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[Weekender] Working remotely? Why not from Jeju?


A man looks out to sea while working at O-PEACE JEJU, a co-working site in Jocheon-eup, Jeju Island. (O-PEACE JEJU)

A man looks out to sea while working at O-PEACE JEJU, a co-working site in Jocheon-eup, Jeju Island. (O-PEACE JEJU)

JEJU ISLAND — When Hong’s company, a marketing consultancy based in Seoul, announced a return to remote working early December, the 31-year-old decided to escape the confines of his studio apartment.

After getting permission from his boss, he packed up and left for Jeju, with his laptop in tow.

“I had Zoom meetings and phone calls with my boss and other business partners whenever necessary,” Hong told The Korea Herald at a beachside vacation home on the western coastal village of Guwja.

For a week or so, he has been telecommuting from there. Once work is done, he switches to vacation mode, exploring the island’s beautiful scenery.

“Except for the two to three days when I had to work over time, I went for a drive along the coastlines and visited beachfront restaurants and cafes almost every day after work. It’s a life that I wouldn’t have imagined in the city,” Hong said.

Hong is one of a growing number of millennial workers on “workcation” — an emerging new trend that has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic, blurring the line between work and leisure.

The idea is to stay at a vacation destination while working full time, or to get the job done and switch on the holiday mode for the rest of the day.

Of course, not everyone has the privilege to do this.

It is mostly office workers with digital jobs that allow them to work remotely.

Workcationers interviewed by The Korea Herald said the mix of work and vacation could spur productivity and out-of-the-box thinking, particularly under this pandemic situation, as it provides a much-needed change of scenery. The happier they are, the more productive they can be at work, they say.

“After work, I climbed the Aldol-oreum, (one of the many volcanic cones that the island is famous for) a couple of days ago and watched the sunset there. Of course, it didn’t bring me some innovative marketing ideas all of a sudden, but it was a truly refreshing experience and I gained energy to concentrate on my work the next day,” Hong, the marketing company employee, said.

Another workcationer, Shin, a 33-year-old freelance software developer, has recently returned to Seoul, where he resides, from his weeklong stay on Jeju Island. He thinks the current work-from-anywhere trend could be more popular and widespread among digital-savvy freelancers.

“As long as I carry my smartphone and laptop, I could work by a beach since the Wi-Fi network is almost accessible anywhere on the island,” said Shin, who only wanted to be identified by his last name.

“Also, many operators of co-working spaces in Jeju are well-equipped with office supplies as well as electric appliances for telecommuting. There’s no reason to just coop myself up in the house for work.”

Although far from being mainstream, the rise of workcation has spurred a host of new businesses in this popular resort island that provides a co-working space alongside accommodation. 

A group of workers from local startup Thinction Studio, which offers web publishing services, have a meeting in a shared working space at Playground Jeju, an operator of a co-working space and accommodation in Hallim-eup, Jeju Island. / A campfire zone provided by Playground Jeju. (Playground Jeju)

A group of workers from local startup Thinction Studio, which offers web publishing services, have a meeting in a shared working space at Playground Jeju, an operator of a co-working space and accommodation in Hallim-eup, Jeju Island. / A campfire zone provided by Playground Jeju. (Playground Jeju)

Located in Hallim, western Jeju City, Playground Jeju is one such establishment that opened in 2019.

CEO Park Pyung-soon said the workcation trend gained popularity mainly among IT workers last year and is now being embraced by different business fields.

“Ranging from fintech to airline companies, office workers in various industries have taken workcation at our place in recent months as many companies adopted a remote work system,” he said.

More than half of the guests did not receive financial support from their employers. Most had told their boss about their work-from-Jeju plan, but there were some who kept their travel plans under wraps, pretending to be working from home, Park said.

Those on company-sponsored workcations account for 20-30 percent of the total at Playground Jeju. Freelancers like graphic designers or writers make up the rest, the entrepreneur said. The guests’ length of stay varies from two weeks to six months, he added.

“After working the traditional hours of 9 to 6 in our co-working spaces, guests usually venture out separately. Sometimes, two or more workers mingle and have dinner together or join our activity programs, including a campfire at night and a mini live concert,” the CEO said.

Park Seong-eun, who runs another workcation venue, O-Peace Jeju, in the eastern village of Jocheon, says going on workcation is not a passing fad.

“Telecommuting has proven necessary and practical for many amid the pandemic. And startups and large companies across the nation are increasingly embracing the concept,” he said, revealing that a company recently inquired about renting out the entire venue for one month for their employees.

He said, like Bali, which has become a popular destination for global digital nomads, Jeju has the potential to become a global mecca for workcationers, with its excellent Wi-Fi connection and remote work infrastructure. Digital nomads refer to workers who take their work on the road, usually while hopping from one country to another.

In a potentially hopeful development, local conglomerates are showing interest in the burgeoning trend, with some even setting up satellite offices in Jeju for a pilot project.

Earlier in October, CJ ENM, a leading entertainment and media company, set up its own co-working venue in Woljeong-ri, a village located on the east side of Jeju, to create a more flexible work environment for its employees. A total of 10 staffers in different roles are selected every month and are given an allowance of 2 million won ($1,680), on top of their regular salary, to cover travel costs, the company said.

Central and local tourism agencies are paying attention too. 

Guests work at a shared working space at O-PEACE JEJU. (O-PEACE JEJU)

Guests work at a shared working space at O-PEACE JEJU. (O-PEACE JEJU)

The state-run Korea Tourism Organization, on Tuesday, held a webinar together with Gangwon Tourism Organization to discuss the workcation trend and its potential as a new avenue for invigorating the pandemic-battered tourism.

Kim Eun-hee, a senior official at the KTO’s tourism consulting team, shared how Japan embraced the concept early in 2017.

“It was led by the government to address the nation’s intense work culture, which was rooted in the labor shortage due to an aging and shrinking population. Bearing a similar demographic problem, the Korean government and companies need to speed up experimenting with more flexible work environments,” she said.

“The era in which the value of labor outpaces that of leisure is over. A hybrid of work and leisure has become the new normal.”

By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)





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