colleagues, can be advantageous."
Gramenz is certain companies will continue offering staff and potential new hires the possibility to work remotely and take workcations even when the pandemic is over. He believes companies will offer such perks as they are forced to compete with others to recruit and retain talented staff.
Some employers believe that working in a relaxing environment could boost overall satisfaction and productivity
Saverin and his partner are certainly in favor of workcations. They are already planning another trip for later this year, but to somewhere warmer. "We've got itchy feet, so we're going to try and go a little bit further abroad and work from Greece this time," said Saverin. The Mediterranean region certainly has its advantages. "Instead of a cool dip in the mornings, in Greece, we can enjoy a nice, warm, sunny swim."
He hopes more companies will allow staff to work from where they please, adding: "The pandemic has demonstrated that people can work remotely; not only workers but especially employers should take note of this."
Edited by: Susan Bonney-Cox