The whole (wild) works

Archana Singh | Updated on November 21, 2020 Published on November 21, 2020

Check list: Tree houses jungle lodges and independent cottages in states such as Madhya Pradesh are now workcation homes for city dwellers   -  IMAGES COURTESY: ARCHANA SINGH

Hundreds of corporate executives are taking their offices — and families — to the jungles of India, adding a new dimension to mixing business with leisure

* Covid-19 made work from home (WFH) the norm. But as India gradually unlocked itself, a newer trend of working and holidaying emerged

* With e-learning and remote working gaining currency and the easing of travel restrictions, more and more people have started enquiring about workcations

* There are two kinds of hotspots — the HNI segment in the age group of 40+ prefers to stay closer to the city, under three hours of driving time from their home. In contrast, the younger lot is more adventurous and don’t mind travelling far

It’s the end of October but feels like winter. I am in the middle of a work meeting with a CEO and his marketing team. Everyone is formally dressed and looks thoroughly primed for a product launch. Group discussions follow individual presentations. Everything appears pre-Covid-19, except that the boardroom has been swapped with home offices, suits with sweatpants, and face-to-face meetings with those on Microsoft Teams.

The place from where I now work is not your 10x10 sq ft living room but a sprawling tree house set in a 21-acre forested land in the Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh (MP). The scene change has also changed my neighbours. Snobby South Delhi has been replaced by chirpy birds, colourful butterflies, grunting macaques, spirited deer, and growling tigers along with dozens of other creatures that I am unaware of. My days are filled with enticing background sounds of tweeting birds, the rustling of leaves and the ambient sound of wild animals. Working from wilderness — or WFW — has added new flexibility in my work and home lives. My day starts as early as 4.30 am with a jungle safari followed by hours of rigorous, undisturbed work. Evenings are reserved for trail walks in a lush estate brimming with wild flora and fauna. And, the night culminates in dinner under the sky.

However, I am not alone. Thousands of corporate executives are taking their offices to the wilderness. So, what is this new trend? Is it here to stay or just a fad?

Workcation: Work + Vacation

Covid-19 made work from home (WFH) the norm. But as India gradually unlocked itself, a newer trend of working and holidaying emerged. As a concept, workcation is not exactly new. For decades, writers, painters, film directors and artistes have taken off to secluded locations in search of creative inspiration. But such wilderness breaks were rare and not for the masses. The pandemic has created a level-playing field between the elite and the middle class. The most significant difference between workcations then and now is that, today, the entire family travels instead of just the individual. With e-learning and remote working gaining currency and the easing of travel restrictions, more and more people have started enquiring about workcations.

To cater to this growing demand, the industry adapted quickly and launched lucrative workcation packages.

Pugdundee Safaris, which has six jungle lodges in central India, was one of the first companies to launch WFW in August 2020, at a time when the travel industry had nothing but zero occupancy to show for itself. Pugdundee’s early mover advantage is now paying off with their lodges sold out. Manav Khanduja, the founder, shares the reason behind this craze, “WFW allows one to work undistracted while unwinding in the lap of nature. Juggling home chores and WFH can be exhausting. Our hospitality ensures you work in a peaceful sanctuary, where the lines between work and home management don’t get blurred.” Furthermore, WFW not only allows guests to unwind in a serene environment, but many studies have proved that working amidst nature boosts productivity and creativity.

Long-term or short

With many companies adopting WFH policy for the long run, the future looks bright for workcations.

Devendra Parulekar, founder of SaffronStays, confirms the phenomenon. “The workcation trend started off really well for us in Mumbai, and when things started opening up, our Lonavala and Alibaug villas were sold out because many chose to work out of these homes,” he says. “Earlier we used to get bookings for weekends. Now our average stay is for five days and some book even for months.”

But make no mistake, these workcation homes are not cheap by any means — it costs anywhere between ₹50,000 INR and ₹1 lakh per day. But they come equipped with amenities one requires for work and holiday. According to Parulekar, the workcation trend is here to stay, for at least six months.

