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New 'workation' system promotes spending more time with family members

A woman participating in the "workation experience program" concentrates on her work at an office overlooking the sea, at NEC Solution Innovators' Shirahama center, in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture, on July 24, 2018. (Mainichi)

SHIRAHAMA, Wakayama -- "Workation," a combination of the words "work" and "vacation," is spreading as a new way for people to work outside of the office and enjoy more time with their families, and a Mainichi Shimbun reporter took part in an experience program here on July 23-24.

The new working style is an extension of the telework system, where company employees can work anytime, even outside the office, using their smartphones, personal computers and other devices connected to the internet -- combined with vacation time. Companies pay those employees for the hours they worked while on workation. The system began to spread in Europe and the U.S. from around 2015, and the number of companies in Japan introducing the system, such as Microsoft Japan Co. in 2016 and Japan Airlines Co. in 2017, are gradually increasing with a focus in the IT industry.

Meanwhile, national and local governments are putting energy into promotion activities to invite those who want to stay for a long period of time in local areas working under the new labor system, aiming to revitalize regional tourism.

In response to the trend, the Wakayama Prefectural Government has been promoting the prefecture as a place to stay for those who chose the new work style since 2017. The two-day workation experience program in late July was catered to families living in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. It included a sightseeing tour, aiming to raise awareness about the attractions in Wakayama Prefecture. Some 14 groups of family members, including this Mainichi Shimbun reporter and her two daughters, 8 and 5 years old, took part in the program.

Participants had to spend four days with their family members in Shirahama, in the southern part of Wakayama Prefecture, and had to submit experience reports as part of the program. Accommodations needed to be arranged by the participants themselves.

Parents and children participating in the "workation" experience program learn about plant ecology at Banshoyama Park, in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture, on July 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

On July 23, after enjoying two vacation days at the beach to meet the four-day condition, this reporter and her daughters joined the program, enjoying the beautiful view of the sea from an observation platform on the coast of the Kii Peninsula. While the two girls and other children visited an aquarium and other facilities with officials from the Wakayama Prefectural Government on the following day, parents worked at an office with houseplants that was designed like a living room and overlooked the ocean. The reporter somehow managed to finish writing a story in time to meet deadline, struggling to ask follow-up questions about an interview by email.

After experiencing the program, some participants, including this reporter, complained about still having to work even though they had come all the way to a seaside resort. There was even one parent who said they "woke up at 4 a.m. to finish work" so that they could spend time with their children during the day.

The key to success with the new work style, it seemed, was for participants to secure a period of time during which they could concentrate on their jobs while at the picturesque resort.

Yasuhiro Kuramochi, a 45-year-old employee of Microsoft Japan Co., who took part in the experience with his 7-year-old daughter, said, "I felt secure when I left my daughter in the care of the prefectural government officials because they were organizing the program. I also got an urgent job assignment in the middle of the night, but I was able to deal with it via an online meeting."

(Japanese original by Akane Imamura, Business News Department)

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