Chat interview with Robert from Mountaindesk.com
Robert: Hi Philipp, tell us who you are and what you are up to!
Philipp: Thanks Robert, I love to! After having worked for almost 10 years in finance in Asia, I started from scratch. It is absolutely fascinating how places bring us together and enable us to learn from each other, to exchange thoughts or just have a great time together.
Most important in this equation are the people involved. Yet, obviously, the environment has a huge impact on us. Some influences are obvious, like street noise that won’t let us get any sleep other influences are more subtle like certain colors or spaces to which we can retreat.
Nowadays, we can control our environment better than ever before. We don’t tolerate everything and thing about the barriers to our personal development. Today, we can decide ourselves where and how we want to live. Day after day, more opportunities open up.
One of the most exciting of those opportunities is to spend a time at a workation and to co-create there. A workation is a short period of several days to few months during which people meet up at a lovely, enjoyable place. That place is not there permanent residence, but rather a location that offers them the ability to work efficiently without stress and having a wonderful and empowering community around. Basically, the perfect mix of work and vacation which are the two roots of the word workation.
At those workations, we exchange ideas, work more efficiently, and gain new perspectives. The basis for such is personal freedom of decision. In the past years, I have participated in workations and organized workations myself.
Outside of the remote entrepreneur bubble, only few people have heard about the idea to engage in a workation. Yet, the number of organizers, workations and participants is rising continuously year after year. At the same time the conceptual differences of workations also get wider and wider. So I asked myself how it is possible to have an overview of whats going on and looked for a directory in 2018. Since nothing existed, we have started work on it ourselves and in 2018 created the first workation survey and in January 2019 we launched the first workation directory website: workationlist.com trying to bring organizers and participants together.
Robert: That’s an absolutely exciting topic, which we also work on in a way at MountainDesk. Remote work and woraktion are closely related. My background is that I have been working in software for the last 18 years. I have always been traveling a lot and worked during those journeys. Preferably up in the mountains. Now the family “joined me” and that is a new challenge.
You write that a workation could be several days to a few months. What do you think about the participants, though? Is it only of interest for solopreneurs or also for professionals with family? Is that even possible to combine? A family has completely different requirements than individuals.
Philipp: You are the example that it is possible. In the beginning, it was mostly software developers and solopreneurs that thought about in which environment they would like to work. In your case, that’s up in the mountains. Yet, in the last years there has been an exciting development. Starting from early adopters like those mentioned above more and more job categories are now possible to do remotely. At the same time, the group of solopreneurs is growing and the society as a whole moves away from classic factory jobs towards creative jobs. Hence, workations become relevant for more and more people, yet many have never heard of the topic before.
The crucial aspect is to find a suitable workation based on the own requirements and needs. As you said, those needs can be widely different no matter if we talk about special dietary requirements, family or preferences.
For example, families that like to spend time with other families can do so. Nooba organize these family workations. Our project workationlist is a tool for people to find the suitable workation. While there are so many different types, there are some groundrules that are important for a workation to succeed.
Before we talk about this more, tell us about your situation. How did you integrate your family in this remote lifestyle? What was the biggest hurddle to it and what should the locations offer you so that the whole family is happy and you can work productively?
Robert: That integration is indeed the biggest challenge. For any home office worker, time management is important but more so if you have a family. A kid doesn’t understand why daddy is at home, but doesn’t have time cause he “works”. The traditional 9to5 and the new work reality colide.
The whole family, and first and foremost the partner has to be fully engaged and encouraging. It works well if fixed times are set for work and family time and often if there is an extra room or a co-working space. As a family, we went to Madeira for 5 weeks last winter und for simple work, I sat down on the balcony with a cliche seaview. That was my extra room for this and if I needed longer, concentrated time or fast internet, I got myself a FlexPass to Cowork Funchal.
At a workation, at which it is clear that kids join, this can be well organized and if there is a partner joining who can take care of the kids that is even better. So far, I haven’t been to a co-working space that featured taking care of children, but heard that this exists in Berlin. In general, no matter if you attend a workation alone or with family, there should be a clear framework.
How did you organize the workations in terms of time?
Philipp: These are all exciting points that you mention about how to integrate your family at workations. I don’t have kids and at least for now can’t say a lot about this, but I can fully understand the point about space.
I usually see that participants of a workation chose 2 to 5 different spaces right in the beginning on which they feel comfortable to work from. Most of the time, I stay at a place with a good view but it is liberating and motivating to have other spaces as alternatives. Personally, I like a simple chair and table in a tiny, quiet, small room. Plus, as a third option a place where I can work standing. That could be a standing desk, but most locations do not offer this, so I just use a small closet or put a box on a table and my laptop on top of that. Normally, I find those places within the first 2 days. The first day at a new place is for exploration. I am usually not productive and too tired plus there are too many new impressions. After that first day, I can start working productively and memorize the times and spaces where I already worked efficiently.
At workations, it is crucial that participants can chose those spaces themselves and that they can rotate between those places that are good to have a conversation with others, and those quiet places for deep work.
Back to your question about time management at workations. I share your view that the framework is very important. That starts with an introductory discussion long before the start of the workation to get the expectations right and it continues after the workation with ongoing communication.
During the actual workation, I mean workations with more than 1 participant, it is great to have a kick-off session in the beginning to clarify expectations and all the organizational stuff that has not yet been mentioned before and to have a wrap-up session in the end. Often, it is also great to have daily meetings at the breakfast table like we did at a workation on Langkawi. Some of us went to the beach for jogging in the early morning and joined after the shower while others slept until 9.30 am and joined then. This way, all of us got together without forcing a strict schedule on anybody. Another alternative was at the BeHuman workation organized by Marcel at the Rockwood Farm in South Africa where we enjoyed dinner together overseeing the beautiful garden of the farm.
