Covid and the rise in remote work accelerated this trend, especially in management, business, financial and professional occupations. But while many appreciate the new flexibility in their daily lives, and some enjoy having the ability to take a “workcation,” the bleeding of work into vacation hours has caused a lot of angst about the difficulty of “unplugging.”
What will work and life look like after the pandemic?
Do we need to fully unplug in order to relax? I hope we can begin to understand that, for many, work is a collection of tasks, not a collection of hours in a certain place. And time is a finite resource, but one that cannot always be neatly divided into “work time” and “free time.” Taking time for yourself during the work day doesn’t make you lazy, and working a bit on vacation doesn’t make you a workaholic. Dispensing with strict time boundaries should also mean ditching the guilt you might feel for either.
Loosening up the vacation vs. work binary opens up possibilities for living in new ways. Karen Raraigh, a Baltimore-based genetic counselor with a focus on research, gets a generous quantity of vacation days each year. But as with many professionals, her specialized projects won’t move forward in the same way if she’s not tending them — and she finds these projects quite meaningful.
“I like the work I do,” she told me. “The fact that I do a little work on vacation makes me feel a little better about taking more of it.” Her family spends multiple weeks visiting extended family in Maine, but she sometimes holes up for an afternoon to manage work matters while relatives play with her kids.
There is a difference, of course, between checking email in your Airbnb before everyone wakes up and being that guy on a Zoom call in the line for Space Mountain. As with most things, time flexibility can go too far, and you have to know yourself and your disposition. It’s one thing to choose to work on vacation, and another when your manager or your unreasonable workload forces you to work. Likewise, if you find that allowing for personal tasks or excursions during the work day means you never get anything done, then stricter separation might be the way to go.
But if doing some work at the beach means you can be at the beach for two weeks instead of one, and moving work time around means you can play with your kids in the afternoons and still keep your clients happy, then those blurred boundaries might be working to your advantage.