What is the reality of ‘working from paradise’? John O’Ceallaigh, journalist and founder of luxury travel consultancy LUTE, tries out the new ‘Work Well’ package at the Vakkaru Maldives.
Given the many terrible travel stories that have emerged as a result of hastily implemented international lockdowns, my circumstances could hardly be considered calamitous.
On Halloween, I flew from London to the Maldives happy that the country’s addition the previous week to the UK’s Travel Corridors list meant I could visit its Vakkaru Maldives resort without undergoing a two-week quarantine upon my return to England.
Through my consultancy agency LUTE I’ve worked on branding and communications strategies with the property for a number of months, so this visit was long overdue.
As my first long-haul trip since Covid-19 swept over Europe in March, my transit demanded adherence to some unfamiliar protocols too. Visitors to the Maldives must take a Covid-19 PCR test within 96 hours of their departure for the country and are only allowed to enter if it is negative.
Securing mine proved unexpectedly stressful and expensive, with few of the London-based clinics I contacted willing to guarantee results would be returned within a reasonable timeframe. I ultimately booked a £195 test at Lanserhof at The Arts Club medical centre and fitness club on Dover Street because its staff promised I would receive my results within 48 hours.
Requiring samples to be taken from my nose and throat, the swab test was administered by a nurse in a matter of seconds. My negative results were confirmed to me by a doctor over the phone about 30 hours later and my safety certificate was emailed to me just within the timeframe stipulated.
Mask on, visor in place and test certificate print-out to hand, I was relieved to board what was otherwise a fairly routine flight. By the time I’d landed, however, the British Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown and my return flight was cancelled. It seems I’m going to be in the Maldives for significantly longer than originally planned.The irony is that I have consequently found myself to be among the first of Vakkaru’s guests to trial the new Work Well remote-working package I recently devised for the property in light of the seismic shifts we have seen over the last few months.
You know the story already: with offices the world over shuttered, employees need no longer be shackled to a specific location. It’s a development that is comprehensively documented in Globetrender’s Work from Anywhere coverage; and for people with the finances and flexibility to work wherever they please, what, in theory, could be better than working from their own vast beach or overwater villa in the Maldives, with superlative snorkelling, fresh-as-can-be sushi and a superb spa just a few (bare)footsteps away?
(It should be noted that the Maldives has not yet launched a specific “digital nomad visa” so it’s a case of coming on a 30-day tourist visa, which you can then extend when in residence. The process takes seven working days but is simple.)
Thing is, those niceties have always been intended for the enjoyment of holidaymakers and can initially prove overly distracting, and subsequently insufficiently stimulating, for digital nomads who are setting up home in a resort longer-term for professional purposes.With Vakkaru’s Work Well package offered on a complimentary basis to clients in residence 21 days or longer, the challenge was to create a setting that was conducive to working efficiently – a complete shift from a resort’s usual purpose – and to provide extracurricular activities (such as diving courses and cookery classes) that are tailored to those living on site for an extended period.
We did that by upgrading every Work Well guest to a larger villa to allow for the implementation of a dedicated office space (with a proper desk, printer and other accoutrements that give a sense that this is where one goes to get the job done) and by providing a bespoke wellness programme to run for the duration of their stay, with an hour of one-to-one personal training, yoga or meditation offered daily according to their fitness goals.
This is my favourite part of the offer as I sink into extreme gluttony on every trip abroad, under the pretence that it’s important to try new things while away; hot days demand multiple ice-creams; and foreign calories don’t count as much.
Connected to that, Work Well guests get a deskside delivery of “Brain & Body” Fuel every workday, healthy snacks such as homemade granola bars and fresh fruit skewers intended as a replacement for the chocolates and biscuits that typically do the rounds in most office environments.
Those additions have been well-received by other guests, though they haven’t worked as planned for me: spurious work commitments have kept me from keeping to my full schedule of gym appointments and I’ve been making too many return visits to the breakfast buffet. End result one fortnight in: my Maldives wardrobe is already a very tight squeeze and I could do with some looser clothing, which has exposed another complication of remote remote working.Whoever your preferred online retailer might be, you can kiss goodbye to the convenience of next-day delivery. Digital nomads be warned: pack wisely, and for every eventuality.
City sorts will also need to reflect on whether they can adapt to a significantly slower pace of life after the initial gloss of their adventure wears off, with a capped portfolio of amenities and activities immediately available to them.
It may not be much of an issue with so many countries currently under lockdown, but as restrictions lift remote workers in holiday destinations the world over will be stuck with social lives that will seem stagnant in comparison to those of their friends and colleagues back home.
Still, every day I reflect on how this unique opportunity to work so far away from the chaos at home has provided a shard of positivity in what has been a largely terrible year. This longer stay has allowed me to follow the rhythm of island life completely and of course the Maldives provides a peerless beauty.
After living for so many years in a city where the horizon is obscured by towers and cranes, seeing the setting sun slip unobstructed into the molten ocean every evening is a delight. Conversely, working solo in what are quintessentially romantic destinations can so easily become lonely.
Were I to work remotely for months on end I would want to do so in the company of a partner or friend or family. For now, however, a few winter weeks spent in my satellite office in the Maldives is working out just fine for me.