To Combat WFH Burnout, This Company Sent Employees to Work From Lakeside, Beachfront and Mountaintop Airbnbs
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In the early days of the pandemic, when many of us were still getting acquainted with Zoom, we were also discovering its default virtual “backgrounds.” During your average work "happy hour," the Golden Gate Bridge and that palm tree on a white sandy beach were liable to make an appearance. The joke was, “Hey look, I’m using technology to be somewhere far away from the boring confines of my home!” A few months in, as lockdown wore on, the joke seemed more desperate.
Around that time, Clint Lee started thinking about an escape. The co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based video technology company OneDay had fallen into a bit of a rut. “I'm an extrovert,” he says, “and I have young kids — we actually had a kid during quarantine — so our house was just crazy.” Lee and his wife decided a change of scenery would be nice, so they packed up the kids and took off for an Airbnb in Colorado, where they worked remotely for a few weeks.
“I don't think I realized how much I needed to recharge,” Lee says. “Just the setting of being in the mountains and having a little bit of relaxation allowed me to work more creatively. And when I came back, I felt like I’d had a cool experience that you wouldn’t normally have in the midst of a pandemic. So then I started thinking, could we find a reasonable way to do this for our team members?"
That was the impetus of OneDay’s “New Digs” program. Each month since August, four of the company’s 40 employees are selected to work remotely for about three to five days from an Airbnb in a location of their choice. Since the program started, 16 employees and their families have gone to places like Indian Springs, FL, Lake Granbury, TX, and Breckenridge, CO. Each person who goes chooses the next coworker, and the company plans to keep up the program until everyone has gone.
“Thankfully before Covid we had a really strong company culture,” Lee says. “But when the pandemic happened we had to be a little more creative and intentional — especially because we hired 12 new people this year. With the New Digs program, each person who goes takes a lot of pride in being able to reward their fellow coworker, and that helps breed collaboration. Plus just getting away can help with the stress and burnout of working from home. Everyone has a different home environment, and when you don’t have anything to look forward to, it can start to run together.”
According to a survey this summer by the online employment platform Monster, 69% of employees working from home were experiencing burnout. And yet 59% of people were planning to take fewer vacation days than usual, and 42% weren’t planning to take any time off. Many of us are trying to square what we like about WFH — flexibility — with the lack of boundaries, and the perceived pressure to show that you’re working hard, which often leads to working too much. All of this is happening day-after-day in the same isolated, chaotic or cramped spaces where we’re negotiating other aspects of our lives, and the result can be a Groundhog Day cycle of exhaustion.
Of course, OneDay’s New Digs program isn’t a permanent solution to the burnout employees may feel in the coming months. But we spoke to some of their team members who’ve participated so far, and they say it really alleviated the monotony of WFH. Some said half the fun was picking a place, planning the trip and having something different to look forward to. And everyone we spoke to said that the program’s most lasting effect was that it made them feel genuinely valued. The fact that their employer put the thought, time and resources into a creative initiative to improve their lives seems to have paid dividends in team morale.
Read on to hear from six of the OneDay team members on how their Airbnb escapes helped them combat WFH burnout, and to see pictures of their New Digs!
Kelsea Rea, escaped to Breckenridge, Colorado
When the pandemic started, Kelsea Rea, 28, was living in her apartment with her dog, Scout. Pre-Covid-19, she spent her free time going to concerts and restaurants and hanging out with friends, but once the lockdown started, she says, “I quickly realized that it was going to be very isolating to work and live in a one-bedroom apartment without seeing anyone else.” Fortunately her mom and sister lived nearby, so she began staying with them for a couple weeks at a time. Even still, two months in Rea began to observe how much she was working, and three months in she realized how much she missed the creativity and collaboration of being in the office. “When you work long hours and aren’t around the people you work with, you begin to get frustrated easily, communication can break down and you don’t have the little interactions with people that consistently build rapport and relationships.”
When Rea was selected for New Digs in August, her main objective was to escape the Texas heat. “The mountains in the summer are one of my favorite things, so I started looking up different mountain towns within 13 hours of Dallas,” she says. “My sister and I picked Breckenridge after doing a lot of research based on the affordability, hiking and things to do.”
Rea says that the change of location “broke up the monotony of working from home, which inherently allowed me to work from a different state of mind.” She also said that just being able to spend so much time outside dissipated much of her Covid-19 anxiety, which had been building for months. “It’s hard to put into words the impact that this trip had on my overall well-being,” Rea says. “Each day that I was there allowed me to feel more refreshed, less stressed, and my motivation increased.”
David Birch, escaped to Marble Falls, Texas
When the pandemic started, senior software engineer Dave Birch was in a position to offer advice. He had already been working from home for a few years, and he and his wife homeschool their two teenage kids. Even still, he discovered that his family was not immune to lockdown claustrophobia. “It’s funny,” he says. “Even though we’ve done work and school remotely for a few years, I don’t think we appreciated how much flexibility we had — getting to work from coffee shops and going to restaurants. Having the whole family on top of each other for months and months, our ‘nice filters’ started to get a little bit frayed. Going on walks in the neighborhood, while trying to maintain safe distance out of consideration for our neighbors, has helped. But it’s honestly been a battle at times.”