Inbetween those set times for getting together, there is time for exchange, activities or concentrated work. A workation as an organized event shall provide a rough framework, but most important is the self reliance of all participants. Everybody can define work times or enjoy sports, culture, and nature.
In order for workations to reach a much broader audience, we have to discuss and support the “integration” of children much more. That way, the whole topic would become much more interesting for people that don’t see that opportunity yet and that think this is a trend only for young bloggers on hammocks that work on their next Instagram post.
What do you think? How can society change to accept workations more? Is that even a good thing? And what could we do for that?
Robert: I know exactly what you talk about when you mention those different, fixed spots to work from. There is this co-genial book „Deep Work“ by Cal Newport. There, concentrated work is described and one point is to have certain spaces for certain activities. This conditions you to better do a task. That way, you can get into it extremely quickly, even after an interruption. For me, the best place to think is just going for a walk. And for my tax declaration, it is definitely the storage room. Helps that I want to get out of there asap.
You mentioned another crucial point: preliminary talks. In my view, this is very important. Just: Only if all understand and comit to the rules can it be a good and productive time together.
Should workations get more known? Absolutely! In any case! Everybody should know that this possibility exists and that’s why it is so important that the cliche featuring the hammock stops.
Every Monday, I could shout out to all those radio stations or facebook: Hey! Don’t complain about Mondays, there are so many other opportunities in this world!
Not everybody can work remotely, difficult to do that at a conveyor belt. Longer term, conveyor belts get less and less important and more people can work remotely. So, no more excuses! Most employees can’t imagine this new world. Media don’t show it and many employers do not actively promote it. Some old bosses and manager fear losing control, but personally, I am way more productive remotely than in a large office.
MountainDesk and BeachDesk aim exactly into that direction. We want to spread the word. If everybody loves their job, there will be less stress and more time for family and hobby. There is more room for love and in the end, everybody is more relaxed.
Actually, I am not a big fan of the saying: “Do what you love and you never have to work again.” I can do things that I don’t love but that I do well and that will give me some time and resources to work from everywhere and whenever I want. This reflects very much the inner value system.
What does that inner value system mean for you? What about freedom, security etc.?
Philipp: For me personally, freedom and making own decisions are essential values. To be honest, I don’t think too much about how to call or categories the values that I follow by heart. Way to often, we answer the “value question” with something we learnt along the way, something that sounds good like “pursuit of happiness”, “freedom”, “family”, and “authenticity”.
I find it fascinating to see how we integrate those easy to pronounce values into our lives. As free spirits, creative people, how can we use workations? Yet workations could also fit for people that wouldn’t describe themselves as the above saying.
Somehow, many people feel that there are some relations between different values and more often than not they equal some of those relations with rules to be either the one or the other. Many vegans pick yoga over football, but why? That might not have much to do with the choice of being vegan. There are many barriers we build in our thought process and way too often we confuse correlation and causality that play a role in building those barriers.
Let’s get back to our topic: There are young workation participants on hammocks at the beach that type an email with one hand while having a cocktail in the other. Yet, maybe we have the chance to also reduce that cliche view of the workations. Using a positive narrative like: several employees of a traditional SME spend several days in a mountain hotel together with their families. They work there and go for a hike once in a while. If that is traditionally called or workation or not is a different aspect.
What role do values play for you, Robert, in regards to MountainDesk?
Robert: Values are very important. Especially how to combine freedom and security. It is not about the nomadic lifestyle – that is often regarded as freedom, but about to have a job that is a lot of fun, provides financially for a family and allows to travel. Not everybody has that freedom
This is exactly what we want to achieve with MountainDesk. We want to show that location independent work doesn’t equal to travel all the time or having an own business, or geo-arbitrage to survive. Currently, we put more and more topics about this online and expand the number of desks. These are accommodations that are suitable for remote workers. Our vision is to create an own co-working-space and guesthouse in the mountains which could become a model for others.
What’s your goal with workationlist.com?
Philipp: We want to match people with suitable workations. There is airbnb for short term rentals and booking.com for hotels – we do this for workations. Using different filter functions, you can find the workation that fits well to you. Depends what is important to you. We also want to support companies that want to organize their own workations.
Why should companies and individuals use workations: Well, we experienced ourselves that we are less stressed, more relaxed and still more productive! And this experience was echoed by many others. Participants achieved more having less stress.
Sometimes I hear people that are not happy with their jobs. Topics like depression and burnout might affect many people but also Vitamin D deficiency that affects basically 80% of adults in northern Europe. A workation can be part of the solution how we achieve more without increasing stress levels. So far, the topic isn’t well researched. Last year, we have created the first global survey about this topic and its hightime to create the next survey.
So far, there are lot of hints that individuals gain greatly from workations but seems also that society profits and that is why we want to bring this topic more towards society on a larger scale.
Let’s wrap it all up. We discussed how important freedom, location indepencen, and deep work are and that there are possibilities to realize it. Having created MountainDesk and Workationlist, we want to facilitate more people to see those possibilities and embrace them. Especially, we want to reach out to groups that traditionally are almost not in connection with the topic like families or employees of SMEs.
Robert, thanks a lot for the conversation and your insights. I enjoyed it a lot and please wrap it all up.
Robert: First of all: Thank you, Philipp. Has been very interesting conversation that we had via this chat interview. Many in-depth points that we covered. This is another motivation for me that we are on the right track with MountainDesk. Reaching out to people that currently can’t picture themselves in those possibilities that would make them more independent and more secure at the same time.
Looking forward to see how your project develops and hope that our laptops will be in the same wifi sometimes at a workation.
Guys, go out and have a look what is possible! Don’t cover your eyes from the possibilities of our time whatever they may be. Use these new developments.