After several months of COVID and work frenzy, like many people, I decided to take a vacation. Any vacation taken during the WFH pandemic can quickly evolve into a working vacation and there are both good and bad aspects of that. Finding a place to safely travel to and safely stay has unique challenges during a global pandemic. Even taking a road trip, which seems to be the way that many Americans are traveling, is very different and requires preparation and timing. A 10-hour trip can easily turn into a 12-hour trip. Then there is the process of finding a location where you feel safe.
After all of that work just to get to the destination, it seems that it should be easy to relax and enjoy the disconnect. Being in a different location is wonderful. Even if you are able to enjoy it for just part of the work day, it is still relaxing and refreshing. The challenge with a working vacation is that you never get off the work cycle and miss the rejuvenation that a vacation normally brings. Sitting outside in a beautiful location on a Zoom call, while being able to brag about your surroundings, does not disconnect you from work. It is simply working in a different place.
For me, one of the best benefits of taking a vacation was allowing my mind to clear and be able to have unstructured strategic thinking. Many of my best ideas and solutions to complex problems have come while I have been disengaged from work. By having a working vacation, in addition to being less rejuvenated, my thinking did not clear to allow those big thoughts.
While on a working vacation, I reinforced to my team that I’m always available and can pick up slack when needed. This is one of the biggest negatives and it is two-fold. First, it doesn’t provide growth opportunities, responsibility, and accountability for your team. They don’t necessarily have to solve problems as you are accessible. If you are working and available, albeit remotely, then they don’t have to be. It might signal that you don’t trust your team or their ability to make good decisions. The second negative is that it reinforces the message that they too cannot take a real vacation or time off.
Many vacations center around new or fun experiences with family and friends. Working vacations rob or minimize the time that would have been spent investing in and enhancing those relationships. For some vacations, the pace is slowed down and savored. Literally it is stop, smell, and ponder the roses time. For me, instead of a gentle and relaxed pace, time sped up as I attempted to sandwich leisure in between work. My time with my family was not that much different than our normal is.
My physical and mental health was not recharged. My health had a break, but not a recharge and refresh. While walking the dog, enjoying the beautiful mountains and the much cooler air, I was thinking about routine work issues that had just been on my email. I wasn’t savoring the moment. For many professionals, being connected to your office is a reality and expectation. It’s just part of working and has escalated during the pandemic. This is really important. While I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be in a stunningly beautiful place, I did not get the mental and physical health boost that vacations usually provide and I made that choice.
Differentiate. If you are going to another location to work remotely, don’t call it a working vacation. It is really work, just at a different place. To garner the benefits of time away, it needs to be time away. If you are able to do that, savor the time. For people that have been essential workers, key employees, and working parents through the pandemic, they have had significant stress and anxiety. They likely need to fully unplug from work. Know that the benefits that you get from going on vacation will be reduced if you can only take a working vacation and you will still get some benefits. And, in 2020, any break from work and the new routine is a gift.