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August 27, 2020

'Workation' (Work + Vacation): Clear Your Mind, Boost Your Creativity

'Workation' (Work + Vacation): Clear Your Mind, Boost Your Creativity

Recently, the term "workation" has become popular in Japan. It is a coinage combining "work" and "vacation," meaning taking a working vacation while traveling, or working while on vacation. In this issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we introduce Japan's workation trend, as well as the activities of the Japan Institute on Workations. This new institute was established on August 1, 2020, by Junko Edahiro, president of the Institute for Studies of Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES).

Workations: A popular topic in Japan

In the last several months the term workation has appeared frequently in the Japanese media. In July the central government released its "2020 Basic Policy for Creation of Towns, People, and Work," introducing the concept of the workation in rural areas and outside of the Tokyo metropolis as a new way of working for corporate employees based in Tokyo. The government's mention of the workation resulted in a lot of coverage in the media.

Workations are not entirely new, however. They started gradually building momentum in recent years. At the local government level, the Workation Alliance Japan (WAJ) was established in November 2019 and now includes 96 local governments (10 prefectures and 86 municipalities). In the private sector, Japan Airlines (JAL) and other companies have already been testing the concept for several years. There are also workation networks that offer co-working spaces.

The reasons workations are attracting more attention in Japan include the trend toward corporate decentralization as a part of business continuity plans (BCPs) after the major earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, and the spread of flexible working styles in the context of changing work practices in recent years. Moreover, municipalities and communities facing depopulation are hoping to use workations to attract more people to develop local connections, move in and settle.

Another factor driving this trend is "telework" (working remotely, working from home), which has also been encouraged and has gained popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Establishment of Japan Institute on Workations

As mentioned above, Junko Edahiro established the Japan Institute on Workations this August. It is in the coastal city of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, the base of her activities. Atami is relatively close to Tokyo, just 40-minutes by bullet train, and it is also an ideal place for workations thanks to its proximity to the sea, mountains, and hot springs.

One of the reasons she wanted to establish the institute is that she thinks workations have enormous potential, far beyond just shifting the location of operations and meetings out of big cities.

The word "business" is associated with "busy-ness." But innovation is difficult in a hectic work environment with a mountain of things to do.

"Vacation," on the other hand, is associated with the verb "vacate." Once you become empty and clear your mind, you can accept new stimuli and experiences. For a good workation we need to have the space and time to become comfortable, empty, and clear-headed. Moving from an urban to rural setting does not automatically create emptiness. We need a quality experience.

It is vital to think deeply about the inspiration and ideas that can be gained through the processes of co-development and co-creation, and use that to boost innovations.

The Japan Institute on Workations aims to harness the growing interest in the topic to find ways to add value to workations so that they can improve work productivity, creativity, and the individual's sense of wellbeing.

Let's give it a try! A one-day workation

On August 5, soon after the establishment of the Japan Institute on Workations, two affiliated companies, e's Inc. and Change Agent Inc., held a joint retreat to experience a one-day workation. There were 12 participants, consisting of six in person (onsite in Atami), and six in a hybrid-style retreat (online from home for the entire day).

The program started with an activity called "Sculpture," with the participants reflecting on how they felt during the COVID-19 pandemic situation of the past few months and expressing their feelings with gestures. Instead of thinking about it intellectually, they used their minds and bodies to discover things they may have overlooked.

The lunch break included dining on a boat, with the meal consisting of seafood caught in the ocean around and near Atami. It was followed by a boat ride that lasted about 30 minutes. The six on-site participants were on the boat and broadcasted it live from smartphones to the six online participants who remained at home all day. The view from the ocean was completely different from that from the land. It was short but quite an experience from offshore to see and hear people enjoying bathing at beach, feel the sea breeze and put themselves in an environment which was different from everyday life. As we describe below, this activity had a large impact on the difference between the two groups in perceived quality of the workation in the afternoon.

After lunch, the main program consisted of an open discussion on business opportunities in the COVID-19 era. This task required some creativity.

Effectiveness of the workation

At the end of the one-day program, participants completed a survey on three aspects of the workation: productivity (Did your work go smoothly?), creativity (Did you produce new ideas and concepts?) and the sense of happiness or wellbeing. Interestingly, 100% of the onsite participants responded that the workation was effective for all three aspects covered in the survey.

Meanwhile, only 34% of the online participants replied that their work was productive (went smoothly). As for creativity, 84% of the online group replied they had new ideas, and 34% said their sense of wellbeing increased. The difference in results revealed a sharp contrast between the onsite versus the online cohort. Although our dataset is small, the results made us realize the enormous potential of the workation concept.

Participants also responded to open-ended questions about the context affecting the perceived levels of productivity, creativity and sense of wellbeing. Many of the onsite participants alluded to the effectiveness of an activity (the short boat ride), with comments like this: "Seeing the land from the ocean switched my point of view." "The activity made me feel the summer, which changed my mood, so I could concentrate better." "By riding the boat and seeing the beach (our project site) with my own eyes, I could imagine my role in the coming project."

Other answers suggested that there were benefits of a workation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example: "Because we spend so much time online these days, I felt my senses were heightened by being able to enjoy the fresh and tasty local food right here." "If I came here just for a holiday, I might feel guilty because of warnings to exercise self-restraint during the pandemic. But because I was here was partly for work, I felt more relaxed about it."

The concept of the workation is that once you become empty and clear your mind, you can accept new stimuli and experiences. This one-day trial suggests the great potential value of workations. In the future the institute plans to develop more extensive programs and measure the impacts.

What do you think of the workation initiative we've described here? Does it sound interesting? Is it something you would like to try? Does the idea of working while on vacation completely turn you off? People may have very different responses.

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