When he learned he’d been selected for New Digs, part of the fun was deciding where to go. “Our family was eager to get out of the urban/suburban sprawl for a bit,” he says. “After a bit of research, we found a lovely Airbnb listing in Marble Falls, TX, with dock access to Lake Travis. We brought our homeschool books and computers, baked some fresh sourdough bread, brought fixings for tacos and steaks, binoculars for stargazing and piled in the car.”
The Airbnb made for happy memories. “Where I set up my workspace overlooked these huge windows that looked out on the lake, and it was a welcomed change of pace,” Birch says. “There were plenty of indoor and outdoor spaces for us to spread out. It was so quiet and tranquil — and did I mention the stargazing? We probably saw a dozen meteors.”
Kate Szapiro, escaped to Granbury, Texas
For account executive Kate Szapiro, 34, there was one event that definitely broke up the monotony of lockdown: She got engaged! But even happily betrothed, the apartment she shares with her “wonderful fiancé” Steve made for tight WFH quarters when navigating their Zoom and call schedules. They “quickly learned to be more patient with each other,” but a few weeks in, Szaprio says, “I did start to feel burnt out. I think a big part of it is that when you’re working every day from the same one-bedroom apartment, it’s hard to create a separation of work and life outside of work. I wasn’t giving myself enough of a break to come back the next day feeling refreshed.”
So finding out that she’d be getting out of town was welcome news. “The moment I got selected for New Digs my energy level was boosted even though we were still a few weeks away from the trip,” she says. “In these times, you have to savor the little things, even if it's just a road trip with a destination.”
Szapiro is a recent transplant to Texas, so she wanted a chance to explore the area a bit more. She and Steve found a lovely Airbnb right on Lake Granbury, which is a little over an hour away from the sprawl of Dallas. “I am someone who is very affected by my environment, and the change of scenery came at the right time,” she says. “Mentally, I was in need of a refreshed mindset and physically, I was in need of more space! I have worked in a few different industries, and I have to say that a perk like this is certainly not commonplace. It truly makes me feel valued.”
Paige Shaffner, escaped to Austin, Texas
Paige Shaffner, 25, only started in her role as client success representative in mid-February, so after the quick shift to WFH in March, she found herself training remotely. “I was actually living with my grandmother at the time with four other people in the house,” she says. “It was quite crowded, because we all worked from home. Finding a quiet space with a nice background for Zoom meetings was a challenge. It was hard to have ‘me’ time.”
Before the pandemic, Shaffner had spent a lot of her free time going to the gym and dance studios, and out to eat with friends, so when choosing her New Digs location, she wanted to go somewhere with a “modern aesthetic in a fun city.” Her best friend lives in Austin, so she found an Airbnb there so her friend could work remotely with her. “While I was there, I was excited to wake up and work just because I was in a beautiful space,” she says. “With the state of the world right now, it’s nice to receive a gift that allows you to put yourself in a better space while also maintaining productivity.”
Cameron Barajas, escaped to Indian Shores, Florida
For Cameron Barajas, 25, the first couple weeks of quarantine weren’t so bad. “No commute, I could do laundry anytime, wear my comfy clothes and house slippers to work,” says the senior account executive. “But then, it began to get a little redundant. I live in a one-bedroom, and the lack of human interaction started to weigh on me. I ended up buying a puppy, and that was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year!”
Puppy love aside, Barajas began to miss traveling. “About five months into working from home without a work trip, that’s when it started to hit me,” he says. “I’m used to traveling three or four times a quarter for conferences, and I really enjoyed that time visiting new cities and seeing familiar faces in the industry. The lack of travel led to an increase in Zoom calls, which led to Zoom fatigue.”
A family friend of Barajas’ had recently told him about the great time they had at their new condo in Indian Shores, Florida, so when he was selected for New Digs, Barajas knew where he wanted to go. He and his girlfriend Haley headed for the Sunshine State. “Getting to wake up next to the beach brought so much more positivity and energy to my work,” he says.
Morgan Smith, escaped to Denver CO
Morgan Smith, 28, OneDay’s client success manager, lives with her boyfriend Matt and their Staffordshire Terrier Piper. She says that when the pandemic started she felt fortunate, because their house had a dedicated home office. But while the first couple of months flew by in a blur of scrambling to get everything done, “I absolutely started to feel burnt out around August or September,” she says. “The business of work leveled out, and that adrenaline rush wore off. The days started to run together, and it felt like I was living a real-life Groundhog Day. I noticed I was still working late or starting early, and the boundary between work and home life morphed together.”
When she was chosen for New Digs, Smith knew she wanted some wide open spaces. “I picked Denver because I wanted to go somewhere ‘outdoorsy’ and with some views,” she says. “Honestly I was just ready to have a change of scenery and get out of the routine I had gotten into.” She brought her boyfriend, and the trip turned out to be the jumpstart she hoped for. “I had a day where I logged off a little early to hike and be outside, and it did get me out of my routine rut,” she says. “It helped me combat my WFH fatigue in that it’s inspired me to try and change up my WFH routine more often.”