Where to go

There are two kinds of hotspots — the HNI segment in the age group of 40+ prefers to stay closer to the city, under three hours of driving time from their home. In contrast, the younger lot is more adventurous and don’t mind travelling far. The places gaining the most from this trend are either resort towns such as Lonavala, Alibaug, Karjat, Sohna, Coorg and Kodaikanal, or tourism-reliant states such as Himachal, Uttarakhand and Goa.

But with cold setting in soon in the mountains, traffic will move to warmer states such as MP and Rajasthan. The advantage MP has over other states is a low density of population, especially around the national parks. Therefore, social distancing comes by default. Moreover, jungle lodges are among the safest holiday places equipped with good wi-fi and high sanitisation protocols prescribed by the ministry of home affairs. Owing to their natural design, jungle lodges have a limited number of cottages spread out in the wilderness. Most of the activities happen outdoors, whether it is dining or safaris. The central state shares border with five others and is well connected with a good road network. One can either drive straight to any of the big six national parks or via the airports at Nagpur, Raipur or Jabalpur.

Ready reckoner

Once the location is locked, then comes the question of choosing the right accommodation. Hassle-free stay, privacy and sanitisation remain top pre-requisites for long-stay guests. Nobody wants their AC to break down in the middle of night or power failure to ruin work. Hence, property maintenance is expected to be top class with 24-hour power backup. Most people now prefer stand-alone, fully-furnished, spacious independent villas over cramped hotel rooms in order to avoid direct contact with others.

An uninterrupted high-speed internet connection has become a deal-breaker. Properties are not only providing complimentary dongles but also installing dedicated mobile towers to cater to the high-speed internet requirement of the guests.

Covid-19 has heightened the need for eating healthy, thus, prompting people to choose fresh home-cooked food over outside fare. The lodges either provide the fresh supplies from their own kitchen garden or source organic food locally. Although meals are provided on site, some guests even carry supplies.

Decongesting cities

The workcation is probably the best way to decongest our cities. For decades, people have flocked to the cities in search of work; now, many businesses are taking everything on cloud and moving to smaller but more serene places. Cabin fever and increasing safety concerns are reigniting urban India’s interest for homes away from home.

City dwellers are migrating to the countryside, hills, small towns and farmlands in the hope of a sustainable and cleaner life, away from pollution, daily commute and soaring real estate prices. This change could be permanent for many. Reverse migration among the working professionals from metros could give the much-needed boost to the economy of tier- II, tier-III and rural areas. Whether one decides to own a second home or enjoy a wokcation in a serene location, the direct beneficiaries of this trend are the locals.

So are you ready to work from the wild and play an active part in growing the hinterlands of India?

Archana Singh is a freelancer writer based in Delhi

Ideal workcation spots
  • The jungles:
  • Choosing to live close to forests is both stress-relieving and soothing. Nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and the environmentally-conscious people would love this option.
  • Hotspots: Corbett, Satpura, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, Tadoba, Kabini, Wayanad, Coorg and Sunderbans
  • The hills:
  • Most of the hill stations are perfect places to break the monotony of working from home. However, not everyone can adjust to their cold in winters.
  • Hotspots: Manali, Palampur, Bir-Billing, Lansdowne, Binsar, Yercaud, Kurseong and Shillong
  • The coast:
  • Small towns and coastal villages with easy access to a beach are favourite for people who love the water. But avoid overly touristy places such as Goa. The locals are already overwhelmed by the visitors.
  • Hotspots: Puducherry, Mahabalipuram, Tarkarli, Gokarna, Kannur, Varkala, Malpe, Daman and Diu
  • Smaller towns:
  • These offer many of the conveniences of bigger cities minus the pollution, longer commute time, high living costs and roof-wrecking property rates.
  • Hotspots: Chandigarh, Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur, Jaipur, Rishikesh, Mysuru, Kochi, Lonavala, Alibaug, Karjat, Sohna, Darjeeling and Kalimpong

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Published on November 21, 2020
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