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Why "Workcations" Are the New Work from Home

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Photo: Johner Images / Getty Images

Working from home isn't the only way to escape the confines of a 9-to-5 job anymore. Today, innovative companies—Remote Year (a work and travel program that helps people work remotely all over the globe for four months or a year) or Unsettled (which creates co-working retreats around the globe)—and other similar programs have taken off. There's even a program called "Work from Hawaii," started by the Hawaii tourism board, that allows people in the tri-state area to apply for a weeklong residency in the islands. Sign. Us. Up.

Creating immersive, collaborative, work-from-anywhere—yes, even on the beach in Bali—situations, these programs bring people overseas, set up mobile offices across the globe, curate local adventures, and craft sabbatical-like retreats. And they're seriously attractive to the overworked, plugged-in among us. (FYI, here are 12 things you can do to chill out the minute you leave the office.)

Even big-name corporations are taking note. Executives from companies such as Uber, Microsoft, and IBM have taken trips with Unsettled. Remote Year has corporate partnerships, too, hosting employees of companies like Hootsuite and Fiverr. Beyond big corporations partnering with work and travel programs, more and more companies are allowing employees to work remotely—3.9 million employees in the U.S. (2.9 percent of the total workforce) work remotely at least half of the time, a figure that's increased 115 percent since 2005.

"Most major companies also have a structured sabbatical or volunteer program," says Jonathan Kalan, cofounder of Unsettled. Others are willing to spend money on professional development—and this is one new way to do it.

Why the Rise?

Programs that whisk you away to co-work in Peru for a few months are made possible, in large part, by technology. "Now, many people can do their work from anywhere in the world as long as they have a WiFi connection," says Erica Lurie, marketing coordinator for Remote Year. "You don't have to choose between work and travel anymore. We're living in a time where people value flexibility and freedom and a work and travel experience offers that."

There's also arguably a need for structure in today's independent economy. Say you're your own boss, a freelancer, or a contract worker. You might not know where to turn to for guidance, support, inspiration, or ideas—things that the traditional confines of an office job provided. "There is not a clear career path anymore," says Kalan. Talking with entrepreneurs, learning about different business climates, and exploring different cultures can offer perspective, allowing for personal and professional growth.

If you already work in a structured environment? You might just need a break—or some freedom to do your own thing. "When we speak to people who have just started their Remote Year journeys, we find that they're looking for a change," says Lurie. "They've felt stuck in their routines for a while now and they're searching for something more."

Kalan adds: "Internally, people are realizing they need to give themselves permission to try these types of experiences and it's becoming more socially permissible to do so."

The Health Benefits

If you're able to take a few months (or longer) to dedicate to a workcation, it'll likely pay off. For one, having control over your schedule (read: not being tied to the desk) is incredibly effective at keeping work stress at bay. "Giving people more control over their schedule and flexibility in their schedule helps to aid in organizational burnout," says Amy Sullivan, Psy.D., a clinical health psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

This opens the door for balance, new routines, and healthy habits. "When people step out of 9-to-5 grind they are taking a chance to assess what's important to them and what's not; it's a chance to totally change routine for a month or longer," says Kalan. If you realize that an a.m. run, for example, helps you think more clearly the rest of the day, you can try to make time for that when you're back home.

Then there's the social element. "In today's society, people are talking more about loneliness," notes Sullivan. "Everything we do is basically on our phones. I find that problematic because we are no longer really communicating with people—we're communicating with systems." (Related: How to Take Care of Your Mental Health When You Work from Home)

Spending quality (IRL) time with others and having healthy relationships with others has protective effects, both mentally and physically—and proves to be hugely important in longevity.

And if you're just taking time off of work in general? Well, research suggests that spending money on experiences versus material goods produces more happiness.

How to Make It Work for You

Here's the thing, though: Everyone is different and everyone's career is different. Maybe your job only lets you take one day off. If that's the case, it's still incredibly important to take that day every now and then—for the sake of your mind. As Sullivan puts it: "If you were sick with the flu you would stay home. So why wouldn't we take care of our mental health in the same way?'"

If you're considering a full-blown trip? Find out what your company might be okay with getting on board with first. Then, think about what brings you the most joy, suggests Sullivan. Crafting an experience around your own values or what you're struggling with or hope to achieve will lend itself to the best results. For example, Remote Year plans itineraries around themes—"strength and duality" or "growth and exploration."

And no matter what, aim to incorporate a little bit of mindfulness into your day. Whether you're pulling into the office at 8 a.m. or waking up in Tuscany's wine country ready for a day of work, two minutes to yourself to focus on your breathing and being present goes a long way (even if you can't really be in the Tuscan countryside).

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