A “workcation” is where a person remotely works while on vacation, at a location with a pleasant environment such as a resort area.
Originating from the West, the word is a portmanteau of “work” and “vacation.” The term has been heard in Japan in recent years but has suddenly gained much more attention owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused an increase in situations where remote work is unavoidable.
Mitsubishi Estate, a company that has continually offered new work styles, is now making efforts for workcations. This is true in the sense of not only having established convenient work facilities in Nanki Shirahama and Karuizawa but also creating an environment that fuels innovation. We spoke to Ms. Kana Tamura, a member of the company’s Workcation Operations Department, about the kind of “workcation” envisioned by Mitsubishi Estate and how the company’s workcation facilities differ from those of other companies.
・Mitsubishi Estate proposes workcations that “create innovation.”
・A sense of excitement and being a driving force of innovation
・“Work style” value systems see major changes in a post-COVID 19 world.
・The design of the Karuizawa facilities
Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd., Business Planning Department, New Operations Unit
After joining Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd., Ms. Tamura, a Tokyo native, gained experience in PM affairs for the company’s properties. Since 2015, while working in asset management affairs for Marunouchi properties, etc., she took part in various public space revitalization and prosperity-creation promotion projects for Marunouchi. With the opportunity to work on a task force team for workcation operations, since 2019, she has been engaged with new product development teams that contribute to new lifestyles for the future.
Mitsubishi Estate proposes workcations that “create innovation”
Mitsubishi Estate has continuously offered new work styles, with a focus on Marunouchi until recently. So, what led to the objective of moving away from Tokyo and developing workcation facilities in locations that require a flight or Shinkansen bullet train ride?
Nanki Shirahama WORK×ation Site
Tamura: “Our workcation operations slogan is ‘When work changes, life changes.’ It summarizes our reasoning for starting workcations. As work occupies a huge proportion of our time, changes to our work environments can also lead to changes in our human relationships and output. In short, our thought is that by providing an appealing environment, not only can people and companies grow healthier and livelier but also Japan can do the same.
Starting with our Marunouchi office building, we, at Mitsubishi Estate, offer a variety of living spaces with a desire to further expand possibilities for work styles, which led to workcation operations. We now offer workcations to a variety of companies, starting with the notion of how great it would be to have work styles that both workers and companies find rich and abundant.”
The term “workcation” continues to spread in Japan, but its definition remains vague, with people in different positions, beginning with companies, currently using it with a variety of intended meanings. The definition adopted by Mitsubishi Estate slightly differs from that of others.
Tamura: “I think that what generally comes to mind when we hear the term ‘workcation’ is ‘nomad workers,’ people who travel and work from their preferred locations, such as the mountains or by the sea (‘vacations’), on their laptops. However, the workcations that we envision are not only limited to ‘vacations.’ We also assume multiple people working together as a team, rather than individuals. Owing to this, we have positioned our sites as ‘offices specialized in creating innovation,’ as WORK×ation services that lead to various ‘-ations,’ so to speak: with project teams of multiple people daring to change their location and utilize our facilities (‘location’), producing discussions and insights that wouldn’t ordinarily arise (‘communication’), stimulating the production of innovation (‘innovation’), and continually ensuring improvements in motivation (‘motivation’).”
Certainly, when we hear the term “workcation,” the strong image that comes to mind is that of an individual leaving an urban center to take a vacation somewhere else where they can also work. Mitsubishi Estate’s workcations do differ from these conventional workcations. Ms. Tamura had the following to say regarding the reasons leading to this team-oriented proposal:
Tamura: “Information technology has shown striking advances accompanied by major societal changes. Even prior to the emergence of COVID-19, many companies had placed awareness on the need to create innovation. With the aim of offering solutions to the various issues faced by companies, two years ago, we embarked on and created ‘WORK×ation Site Nanki Shirahama,’ our workcation facilities in Nanki Shirahama.
For many people, ‘workcation’ means the apex of a work style of working freely as an individual, but as a member of Mitsubishi Estate’s workcation project team, team unity via strong communication and person-to-person links is important for producing innovation. So, we began planning and designing products based on the idea of ‘products allowing for increased team/organization unity.’”
