Working on vacation — technology makes it possible — do you or don’t you?

by Charlie Leocha on July 26, 2013

I am a master at working on vacation. Some claim that my life is a vacation, but it really isn’t. Those who know me realize that though I get to travel, enjoy great food and stay for extended time in foreign countries, I put in plenty of hours working at my computer, making phone calls, participating on conference calls and meeting via video conferencing.

I love mixing vacations with work
On a recent month-long visit to Venice, Italy, I had the opportunity to work full time while enjoying the delights of the city’s canals and narrow passageways. My secret? Taking advantage of technology and the differences in time zones. Most of my co-workers had no idea that I was working from across the Atlantic.

Anyone who wants to do this must rent an apartment with good Internet connections. My time was in Venice, but this experience could be replicated in Zermatt, Munich, Copenhagen or anywhere in Europe.

In Venice, I would get up early (around 7 a.m.) and go for a walk or ride on the vaporettos along the canals. At that hour tourists from the outside had not arrived and the city itself was still in a semi-sleep mode. I always planned to visit at least one church and sight in the morning hours. I would also do chores such as buying groceries, wine, bread and pastries.

I managed a short lunch and was back in my apartment by around 1 p.m. That was 7 a.m. on the East Coast. With Skype, I could make all the international phone calls I wanted to make for only pennies per minute and I could sit in on hour-long conference calls for only $1.20.

I managed to read several US newspapers and each day composed blog postings as well as articles for clients. I could follow legislation in Washington on the Web and even attend congressional hearings on the Internet.

In the evening, I excused myself, saying I had appointments, and wandered the nighttime canals and dances to the orchestras on St. Mark’s Square with American, French, German and Italian tourists. It was delightful. Dinner could be at home, or at a restaurant.

Friends who visited were on their own for the afternoons, but I was always around for morning walks, evening strolls and plenty of suggestions for next day adventures.

What about the rest of us?
I may have been extreme in my locations and length of time away, but others are carrying work with them on vacations. TeamViewer® fielded a study among over 2,000 American adults aged 18 and older, of which 1,094 are employed full time, part time and/or self-employed. It was conducted online by Harris Interactive in June. The survey, which was aimed at determining American attitudes and behavior toward working during their summer vacations, found that 61 percent of employed vacationers plan to work during that time, expecting to perform tasks that include:

• Reading work-related emails – 38 percent
• Wanting work-related access to a document on work/home computer – 32 percent
• Receiving work-related calls – 30 percent
• Receiving work-related text messages – 24 percent
• Being asked to do work by a boss, client or colleague – 20 percent

In a similar survey released last year by TeamViewer, the study found that 52 percent of employed Americans said they would work during their summer vacations.

Now, in 2013, employed Americans plan to be prepared. Almost 70 percent say they will bring a work-capable device with them on vacation, with 61 percent who plan to bring up to three such devices. In addition, 67 percent of vacationers say they actually expect to use a device for work-related purposes, with smartphone (40  percent) as the most popular device to use, followed by laptop (39 percent), desktop computer (24 percent) and a tablet (18 percent).

Some don’t like to be forced to work
Fully 83 percent agree that having to work during vacation is becoming more common in America, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. In fact, 89 percent say they would react if they were asked to work during vacation by their boss, many in emotional or even sneaky ways, including:

• Do the work, but not happily – 34 percent
• Feel that my boss doesn’t respect my time – 29 percent
• Worry about the boundaries of my personal life – 24 percent
• I would say no – 22 percent
• Be happy to do the work – 14 percent
• I would turn off my devices and ignore it altogether – 13 percent
• I would pretend I didn’t see the incoming message, text, etc. – 11 percent

An extreme 6 percent said they would use the vacation to update their resume to look for a new job, followed by saying they might throw something (4 percent) cry (3 percent) or even quit their job (2 percent).

Interestingly, the study shows that the trend of mixing work into summer vacation is particularly acute among Generation Y, those currently aged 18-34, who are statistically more likely than any other age group to say they expect to work during their vacation (73 percent), expect to bring (82 percent) and then need to use (79 percent) a work-capable device.

The way I look at it, a partial day at work in an exotic location is still a partial vacation. And, the more memorable your destination, the more memorable your work may end up being.

