Can a ‘workation’ really leave you feeling relaxed?

Lucy Shrimpton investigates the latest holiday portmanteau

Friday 16 October 2020 16:42 BST
Swap homelife for holiday life
Swap homelife for holiday life

In a sense, a workation – the 2020 buzzword piggybacking on staycation but signifying a break combining both work and leisure ‒ has always been A Thing. Shorthand, if you like, for shoehorning-your-laptop-in-your-suitcase-at-the-last-min-because-you-failed-to-(surprise!)-meet-the-deadline-before-the-flight. 

Yet enter the seismic and fast-moving ramifications of Covid-19 on the world of human resources, and suddenly a workation promises far more than stolen moments of laptop bashing or waving your phone around in search of a signal on the top of a cliff.

Now, with almost 47 per cent of people in employment doing some work at home, according to the Office for National Statistics, some employers are noticing that staff are just as productive working out-of-office – and concluding that maybe they shouldn’t give two flying hoots where workers are, as long as they’re bringing home the bacon.  

As a result, more people than ever before are enjoying newfound freedom as digital nomads, and employees who’ve accrued a degree of trust from The Boss may now be in a position to seek out remote working environments that offer landscapes and leisure experiences on top of reliable WiFi. 

And it’s little wonder: while working in the domestic setting has enhanced people’s lives in many ways, the flipside is that it’s not always the most conducive space when it comes to productivity. With homeworkers citing everything from lack of dedicated work space and rage-inducing broadband insufficiencies, to minor yet frequent life interruptions (children, chores, neighbours, feline keyboard-pattering $fghu2*&8 – is it code?), many homes come with a degree of distraction. 

Forward thinkers in the travel industry are avidly watching HR trends to see if their resorts can remove those barriers to productivity, securing much-needed mid-week bums on beds in the process.  

One such pioneer is B&B proprietor Jon Matthews at Penzance’s Woodstock Guest House, a Victorian villa of Cornish-granite in a gentrified, agapanthus-lined street with chic white shutters.  

Back in the spring, Jon ‒ bearded, flip-flopped and happily about as far removed from Basil Fawlty as you can get ‒ like many in the industry stood in his communal breakfast room, sweating at the stark realisation that, with a full house, guests couldn’t possibly all socially distance over their fresh poached eggs. 

In a bid to prevent the business from falling off the side of the nearest cliff, Jon plumped for a drastic and financially risky measure: reduce capacity from seven rooms to four, and use the space gained to give each bedroom its own private and adjoining dining room. Job done.

Attractions like Sennen Cove are nearby

What Jon hadn’t predicted was that, in protecting guests from each other, his new space was also appealing to workationers, “something I never set out to do, but something that’s evolved naturally.” 

And it’s quite the evolution: “In July and August, we saw the average age of our guests come down from a pre-covid 65 to 25,” he says, leading him to the simple conclusion that his new space arrangement was meeting the needs of millennials at work. And Jon knows from his own experience in his pre-B&B corporate days just why that might be. 

“When I worked away from home for weeks on end, I’d stay in budget chains, using the desk at the end of the bed to set up temporary workspace. It was functional, but nothing else… just miserable and exhausting. 

“What guests obviously like here is that for the price of B&B for the night, they’ve got a room to sleep in and a separate room to live or work in ‒ a defined demarcation, if you like.”

"And it’s not just been good for guests,” he adds, “but for us too. Reducing our number of rooms gives us a massively improved work-life balance, which feels fantastic. Other guest houses are doing the same – so I’m wondering if this isn’t just a Covid-filler, but a new operating model.”  

That’s not to say that Woodstock aims to replicate cutting edge office space (in fact, the breakfast’s whipped off the table like a ta-da conjurer, revealing office beneath), but given that your average workationer’s requirements boil down to a pretty basic equation of peace, plus decent phone signal and full strength wifi, it doesn’t need to.  

Overall, we were super productive

Victoria Jenner, 27, who’s employed by the National Trust and Exeter University, and her 31-year-old partner George Allen, a graphic designer, were quick to recommend the concept after their own workation at the guest house.

“The only thing we really needed was a reasonable internet connection, so it was a complete bonus that Woodstock also included a separate room for us to work in across from our bedroom, a perfect way to work in a lovely room not far from the sea,” said George. 

“The intention was to split the time between work and relaxing ‒ and although I was initially quite sceptical about the whole ‘working remotely whilst on a holiday break’ idea, we were strict with our time and deadlines and it was a great success.”

Victoria added: “Overall, we were super productive, as it provided a different workstation to our living room at home! I’d book a workation again and definitely think they can provide a healthy break for couples or individuals.”

Penzance’s Jubilee Pool recently opened a geothermal section

Looking to the future, Jon can see the world of workations evolving, specifically in the streamlining and facilitation of workationers’ tag-on requirements. 

“I’ve been successful in a grant application I made to use tech to overcome Covid obstacles, and intend to use it to invest in tablets for guests to order up anything from a drop of milk right through to a hair appointment at the barber’s; everyone likes to chat to a local and save time they’d otherwise have to find at home.” 

He’ll be offering experience packages too, for guests to try out fishing or foraging, Polgoon winery tastings or a quick dip in the Jubilee Pool, so that the workationer returns home not just with their dossier accompli, but with a memorable dose of wellbeing under their belt too.

A day in the life of a Penzance workationer

Though the gateway to the Scillies is sandwiched between two of Cornwall’s most sought-after spots ‒ St Michael’s Mount and Mousehole ‒ Penzance hasn’t always been the first place in the county that tourists think to drop a pin; lacking its own sandy beaches, it’s more than used to playing second fiddle to St Ives, just six miles up the road. 

Yet because it’s a living, breathing, working place, it holds a trump card for authenticity – and it has a distinctly creative edge reminiscent of Margate or Scarborough. 

Here’s how to make the most out of your workation there.

The morning jog

Mousehole ‒ arguably Cornwall’s most picturesque fishing village – is a gentle-paced 30-minute run away, keeping the sea on your left and passing through Newlyn with its fish stalls chalking up the catch du jour. You can also hire bikes in Penzance and pedal the short distance around Mounts Bay to Marazion, the iconic St Michael’s Mount in view all the way. 

Ditch the kettle

When caffeine calls, enjoy a pleasant wander past independent shops and quirky architecture in historic Chapel Street (550 steps from Woodstock Guest House). Closer still, Penlee House at the top of the road (220 steps) is a café and gallery in a beautiful, leafy park, displaying works from the historic Newlyn school group of artists.

Meet me at the water cooler

Either you’ve heard about Penzance’s iconic seafront lido the Jubilee Pool this summer or you’ve had a bag over your head: it’s recently opened a thermal section, tapping into a natural heat source dug from a depth of 410 metres. Book a thermal session or just an invigorating swim. 

The Pret

Try the seafacing Old Lifeboat House Bistro by the Abbey Slip or the Zebra Crossing Café (50 steps).

Book-end working days with holiday days

St Ives, Sennen Cove and Porthcurno (for the Minack Theatre) are all popular and inspiring places to visit nearby.

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