After receiving positive evaluations from customers who have used the service, with some of them becoming repeat customers, we developed ‘WORK×ation Site Karuizawa,’ our workcation facilities in Karuizawa, building on our experiences with our Nanki Shirahama facilities.
We have received many positive comments from customers who have actually utilized our facilities, such as being able to move closer to the core of discussions than usual, and how the team grew closer and productivity rose, etc.”
A sense of excitement and being a driving force of innovation
The idea of functionality as “offices specialized in creating innovation” does seem to be fully realized at Mitsubishi Estate’s facilities. But how are the discussions among people coming to workcation facilities promoted? According to Ms. Tamura’s analysis, one factor is the extraordinary experience provided by the facilities.
Tamura: “Innovation can, of course, be created at ordinary office complexes as well, but I do think that being in a space that feels extraordinary and located away from one’s office does bring about an elevated mood and relaxation effects while simultaneously stimulating discussions among team members and creating hooks for ideas. Our Nanki Shirahama facilities can be reached from Tokyo by taking a flight of about an hour from the Haneda Airport to Nanki-Shirahama Airport and then taking a five-minute drive along a palm tree-lined road. Our customers will immediately find facilities that make computer work possible, but we recommend implementing experiences with your whole team that standard offices do not offer, such as a stroll at a nearby beach, eating delicious BBQ at a lively restaurant, or soaking in the hot springs. By increasing team unity and holding discussions in an elevated mood, frank and vigorous exchanges become possible, leading to greater team results than usual, I feel. Those of us working on the project team have experienced workcations and seen the effects on the results.
Additionally, corporate social responsibility activities that are only possible on-site can be implemented, something that I think is very appealing for our customers. Participating in volunteering activities during workcations both result in improving company value and contribute to the destination area. The notion of ‘contributions to the surrounding area’ is the key idea behind Mitsubishi Estate’s workcation operations and is markedly reflected in the design of the facilities. The facilities do feature space for discussions but do not include lodging facilities or dining establishments. The objective behind this is to have participants utilize restaurants and hotels in the area and thus create exchanges with the locals and ultimately contribute to regional revitalization.”
At the Nanki Shirahama’s Shirahama Beach
With its abundant nature, just the surrounding environment alone offers an extraordinary feeling, and the facilities’ interior design also leads to innovation.
Tamura: “For office complexes, an urban feeling and office spaces with an atmosphere and sense of luxury are preferred, but in our workcation facilities, we place awareness on exciting spaces that allow for play. For example, our Karuizawa facilities include three offices, but each space is unique; rooms created with the respective characteristics of each space are put to use.
People can use the rooms in the manner best suited for their objectives. For example, they can choose an office where they can conveniently hold seminars or an office oriented to individual work. There are also abundant free spaces that can be used to take a breath.
The location is also favorable; Old Karuizawa Ginza Street, which is home to some restaurants that serve delicious food, is a 10-minute walk away. Curling is also a possibility, with certain major IT companies using it as a team-building activity, a choice that appears to be improving team cohesion and identity. As I considered these activities to also be a part of workcations, I would definitely like to see people enjoy them as well.”
A seat creating a playful mood at WORK×ation Site Karuizawa
“Work style” value systems see major changes in a post-COVID 19 world
Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our awareness of “work styles” has seen major changes. Remote work, which had hardly disseminated at all prior to the pandemic, is now half-forced, and there has been a sudden increase in work location options. No matter how the pandemic is resolved, we are not likely to see a complete and total return to pre-COVID-19 work styles. How does Ms. Tamura perceive the changes in work style that have taken place owing to the pandemic?
Tamura: “I think that awareness regarding work styles is certainly changing with the spread of teleworking and web meetings. In the COVID-19 era, the government has also been using the term ‘workcation,’ and we have received inquiries from many fronts. Overall, our impression is that interest in workcations is increasing in society. However, the term ‘workcation’ is recently used by the media often with the context of an ‘individual working while traveling,’ expanding their abilities to visit locations as tourists. The definition of the word itself remains vague, and consumers (user companies) that could adopt workcations as a work style fall behind in their understanding of the concept and do not feel like it is an issue.
