The new WFH: How to work from holiday

Be prepared, set boundaries and schedule your down time as much as your meetings

Can you really be on holiday and work at the same time? Well, yes, with some considered planning. File photograph: Getty Images

Can you really be on holiday and work at the same time? Well, yes, with some considered planning. File photograph: Getty Images

 

With so many of us still juggling working from home and actually enjoying our free time, the ability to move around the country again offers a chance for a different kind of WFH: work from holiday (or workation, hybrid holiday, whatever you want to call it).

But can you really be on holiday and work at the same time? Well, yes, with some considered planning. Having blurred a lot of holiday and work time over the last few years as a freelancer I’ve picked up a few habits to squeeze as much holiday out of a hybrid trip as possible.

Aoife McElwain: ‘Taking time off is essential to allow you to do your job properly and work your best’
Aoife McElwain: ‘Taking time off is essential to allow you to do your job properly and work your best’

Set your boundaries

What time is for work and what time is for yourself? Aoife McElwain literally wrote the book on managing work and play, Slow At Work (Gill Books) where she advises on “how to work less, achieve more and regain balance in an always-on world”. McElwain is an advocate of a hybrid holiday but points out that it shouldn’t replace your actual holiday. She warns hybrid can be “a bit of a tightrope”. Her advice is to decide your boundaries beforehand: “Have a really careful discussion with yourself, your work and especially with anyone you’re going with about your expectations for time off.” Although don’t rule out being flexible: “If a few hours of work on a Saturday morning will help you relax for the rest of the weekend then do that.”

Plan the basics

The internet is essential of course but shouldn’t have to be too much of a hindrance. Most places will have wifi (do call to check first) but always plan back up too, whether it’s using your phone wifi hotspot or bringing an internet dongle. Remote worker Fionn Kidney relocated for a number of months this year from Dublin to Inisturk, a small island 15km off the coast of Mayo. He was surprised by how good the internet was, thanks to a 4G mast that services the Connemara coast. His advice is not to assume that having wifi means strong broadband, though. “It really varies across the country. Check provider maps for 4G coverage, so you can use your mobile hotspot if you need to.”

Rowena Hennigan is a remote-working consultant originally from Galway. She’s been working remotely since 2007, and is currently based in Spain. It might seem obvious Hennigan says, but no matter where you are try and have a specific space for work “especially if you’ve been socialising in the same space, which can happen if you’re staying in a studio or apartment”. Avoiding communal spaces is particularly important, I think, when you’re with family. If you can, nab a dedicated room to work from, or Hennigan recommends trying to move locations: “Is there a reception area you can work from? Or if it’s allowed within restrictions try a coffee shop, library, whatever works for you.”

I’ve learned that to avoid power points dictating where I work from, pack an extension lead. It can open up all sorts of spaces. And remember you won’t have that stack of books on which to prop your laptop. I have an invaluable foldable laptop stand that makes the most unsuitable seats and spaces feel a little more work like and a lot more comfortable.

Kidney also advises that you: “Bring everything you need to work and live well. If you’re working on a laptop all day, bring the right equipment to set up a home office, a stand, remote keyboard and mouse, a light for video calls, etc. And for when you’re not working, bring plenty to keep you away from doomscrolling [on social media] – books, fitness equipment and other creature comforts.”

I’d agree with Fionn here, packing for play is important too and think old school to get away from the screens. A few board games, a pack of cards, a jigsaw maybe?

Schedule everything

When I’m on workation my swims are scheduled, along with Zoom calls. I figure if I plan my holiday tasks along with the work tasks I’m more likely to get them done. And it gives me something to look forward to. Most people react well to rewards-based targets. Some of my most productive workdays have been ones with the promise of a glass of rosé in the sun at the end of it. I’m not alone in this fun-planning either. Hennigan advises remote-working clients to consider self-care in planning: “I get them into the habit to book all their self-care into the next week. Making sure to have walks planned or pilates or whatever they do, a social catch up, a reading hour.”

In McElwain’s book, she considers her chapter on recovery time to be the most important part: “Basically, you have to consider recovery as part of your job. Taking time off is essential to allow you to do your job properly and work your best. When I realised that, it completely changed how I view my time off. I take it really seriously now.”

Switch off for downtime

We are used to being contactable these days, but there are just as many ways to be switched off as there are to be switched on. If you have a separate work phone or laptop, that’s easy to turn off. If you’re like me and do everything off one or two devices then you’ll need to make more of an effort. Start with turning off notifications and ring tones. If you still find yourself checking in, go one step further and remove apps that are causing distraction. I often take Gmail or Instagram off my phone for a day or evening and put it back on in the morning. McElwain reiterates that we’re fully responsible for how on or off we want to be.

“If you want to have the protected restful off time, even if it’s just for two days of the week, even if it’s just for three hours in the day, you have to take responsibility because chances are you will get contacted, you will be reached.”

If you’re feeling under pressure, remember there was a Government code of conduct introduced this year to address this. The ‘Right to Disconnect’ offers guidance for employees and employers on disengagement outside normal working hours that is worth checking out if you’re nervous about switching off.

Be kind to yourself

A striking part of McElwain’s book was when she wrote: “I was the worst boss I’ve ever had. I didn’t care about my employee’s wellbeing... I made her work at all times of the day, night and weekend. I had no boundaries.”

I always go back to this point when I struggle with switching off from work on hybrid holidays, and it becomes much easier to enjoy the holiday part of the trip. So remember to go easy on yourself (even if you still have to work).

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