Sanity break: Filipinos go on ‘workation’ during world's longest lockdown

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Sanity break: Filipinos go on âworkationâ during world's longest lockdown
This December 2020 photo shows Baybain Hub's co-working space.
Baybayin Hub Cowork, Colive & Play / Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — On March 16 last year, many Filipinos forced to work from home after President Rodrigo Duterte placed all of Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine,” what would later be dubbed among the “longest lockdowns” in the world.

This quarantine phase that lasted for three months only allowed employees under the essential services to work on site, leaving the majority of businesses no choice but to operate remotely or close down. More relaxed quarantine phases were later implemented to include non-essential businesses but they were only allowed to work at limited capacity.

Mentally-challenging remote work setup

Maria Patricia Natacia Suarez Atienza, owner of a virtual assistant agency, is not new to the work-from-home setup as she has been doing it since 2015. Through that journey, she realized that while she resides in Quezon City, she could enjoy working anywhere and build her business whenever and wherever.

However, when the mandatory quarantine was declared, she had to start from scratch.

“So, when the pandemic hit, staying at home, I was back to Square One—a lot of projects, a lot of clients, working with no limits and living in the same routine every day in our home. We came to a point that we get excited [during] grocery day because we can go out,” the 29-year-old shared in an online interview.

When Atienza and her partner had enough of their daily routine, they started looking for a place where they “can be safe and experience nature again.”

Atienza and her partner availed of a workation offering from a co-living and coworking shared space for remote workers, freelancers, and online entrepreneurs in Bolinao, Pangasinan where they stayed for 34 days in late 2020, an experience she said she won't forget.

“Change in environment, fresh perspective in all aspects of my daily life—not only in surroundings which allowed me to [arrive] to some realizations. It gave me a sense of accomplishment because I didn’t have to be in an office to help businesses or clients achieve their goals. I can be at the beach and help people learn that there's an industry like this,” she added.

Before the pandemic, finance and accounting analyst Mark Adrian Henera, a Makati City resident, was working at the office four times a week. He was also challenged by the WFH setup.

"There's a blurred boundary between work and life. As a person who loves to travel, I felt anxious working in an enclosed space at home for almost a year now and that led to my decision to try workation in Boracay," the 24-year-old told Philstar.com.

Henera said choosing a work-friendly destination with low cost of living is his top priority for workation arrangement, so, when he saw a Facebook advertisement with a budget-friendly package he tried it for a week last month to see if it will boost his productivity.

Henera said "unwinding after work hours gives me a sense of fulfillment and confidence to work the next day."
Photos provided by Mark Adrian Henera

"I was able to merge my hobby and work and I guess this design best works for a travel person like me. But of course, it requires self discipline to keep my focus balanced between work and vacation," he said. 

Where you can go on workation in the Philippines

With the pandemic still raging for more than a year now, several accommodation establishments have also realized the market for people like Atienza and Henera who are looking for a change in environment while managing to work at the same time.

Baybayin Hub

Orly Darnayla, a hostel owner, founded Baybayin Hub in September after his hostel in Manila saw a drop in occupancy rate.

“To be able to survive, I converted my hostel to coworking and co-living space and invited freelancers, remote workers to stay with us. Since I am a practitioner of 'work anywhere,' I have been working remotely for almost 16 years, I know the remote workers’ needs and wants and it became natural to me to design the space specifically for remote workers and digital nomads,” he said in an email interview.

Darnayla later partnered with fellow hotel and resort owners and decided to duplicate what he did in his hostel to convert resort and hotel in the Philippines to coworking and coliving spaces.

He created a platform where remote workers, digital nomads and enterpreneurs can avail of medium and long=stays that has “flexibility and affordability.”

“The customers or our guests now can work and live at the resort or hotels. They can choose the resort, hotels, hostels, guest house that suit with their lifestyle and budget because we have a rustic ( super cheap-resort, hostel,guest house, lodge at the beach)  to luxurious resort partners (from 3 to 5 star resorts),” the entrepreneur said.

