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Learning to safely unplug from the office when on vacation

Aditi Sharma Kalra wonders how to disconnect not just from the computer, but everything else when you’re away on holiday so that you can return to the office refreshed.

The glorious summer break. For so long the privilege of school-going children, the June-July period is also the most popular time for working professionals to visit warmer climates (something that we take for granted here in Southeast Asia with our year-round sunshine).

I took the opportunity to plan a getaway as well, a long-overdue vacation that I promised myself I would not postpone anymore. What bothered me most was not the actual journey or the planning around it, but the panic around disconnecting from the office for nearly two weeks.

Prior to my departure, I had an extensive checklist. Varied items such as an in-depth team briefing on how to prioritise their tasks and time, multiple conversations on what course of action to take in various scenarios, and chats with colleagues and dotted-line stakeholders on my absence – not forgetting to activate everyone’s favourite, the out-of-office auto responder.

Does it sound like too much? It’s well worth the time, I learnt.

The best vacations are those when you don’t have someone calling from the office talking about putting a fire out – and indeed I was #Blessed! A team that most often takes the right calls – while hitting targets – is fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

In the midst of this, as with all questions that keep one awake, I reached out to leaders in the fraternity, and asked them how they unplug their minds and computers when they’re away on break, so they can return to the office refreshed.

“As management, I cannot disconnect 100% from my work,” came the response from Japan-based MD, Mariko Fukui, confirming my suspicion. The founder of branding and PR firm, Aalto International, she admits that time away from the office is important, however. “A change of environment helps me with new ideas, inspirations and perspectives which are useful for new business.”

As management, I cannot disconnect 100% from my work.

- Mariko Fukui, founder and MD, Aalto International

Australia-based MD of AAMC Training Group, Jeff Mazzini, takes a similar view given he is managing four countries under his remit. His solution is to allocate one hour in the morning to emails, while speed-reading through social media and uploading content where appropriate. He adds: “Later in the day I will revisit the emails again or may even do so when sitting on the beach.”

If nothing else works, the “best way to disconnect is to go dark”, says Ana Cheong, co-founder and principal consultant of AAA Solutions in Malaysia. When abroad, use a spare phone with a local SIM card, she suggests, adding: “That way I can call others, but others can’t reach me.”

Mazzini takes pains to point out: “No one gets what we would call a clear break – (we must ensure) the teams in each country are not held up awaiting for a response. It is a fast moving digital age and the rest will come with retirement one day.”

So what are the one or two key things these leaders definitely do before leaving the office to ensure everything runs smoothly while they’re away? Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

1. Address all critical matters before leaving. Everyone should know when you will return to active duty. Emails must be programmed with an auto reply about your date of return and who to contact in the meantime.

2. A skilled team is capable of keeping things functioning in your absence, however, the door must always remain open for contact as a delayed decision may cost a lot of money, when a quick confirmation could solve many issues.

3. Two things to confirm with your team – let them make decisions and not worry if something goes wrong as long as they learn from it. Second, if it’s really urgent and they cannot solve it then do urge them to make contact.

As Mazzini says: “Many years ago, if you went on leave, you were un-contactable. However, the human mind is now programmed for quick responses and if you do not give a satisfactory response, clients will go elsewhere.”

Finally, Cheong has a super-important tip to conclude: “Tell your mum you won’t be visiting for a while.”

Photo / 123RF

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