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  • Marilyn

    Working on vacations predates the advancements in technology. As a teacher except for the summer time, any time that I went on any trip, a stack of papers went along with me so that I could grade them. One spring break I rented a house in the south of France. Every morning I got up 1 or 2 hours before everyone else, made coffee, and then graded until they all got up. Then every night after everyone else had gone to bed, I graded until I became too sleepy. We spent each day sightseeing, but the grading went on while everyone else slept. By the time I arrived home at the end of the week, all of the essays were graded. Only now that I am retired can I take a vacation and pack much lighter without the stack of papers.

  • MeanMeosh

    I have to disagree with your general premise that a “partial day of work is still a partial vacation”, though granted, perhaps that fits better with your line of work. To me, one of the great travesties of technology is the expectation, especially among clients, that we as service providers be “always available”, regardless of where we might be or that we are trying to enjoy some much needed downtime. In my previous job, I can’t tell you how many times I received e-mails asking if I could join a conference call while on a cruise, or if I could be available at 3:30 A.M. India time for a call at 5 P.M. CDT, or if I wouldn’t mind spending a half day revising a memo because “the client needs it right now and can’t wait until you come back from vacation”. What I do is far from a life-or-death exercise, and it always bothers me that people can’t wait a week or – heaven forbid – talk to someone else in the meantime.

    My limit is I will check e-mails for a couple of hours in the night after all the sightseeing is done and we’re done with dinner, and if I am on a road trip, don’t mind taking a phone call while on the road (with Bluetooth!) as long as I have cell coverage. But otherwise, I refuse to take conference calls or otherwise be available for projects if I am out enjoying my vacation. Sorry, but when I only have a week or two off, I’m not interrupting sightseeing or lunch with my wife because someone can’t be respectful of my time and not be bothered to call someone else.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve taken a proofreading project on vacation once or twice over the years, but I intentionally don’t own a laptop to avoid being able to edit on the road. Usually I leave work totally behind once I walk out the door and don’t even think about it (except to send a postcard) till the first post-vacation workday.

  • Carchar

    My work never came home with me and my home rarely came to work with me. I say rarely, because there was the occasional emergency that demanded attention but got resolved.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I tell my clients beforehand that I’m on vacation and not available. However I check emails regularly and if something urgent comes up I’ll respond. Sometimes something important comes up and needs me personally.

  • Ton

    i always have multiple firewalls, 1st i speak to people who might need me and tell them i will be away, do you have anything that can’t wait?

    any job that would fall in the period that i can do upfront is done

    then the “not available “message goes on for the mail 1 day before, and i walk through whatever gets redirected to my coworkers as they take care of it

    and then the phone goes in holiday mode, the fact that i often go to different timezones has me callblocking most numbers apart from close relatives who know i am away and won’t call unless it is important. Some people tend to call me mobile even when they know i’m in the office, after 1 call in the middle of the night while on holiday , well lets say i gave them a piece of my mind

  • bodega3

    People think they are fooling others when they say they are going on vacation but check their work emails and keep their phone handy. What bothers me, are those who work around the pool, taking calls that we all can hear. I AM on vacation and I don’t want to listen to anyone’s business stuff! It breaks my heart to see kids in the pool, or at the beach not getting their parents attention as mom or dad have a phone in hand. The saddest sight I have ever seen is a well dressed young mother texting, while behind her nanny who was holding the children’s hands and talking with them. Either go on vacation or stay home, you aren’t doing yourself or anyone around you any good!

  • Chasmosaur

    Back in 2000, I was at a technical conference. Wandering over to the exhibitor hall, I stopped at a booth where they were touting this new thing called a “Blackberry.”

    The helpful and energetic booth-guy told me how awesome it was – I could both receive and send e-mail when I wasn’t in front of my computer. I could even be in contact with work on vacation!

    I smiled, murmured the expected platitudes for how cool it was, but said I was pretty sure that I couldn’t get e-mail on vacation. He assured me the network was substantial. I assured him that the dinosaur digs I worked on in middle of the Canadian badlands were pretty remote from most cell towers.

    To which he further replied – “Oh, I’m sure we could reach there!” And I replied – “You don’t get it: I purposely go to the remote Canadian badlands because I don’t WANT to be able to send or receive e-mail with work while I’m on vacation.”

    He had the most confused look on his face. He honestly couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be in contact with work on vacation.

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