Aside from a small portion of people who work in an environment that truly offers a high degree of freedom, such as an independent business, etc., even if a company is considering adopting workcations, I think that with the current Japanese culture and human resources in Japanese companies, there are not many people in positions where their company will approve company expenditure being used ‘for employees to go play around.’
To such companies, even if we were to suggest introducing workcations and allowing employees to travel, they might just perceive it as an additional expenditure, and the idea ultimately does not resonate with decision-makers. In order for the present-day Japanese companies to accept the idea, a deeper understanding is needed: Workcations are not limited to an ordinary ‘vacation’ but a ‘work style (thus, hours spent working for employers)’ that produces various advantages in the mid-term as well. Having directly sensed the results and effects of ‘workcations,’ I think we should drive forward human resource reform for each company and develop an understanding regarding employees working at locations where managers cannot see them.”
Ms. Tamura says that adopting workcations lead to many advantages for companies, beyond producing innovation.
Tamura: “Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I think that the number of companies permitting work-style flexibility is on the rise, and this is connected to strengthened hiring competitiveness for companies. The ability to say ‘In our company, workcations via these facilities are also possible’ and ‘We also implement CSR activities via cooperative links with region XX’ may increase company value.
In addition, if employees participating in workcations can feel the significance of their experiences, greater employee satisfaction can be achieved, and positive comments from employees can lead to further accumulation of excellent personnel. As teambuilding is also linked with increased productivity, I think that there is a hidden potential here of ensuring greater happiness for both employees and companies.”
Ms. Tamura continues, speaking more about the future changes to the state of offices.
Tamura: “Post-COVID-19, even after the situation is resolved, I think that it is likely that not all meetings will go back to being held in-person, as was the case previously. I feel that situations will remain in which web meetings will continue to be selected as a communication method, with in-person meetings then evoking more of a ‘special’ feeling. When there are opportunities for people to gather in real-life, with the aim of deep and creative discussions, people will attempt to put these extraordinary special spaces to use, seeing that everyone has taken some time to arrange and attend them. Naturally, I would be pleased if our workcation facilities were selected for such occasions.”
Ms. Tamura offered the hypothesis that there would be changes not only in the state of offices but also in our individual lifestyles.
Tamura: “Even now, some people have two bases for living, one urban and one regional, and I think that this is likely to become more common in the future. When that happens, I imagine that there will be requests from companies for secondary locations where people can work, aside from their central core offices (a company’s main building or headquarters) that exist in an urban area. It feels like workcation facilities have a hidden potential to fulfill that demand.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Ms. Tamura spoke about the outlook for future workcation operations.
Tamura: “We currently have only two sites, Nanki Shirahama and Karuizawa, but we intend to expand our number of facility locations in the future. With office complexes and regional towns and cities as our hubs, we would like to cater to the needs of various people and create facilities in which we can offer them the option to work.”
The design of the Karuizawa facilities
Mr. Tanabe of Yuji Tanabe Architects Ltd., the firm that handled the design of the Karuizawa facilities, had the following to say about it.
Tanabe: “In the boom period, the facilities were originally an Italian restaurant, the construction of which was completed in 2004. As the design imparted the overall feeling of that era, when planning our renovation, we took it upon ourselves to preserve that aspect. The entrance was one area that underwent major changes during our redesign.”
Tanabe: “The facilities face Karuizawa’s well-known Roppon-tsuji Roundabout but did not actually have an entrance from that side. So, we installed a new one there. Furthermore, as the ceiling was interesting, we chose to keep it and to construct a new gazebo as a landmark for the facilities. In addition to the three office spaces, this outdoor gazebo should be able to get people’s minds working, as it ensures that they sit with their bodies in various positions.”
• The workcation operations slogan is “When work changes, life changes.”
• By offering an appealing environment, not only can people and companies become healthier and livelier, but it is also possible that Japan itself might do the same.
• Producing various “-ations,” the WORK×ation sites are positioned as “offices specialized in creating innovation.”
• A sense of unity via deep connections and a deep level of communication among people are important for fueling innovation.
• Contributions to the destination region is a key idea in workcation operations.
• With workcation facilities, awareness is placed on creating an exciting place that enables play.
• The adoption of workcations may be effective in increasing company value.