“I was able to convince them to give us affordable or pandemic rates which is 50 to 80% off discount for those who joined or sign up with us. With this platform. struggling resorts and hotels can rent out their rooms and monetize it for medium and long-term stay,” he added.

Baybayin Hub is now present in ten locations in the country: Batangas, Bohol, Boracay, Manila, Negros Occidental, Palawan, Pangasinan, Pagudpud, Siquijor and Zambales.

Darnayla said that, since opening in October, they have received around 250 to 500 guests, including those who bought their vouchers “book now, save more and travel within 12 months” in advance.

He added that 98% of their guests are from Manila while the remaining 2% are from northern and southern Luzon.

Work from Paradise

Like Baybayin Hub, Work From Paradise (WFP) also transforms local accommodation establishments into “new normal” working spaces.

Arra Keiza Rosado, co-founder and head of marketing of WFP, said they consider “work from beach” as the new “Netflix” or subscription service of working from home.

“Instead of working in the city, instead of working in Manila given the hassle or the stress of urban life, why not move to the island temporarily and have your work-life-balance?” she said in a phone interview.

Rosado said they also advocate on working from paradise to help break the stigma on travel requirements amid the pandemic.

She said they also saw this opportunity to help Boracay’s tourism and the pandemic-hit locals who are heavily reliant on tourism.

For now, they are only teaming up with local hotels within Boracay which are mostly apartelles with 15 rooms and below, but they are also planning on expanding to other islands such as Siargao.

As of March, WFP has three Department of Tourism-accredited accommodation establishment partners.

Since the WFP’s opening in February 2021, Rosado said they have been receiving large volume of inquiries from workers from the central business districts in Metro Manila.

“They are availing one week because they want to try it first,” she said, citing that some are afraid of the uncertainty of not having strong internet connection and the cost of living.

Cocoloco Boracay Beach Resort

The monthly rate of Cocoloco Beach Resort
Cocoloco Beach Resort/Boracay

While others formed businesses converting hotels and resorts into co-working spaces, some resorts also started offering long-term stays for those who want to work away from their homes.

According to RM Lobaton of Cocoloco Boracay Beach Resort, they started offering this arrangement to let the public know that “working from beach” is not a luxury and could be experienced by all.

“Masaya mag-work sa beach, less stress. Mas lower rate kaysa sa short-stay,” he said in a phone interview.

Lobaton also said the offering helps maximize the use of the amenities and features of the resort. He said the arrangement serves a double purpose since the resort does not only help clients relax but it also becomes a source of income for them.

The Tides Hotel Boracay

Stephen Ku, marketing director and managing partner of The Tides Hotel Boracay likewise came up with the “work from beach” idea since most employees are working from home due to the pandemic.

“He thought of offering a better alternative which is work from paradise - Boracay, since our monthly rates is just the same as 1 month rent in a city condominium. Better view, fresher air, more relaxing, and we will be the home away from home,” The Tides Hotel Boracay marketing manager Karla Bernales said.

She cited that all the rates are based on twin sharing so if a guest is staying 30 nights (P39,000), per person, the rate is only P19,500.

Bernales said that the work from beach idea is being embraced by the public with 50% of their occupancy rates availing of this setup.

The Farm at San Benito

View at the wellness resort's lagoon.
The Farm at San Benito/Released

As more companies allow telecommuting, eco-luxury holistic medical wellness resort The Farm at San Benito located at the foothills of Mt. Malarayat in Lipa, Batangas is among the establishments that offer a safe haven while providing a conducive work environment.

The wellness resort said guests can work in the middle of nature while having access to strong wi-fi connection and with 24/7 access to medical doctors and health professionals, wellness educational sessions, stress-reducing treatments, daily "Mindful Movements," sound healing sessions and immune-boosting programs.

“As part of their holistic approach to wellness, The Farm ensures guests enjoy nourishing superfoods to increase productivity and mental clarity that will help them work more efficiently,” the resort said in a release.

