If you want to work from home, then why not make home Bali? Hilary Rose on a new lifestyle trend
For many of us, work means sitting at a desk. It may be in an office, it may be at home. It may be in a shared workspace, but it’s definitely here, in this country, where it rains at the height of summer. It’s not over there, where you’ve just been on holiday, where it doesn’t. We spend our summer holidays scrolling through emails in Majorca just as easily as we do at our desks. Our employers do not go bankrupt, our clients do not vanish. And so millennials have put two and two together and come up with the workation, which is an ugly word for a brilliant idea. Pick up your job and take it somewhere nicer.
This assumes two things. First, that your job is portable, if only for a short while, and that all you need is a laptop and an internet connection. Second, that you can temporarily escape any commitments. For people who can, there are now companies such as Unsettled, We Roam and Remote Year. You supply your own job — and you have to have a job, this is not organised travel for slackers. You agree to be interviewed by Skype, so they can check if you’ve got the right attitude and will fit in with everyone else. In return, for a fee, they supply a place to live anywhere from Bogota to Barcelona, a shared office space, and a ready-made community of like-minded people to keep you company.
Every month, they move you to a new city. Depending on the company, you can sign up for a month or a year, or anything in between. And you can rock up for work on your first day in a strange city on the other side of the world, secure in the knowledge that, later, instead of sitting in a hotel room on your own, you have your own front door and friends on tap.
“There’s a feeling of isolation or loneliness that comes with constantly going it alone,” says Jonathan Kalan, 30, a co-founder of Unsettled, who has lived out of a suitcase for two years. “We wanted to create a community around the idea of living anywhere for a month at a time, so people can really live there, not just travel.”
For millennials, it’s a no-brainer. They can manage a tech start-up as well from a hammock in Bali as from Silicon Roundabout in London. And for older people, whether they’re designers, writers or even stockbrokers, the workation hits that sweet spot where armchair travelling meets midlife crisis. They may be freelance, or changing careers, or able to persuade their employer that, for one month only, they can be just as productive from Saigon.
After 12 years working as a stockbroker on the trading floors of an investment bank and a hedge fund, Richard McDonald, 37, had had enough. He saw an advertisement for Remote Year on Facebook, applied for a spot on its year-long workation programme and after three weeks of application interviews he was accepted. His year abroad is costing him $27,000 (£20,570) and he speaks to me from his temporary home in the bustling old-town area of Valencia.
Richard McDonald, a stockbroker, has been on a workation for three months
“There’s a limited number of rush-hour Tube journeys you can endure and, too often, I found myself staring at eight screens questioning why I was there at all,” he says. “During the interview process, it was impossible to ignore how happy the people were on the screen in front of me. Now, after three months, I understand why.”
So far, his group of 50 people from all over the world have spent a month in Croatia, speedboating between the islands, and a month in Prague. He’s still trading the markets and running a portfolio, but for himself — this month from a Valencian café, last month with a view of the Adriatic. He thinks that the workation is partly a positive move away from materialism but one that could also be influenced by social media and the pressure to be seen to be living an enviable life. But guess what? He does, as his Instagram feed @Richgoneremoteattests.
“It’s your own custom-built travel experience. You can walk through museums, lie on the beach, have a coffee in the old town. The apartments are fully kitted out, the office is 15 minutes’ walk away and group social occasions are one email away. The values of millennials are very different. We want quality of life, not a luxury Swiss watch. As long as I get my work done, why do I have to be chained to a desk?”
Sonal Kotecha, an interior designer who had a workation in Bali
For Sonal Kotecha, 32, the ability to work like this is one of the perks of being in a creative industry. An interior designer based between London and Dubai, she spent last month working from Bali with Unsettled.
“There’s a generational difference,” she says, “and I think it’s almost ungrateful now not to take the opportunity to do these kinds of things. Just walking the streets of Bali, I’m working, not in the conventional sense, but looking at the beautiful stuff around me. This is the future. My mum thinks I’m brave, but I think it’s normal.”
The starting point for a month with Unsettled is about $2,000 to $2,600. What your final bill is depends on how much your flight is, how much luxury you want to live in and the cost of living where you’re going: Buenos Aires is going to cost more than Bali. The company has had chief executives and freelancers, small business owners and people who just want to change their lives, aged anywhere from early twenties to late sixties.
“It’s a way for people to experiment with this lifestyle without taking the full plunge,” Kalan says. “You don’t need to quit your job and sell your stuff and commit to travelling for a year. You can just take one month.”
You could of course do that without paying them. There’s nothing to stop you packing your laptop and heading to an Airbnb in Paris for a month on your own. Kotecha is clear why this is better.
“Easy — community. It’s kind of like Blue Peter, a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ box of people. I’ve travelled loads and worked in lots of locations but you still crave social interaction. Also, as a female travelling alone, there’s safety in numbers.”
Her month in Bali cost her about $3,750, including flights, living costs and spending money. She thinks it’s good value for money, and recouped some of the cost by sub-letting her London flat. Having given up a desk job as an interior designer in Dubai, she used the month to start setting up a business on her own. She admits there are aspects that can sound a bit cheesy — workshops for the group to see how they can help each other, called ‘Wish and gift workshops’. But the theory is that in a group that large, there’ll be plenty of shareable skills. Kotecha lent one of her new friends her skills as a designer, another helped her with setting up her website.
“I love the flexibility, the fact that if I wanted to go to a yoga class in the middle of the day I can make up for it by working later. It’s a work/life balance thing.”
Holly Stanton: “I quit the corporate world and I’m going to turn myself into a photographer”
For Holly Stanton, signing up with We Roam for a year wasn’t so much about work/life balance as changing her life completely. She had worked for 16 years as a saleswoman for Adobe, and moved from London to Sydney in the process. Now, at the age of 41, single and childless, she read an article in an in-flight magazine about workations. That was her lightbulb moment.
“I quit the corporate world and I’m going to turn myself into a photographer,” she says on the phone from Prague, where she’s nearing the end of her first month. “Then we head to Berlin, and I’ll go to 12 cities, in 12 countries, in 12 months.”
She made a down payment of $5,000 to We Roam, and pays a further $2,000 every month. The 12th month is free. She has got rid of her flat in Sydney and hired a business mentor to help her to forge her new career. At the end of the year, though, she’ll have nowhere to live and nothing to go to.
“That doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I will make it work. It’s highly unlikely I’ll go back to a desk job in Sydney. I can’t see myself doing nine-to-five ever again. Organisations should get over the idea that people are only productive nine-to-five.”
Was she having a midlife crisis? “I’ve been having a midlife crisis for years. I’m completely unsure about my future and open-minded about what it might look like. I’m reinventing myself.”
Stanton is one of the oldest on the trip but not, as she imagined, the oldest. She lives in an apartment on her own but says that, after only three weeks, it already feels like she has known the others for years. Everyone is vetted to make sure they’re suitable, which means mainly that they seem fun and have a job to do. This is not, Stanton points out, a gap year for grown-ups because everyone’s working full-time, at hours that suit them. They get together in the evenings to see how they could use their skills to help the others, and Stanton loves that We Roam gives her the chance to do charity or philanthropic work. She has signed up, along with 20 fellow Roamers, to spend a weekend helping refugees who are living an hour from Prague.
“There’s a huge camaraderie and collaborational spirit within the group,” she says. “It’s refreshing to be around people like that.”
Unemployed drifters looking for a holiday need not apply.