PR Insider: Staying Connected While Disconnecting

It’s spring break time and it’s not just college kids who are looking to escape to someplace warm for a week. The urge to getaway from work and the office presents both an opportunity and challenge.

Jennifer Leckstrom
Jennifer Leckstrom

In 2015, working remotely isn’t a new concept, especially for people in industries like ours, where an Internet connection and phone are really all you need to get the job done. The fact that it’s easy for most of us to stay connected no matter our location has its pros and cons. It also raises the question - can we ever truly disconnect? For a culture that already has a habit of letting vacation days drift out to sea (without us onboard), is it possible to leave work behind?

Many Americans believe they don't have a choice about working while they're on vacation, according to the findings of a study commissioned by Ricoh Americas Corporation. In fact, 54 percent of survey respondents said bosses expect you to work on vacation. My friend, an Irish native working in NYC, recently told me that “Even with the limited amount [of vacation time] that I get, I still don't take it all. Bosses here guilt you into not taking your time off.” Ouch.

I’m lucky that no one discourages vacation or flex time within our agency. I think we’ve all taken vacations where we’ve completely checked out and others where we’ve checked in.

I recently took a working vacation. I had a last-minute opportunity to go to Florida. Given the frigid, snow-filled winter in the northeast, I jumped at the chance for sunshine.

Every morning I woke up sans alarm and went for a run so I could soak up the warmth. I worked with a view of the ocean and palm trees. I was available for client calls and discussions with colleagues. But I also had time to reconnect with my boyfriend, visit family, try my hand at paddle boarding and work on my tan.

In a recent New York Times article, Anna North quoted The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson: “The idea that work begins and ends at the office is intuitively wrong. We laugh at animal pictures on our work computers, and we answer emails on our couches in front of the TV. On the one hand, flexibility is nice. On the other, blending work and leisure creates an always-on expectation that makes it hard for white-collar workers to escape the shadow of work responsibilities.”

Thompson is right. During the workday, I’ll Google a recipe for dinner and comment on friends’ Facebook posts. I’ll also reply to a text from a client after hours and write a bylined article on the weekend while getting a pedicure. The line between work and personal time is undoubtedly blurred. That’s exactly why we need to better control how we spend our time and set expectations for our clients, our employers and ourselves. By creating our own parameters for what works and doesn’t for us, we can be more productive employees, spouses, parents and friends.

Working on vacation when you’re not planning to can be upsetting and a complete buzz kill. My mindset to combine work with my getaway set the tone for my trip. I wasn’t upset when I had to reply to an email or take a phone call poolside.

For me, the decision to work while away provided the best of both worlds. I returned feeling refreshed and not worried about the hundreds of unread emails in my inbox. I was caught up despite mentally checking out for a few hours each workday I was gone.

Does this positive experience mean I’ll work on every vacation from now one? I certainly hope not. Achieving the ideal work/life balance is never easy and what works one month may not be what’s best the next. As our personal commitments change and workload differs, it’s important to remain flexible and adjust our expectations for that moment in time. There will be cycles of intense work when a caffeine IV is necessary and a complete disconnect isn’t possible – just like there will be downtime when true relaxation is able to take over. When we can be OK with both of these scenarios, we can truly be control of our own happiness, both personally and professionally.

Jennifer Leckstrom is an account supervisor with RoseComm, a strategic communications firm that helps clients uncover and share their stories with the people who matter most. Follow Jennifer: @jleckstrom. Follow RoseComm: @rosecomm