Asuka Nakamaru takes part in a videoconference from her husband’s hometown in Hiroshima Prefecture in August.
TOKYO - A new style of working called “workation,” combining “work” and “vacation,” is growing in popularity.
An employee can take part in a videoconference during a trip back home over summer vacation, or they can do computer programming while traveling abroad. What are the merits of a workation?The idea of a workation began in Europe and the United States and is popular with those in IT and those who can work mainly using a laptop while staying at a resort or other places. Many believe such a setup creates better work efficiency and helps promote fresh ideas by allowing the employees to visit different locales as they work.
Japan Airlines set up a workation system last summer that applies to about 4,000 employees, not including those who work in shifts at airports and other places. Encouraging workers to take time off is the main goal. Some cases can be designated as workation, but others cannot. For example, if an employee wants to take three days off but they would only be able to work on the afternoon of the second day, then it is accepted as a workation. On the other hand, if the employee is unavailable to work every morning for the three days but they work every afternoon, it would be denied as the proportion of working time is too great (see chart 1).
Asuka Nakamaru, 38, who is in charge of personnel training at her company, utilized a workation this past summer when she returned to her husband’s hometown in Hiroshima Prefecture. Because she had to have a meeting during that time regarding a project for which she had been a pivotal member, she decided to use a workation.
Nakamaru set one day as a workation day during seven days off and then took part in a videoconference. She finished work at 6 pm and then went back to her vacation with her family. “I wondered if I should postpone the whole vacation, but thanks to the workation system, I could spend the time off as planned,” Nakamaru said.
Japanese tend to give top priority to work and postpone taking a break. According to research by travel website Expedia Japan, surveying 9,424 people in 28 countries in 2016, the rate of paid holiday use in Japan was dead last in the world. Also, the proportion of those who feel guilty for using paid holidays (see chart 2) is high in this country. Correcting the long working hours is a pillar of the government’s work style reform plan. It is essential to impress upon every employee the necessity of breaks.
Tokyo-based IT service company Sonic Garden Inc. has also adopted a workation system. Tsukasa Nomoto, 23, an employee of the company, took a trip to South Korea last July to attend a friend’s wedding, utilizing a workation and taking 11 days off.On Saturday and Sunday he attended the ceremony and then worked five weekdays on his computer. The following two days were spent enjoying time off with friends there. “I worked on the weekdays because my friends there worked on the weekdays, and staying here for so long let me see them more and brought us all closer together, which was great,” Nomoto said.
Enticing workation users
Some local governments are working to attract people to stay in their areas for their workation. The Wakayama prefectural government, for example, built a large facility with internet access in Tanabe in the prefecture. They are also preparing a volunteer programme for repairing the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Hirotaka Kai, a chief manager of the personnel division at travel agency Hankyu Travel International Co., participated in an excursion last October organized by Wakayama Prefecture. “If we could take a week off and later spend several days working, it would be encouraging to take paid vacations,” Kai said.
Sufficient rest is key
It can be said that a workation is a version of telecommuting that incorporates areas like travel destinations. For workations to truly catch on, employees must first become accustomed to telecommuting. IT giant Google Japan conducted research last October asking nearly 5,400 regular office workers nationwide about their jobs. Eighteen percent said telecommuting was allowed.
“Most Japanese workers have only limited discretionary power to decide their own way of working. I am doubtful about whether a workation system will catch on,” said tourism producer Koji Chatani, who is familiar with working conditions abroad. However, the government has set a target of having over 30 per cent of companies allow telecommuting by 2020. A trend of allowing workations may ride on the coattails of this target.
If a workation system is adopted, what are some points to consider?
Tomohide Kubo, a senior researcher at National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, says that understanding the realities of how the system should be used is essential. For example, if an employee switches a vacation to a workation because they could not finish a job by the start of their time off, there is a possibility the job is “overflowing,” and the employee will not have sufficiently rested. “The supervisor must carefully monitor whether employees are using workation on their own initiative,” Kubo said.
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