“This means that guests do not need to take some time off work to be able to take care of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” it added.

According to the wellness resort, several have taken a wellness sabbatical at The Farm as they offer special long-stay rates from a minimum of one month.

“Famous A-list celebrities, business owners and entrepreneurs have already experienced this concept of wellness workation, some of whom have stayed for 3 to 11 months, taking advantage of the scenic sights offered by Mother Nature to calm their minds and access other medically-supervised Health Optimization Programs,” it said.

Sanity break

An online travel survey released by the DOT last February 17, showed that most of the respondents perceive travel as a way to keep their sanity.

They make travel a priority expense that is planned for and budgeted.

Travel survey key findings

The survey titled “The Evolving Landscape of Domestic Travel in the Philippines: A study of travelers and tourism enterprises amidst the pandemic,” was conducted from November 28 to December 30 last year in partnership with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) – Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism, and Guide to the Philippines. They gathered responses from 7,243 travelers nationwide.

Is it recommended?

Gia Sison, a mental health advocate physician specializing in occupational medicine, said the pandemic has totally changed our way of working and opened our minds that there are other possible ways to work.

She said that the pandemic also gave emphasis on mental health care in workplaces.

“So, nare-realize ng employers ‘yung productivity is different now more than ever. Mas importante na alagaan yung empleyado,” Sison told Philstar.com.

The mental health advocate sees workation as a good practice. However, she said this can be applied on a case-to-case basis only because employees have different working styles.

“It depends on the industry. It depends on the individual. There are work industry that does not fit in that setup, but in some industries, that can work,” Sison said, adding that some can function because of the space and breathtaking view.

Sison, however, expressed concern on the blurred lines between vacation and work, citing that it is why work-from-home setup often fails.

“Some prefer to really have the formal setup so they can set boundary,” she said.

Support for workation in the Philippines

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat supports the idea of having workation offerings in tourist destinations.

“Because with zoom or other similar apps, people can work from anyway as long as there is an internet connection. It helps support the tourism industry too,” Puyat told Philstar.com.

“They can also bring their kids who also attend classes online. And it keeps one sane too,” she added.

The tourism chief said they key for this arrangement to work are low rates for long staying guests and internet connection.

Puyat also cited that several are already temporarily staying in various destinations such as Baguio City, La Union, Batangas and Negros Occidental among others, to work.

She said some foreigners also did not initially join the sweeper flights and decided to stay in El Nido and Siargao.

Where workation started

According to Puyat, the workation arrangement started in Japan when Japan Airlines introduced it in 2017.

“It allows employees to log onto their PCs during holidays, letting them count the time away from the office as work day. It also lets employees take holidays while on business trips, saving them the cost of transportation,” a report from Nikkei Asia reads.

During the pandemic, JAL announced that it will combine workations with corporate responsibility activities like engaging in farming and other businesses.

Future of workation in the Philippines

In the Philippines, accommodation establishment owners see a future in the workation setup.

“The medium and long-stay bookings will last. The hospitality industry— resorts and hotels to be specific, realized its full potential and is embracing the ‘new normal,” Baybayin Hub’s Darnayla said.

Rosado of WFP also said business models will be tweaked in the long run depending on the pandemic. She cited the possibility of higher rates for long-term stays since low rates are now offered with hotels still trying to recoup from the economic setback brought by the pandemic lockdown.

The Tides’ Bernales also said they could also adjust rates.

“Our current work from beach can be booked until the end of the year. No word yet as to whether the property will extend til 2022 or not. But if it goes well, we may offer it permanently, but prices may go up depending on the occupancy rate and tourist arrivals in the island,” she said.

Guests like Atienza and Henera also said they would try workation again.

"When I experienced workation, it helped me grow and be more creative. I have no plans on going back in an office-based setup. So, I think this is what will help me maintain my sanity," Atienza said.

Henera said he loved his workation experience as it reminded him that "life is for living and not just working."

"It gave me an opportunity to explore new places without having to take a long vacation leaves at work," he said.







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