The new flex balance: Staying connected on vacation

In seeking advice on how marketers and PR professionals unplug while taking time off, we learn the simple yet harsh new truth facing industry practitioners: They don’t.

Is it possible to “turn it all off” while on vacation?

Apparently not.

For those of us working in the PR, marketing, or digital worlds, disconnecting from work is rarely an option; staying plugged in is now an accepted career requirement.

Gone are the days of leaving the office behind and later returning with a post-vacation glow, sifting through the little phone message slips, and easing back into work mode.

That behavior is a thing of the past. Personal devices, Wi-Fi, and businesses’ relying on digital platforms have increased the necessity of staying connected. Further, the communications industry is rife with professionals running startups and small consultancies; being cut off from business even for just a few days can mean putting out fires for the next week.

Rather than bemoan the need to check in, many North American professionals I talked to felt more relaxed by staying tuned into work. Here’s how they do it:

Stop, look, but don’t respond: Being in touch doesn’t mean you have to respond to email; staying informed is often enough to maintain peace of mind while travelling.

“I think unplugging is tough on vacation, especially because I want to have my phone to look at other things,” says Justin Goldsborough, SVP at FleishmanHillard in Kansas City. “I have tried to make a habit of reading emails to keep up to speed during downtime but not responding to them; I can stay educated, but no one expects me to do anything.”

Pre-vacation prep: Returning to a mountain of emails or languishing projects can make you forget you even went on vacation. Stacy O’Rourke, communications manager with Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corp., preps as many projects as possible in advance.

“It’s a bit of extra work before I leave, but it helps me to relax while I am away; as well as being able to hit the ground running when I come back.”

The new blogging reality: What about bloggers? Those who have carved a living out by blogging find it extremely difficult, if not downright stressful, to turn off—especially when traveling on behalf of tourist boards. Press trips often have rigorous schedules that don’t afford much sleep.

“I have moved away from live-tweeting,” says renowned food and travel blogger Andrew Dobson of DobbernationLoves. “I’ve learned to really stay in the present, then taking an hour or so at the end of the day to share my favorite experience. Ever since I adopted this technique I’ve felt a lot less stressed while on press trips. Allowing myself to be more present also reflects the quality and detail in my writing, too.”

Always on call: Running a tech startup means always being on call, even when you have a business partner. Rebecca Levey, co-founder with Nancy Rabinowitz Friedman of the popular tween site KidzVuz, is keenly aware of this. “I wish I could take a week off and completely disengage, but right now there are just the two of us making all the decisions.

“After we closed our round of financing, one of our investors said, ‘No more vacations for you!’ and that’s been totally true for me.”

Window of opportunity: If you want to respond to clients/colleagues, create a window of opportunity when they can contact you. Everyone will respect your commitment to the business, but they’ll also respect your need to enjoy your time off.

“Prior to going on vacation, I socialize my itinerary with my clients so they know my level of accessibility,” says Peter Cosentino, president of DEC Sports & Entertainment Marketing in Toronto. “I then allow myself a 30-minute window every morning to check emails and respond. I feel better knowing I have dealt with any issues that may arise as I turn all my electronics off for the balance of the day.”

Staying wired = peace of mind: Observers may look with disdain at those tapping out messages while lounging at a seaside café. For others, it means peace of mind.

“Ten minutes of plugged-in time equals a full day of R&R,” says Holly Roy, principal at Pumpkin PR in Edmonton, Alberta. “Knowing that everything is going smoothly on the work front—which is almost always the case—is well worth the quick reconnection.


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