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Italy’s Hotels Champion Workcations For Travel-Hungry Telecommuters

When I video call Edoardo Giuntoli, general manager of the five-star hotel Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese, he’s sitting on the hotel’s roof terrace with a backdrop of the Roman skyline that could easily be mistaken for a Zoom background. During our interview, he casually indicates the Quirinal Palace below and waves a nonchalant hand over to the Vatican. “This location boosts creativity for workers, right?” he laughs, pointing out the tempting rack of expensive bubbly behind him that might act as a post-work thirst quencher. Sofitel Rome is tapping into the rising “workcation” trend, a new holiday concept that is capitalizing on the growth of remote working amid the pandemic. Instead of working from a guest bedroom hastily converted into a home office, workcations allow telecommuters to conduct business from some of the most beautiful locations around the world while maximizing leisure time. 

Recent studies have shown that Americans are working longer hours than ever. Working from home during COVID lockdowns has exacerbated the phenomenon, with an expectation of round-the-clock connectivity and an inevitable rise in worker burnout. Last year, approximately 42% of the American labor force was working from home and vulnerable to the harmful blurring of work and leisure time that accompanies it. To try and flip this situation into something advantageous, the workcation (sometimes spelled “workation”) was born. “It is the perfect scenario, considering how many companies are working from home, to combine a good holiday in a nice setting and work,” says Giuntoli. 

The idea of the workcation is not to book a vacation and then spoil it by bringing along paperwork — in other words it is not in lieu of actual time off — but to work in a different environment. Working from home for extended periods takes a mental toll, often manifesting as feelings of isolation due to the loss of social interaction with colleagues. In answer to working-from-home fatigue, workcations provide a change of scenery without eating into precious vacation days. Susie Ellis, CEO of the Global Wellness Institute, told CNBC that working from different locations can boost mental wellbeing. “Academics have actually studied the impact of sabbaticals on well-being, whether the traditional one-year academic variety or a-month-or-more work sabbatical,” she said. “The research indicates [they] decrease people’s stress, boost overall wellbeing and help people work more creatively.”

As such, hotels are offering tailored workcation packages to ensure a sojourn that is both productive and enjoyable. Sofitel Rome’s minimum 14-day option provides basic necessities like a fast and reliable internet connection. On top of that, the hotel offers a variety of locations to work from including hotel suites with outdoor spaces, the rooftop restaurant, meeting rooms for a more formal environment, and the lobby (with champagne bar facilities). 

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The real perk, however, is how you spend your post-work downtime. Rather than collapsing on the sofa to watch junk telly, workers can either don their tourist hat and explore Italy’s capital, or take advantage of Sofitel Rome’s stress-reducing services. To see the highlights of Rome with limited time, the hotel proposes a running tour through the Eternal City (thankfully with a walking option too) and a virtual concierge service. Alternatively, there are yoga sessions in the neighboring Villa Borghese park, pasta-making classes with hotel chef Giuseppe D’Alessio, or Italian lessons. 

For Liliana Mascolo at Hotel Poseidon, a four-star family-run hotel in Positano on the Amalfi Coast, the notion to offer workcations came almost by accident. Mascolo handles PR and communication and is also the daughter of Monica Aonzo, who owns the hotel along with her brother Marco Aonzo. During enforced closure under Italy’s coronavirus regulations, Mascolo and her sister, found themselves working from various locations around the hotel. “If someone like the lawyer or the accountant needed to use the office, meaning we couldn’t be in there too, we would move around the hotel rooms to work,” Mascolo explains. Computer in tow, they would squabble, as siblings are prone to do, over the rooms that afforded the best views of Positano’s vertiginous cascade of pretty white houses. 

It struck the two sisters that it was a rather pleasant mode of remote working, and thus they began to offer official workcation packages when the hotel reopened. The hotel now has mobile workcation equipment — a monitor, keyboard, laptop stand, mouse and ergonomic chair — that can be installed in most of the guest rooms. Thus, the telecommuter can tap away while regularly soaking up the sun-drenched view of Positano’s flower-adorned townscape and the gentle breeze through the balcony doors. 

The hotel has 50 rooms and suites in total, all with interesting quirks and perks as a result of the piecemeal expansion of the structure from family home to hotel. Some of the room terraces are vast, with sun loungers that require remote workers to exercise strict self-restraint. In others, a floor-to-ceiling window in the bedroom means you can read early morning emails between draughts of the picturesque panorama. Alternately, the expansive bar terrace provides plenty of quiet corners for setting up a laptop. 

Mascolo says the workcation idea has really taken off. “I remember walking past a photographer at the poolside who was editing his photos from a recent wedding,” she recalls, while an estate agent wrote up adverts for houses thousands of miles away.  

Once guests clock off for the day, there’s the pool with panoramic views or the beauty center to wash away all thoughts of work before a signature cocktail on the terrace and a dinner of sophisticated Neopolitan-inspired fare at the hotel’s onsite restaurant, Il Tridente. While Sofitel Rome is leaning more towards the long-stay guest, Hotel Poseidon has also envisaged a day worker option. Their Dayscapes provide rooms without the overnight stay, but with access to the pool, the onsite restaurant and cocktail lounge, and full access to a private in-room work station.  

Italian startup DayBreakHotels, which began by pioneering the “daycation” stay, has also begun offering day worker packages in hotels around Italy. Hotel rooms can be booked for half days, full days, and even full working weeks. On the startup’s website, users can also select add-ons like gym or spa access. Co-founder and CEO of DayBreakHotels, Simon Botto, told Startups Magazine, “The idea behind the ‘workcation’ concept is that anyone can swap a day in the home office for the peace and quiet of a nearby hotel. By making luxury rooms and facilities accessible at affordable day rates, we hope to give a nation of burnt out remote workers a much-needed getaway without even taking a day off work.”

As a relatively recent phenomenon, it can still be tricky to organize a workcation. Although employees might no longer be tethered to the workplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean employers will be amenable to the idea of taking off for a week. CNBC suggests approaching your boss armed with data about workcation benefits and examples of other companies accepting the option. Once successfully negotiated, however, it is also important to set firm work/leisure time boundaries before leaving and be clear when you will be available. 

As Giuntoli astutely points out, here time zone differences could play to your advantage. Taking New York as an example, which is six hours behind Rome, Giuntoli notes that workcationers can have a morning and lunch spending “quality time” as a vacationer while using the afternoon as “productive time”. 

The bottom line is, remote working isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 54% of employees reported they would choose to keep working from home after the pandemic ends. Companies such as Google, Twitter, Dropbox, and Slack have announced plans to permanently switch to remote or hybrid working post-pandemic. So if telework nomadism continues to be the norm, why not conduct business knowing post-work you can sip an aperitivo overlooking the dome of St Peter’s when in Rome or taste a local Amalfi Coast wine while watching the sunset in Positano.

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