by Natalie Holmes
Settling in with a laptop beneath a shady tree, connecting with colleagues around a fire pit, or sampling a local craft beer at the bar…this is work, but not in the traditional sense.
As the boundaries between business and leisure continue to dissolve, secluded retreats are turning their attention to a new set of customers.
Digital nomads, entrepreneurs and forward-thinking corporate teams are leaving the bustle of the city behind to immerse themselves in nature in the name of creativity and productivity. While some resorts and country hotels are updating their offerings to cater to this emerging clientele, new properties are also appearing geared solely towards the nascent demand.
Sometimes referred to as workation retreats, the venues share a number of characteristics, including a relaxed rural or semi-urban location with hotel style sleeping facilities, coworking space and a range of activities from cooking classes to business skills workshops to encourage interaction with fellow guests.
“This trend can be seen as part of the evolution of real estate as a whole, incorporating elements of hospitality such as high-quality accommodation and guest service while offering unique experiences,” says Lauro Ferroni, JLL’s Global Head of Hotels & Hospitality Research. “The human element is also really important, bringing people together both in coworking spaces but allowing for relaxation to help build relationships.”
For many guests, the communal approach such as shared mealtimes and spacious coworking facilities to rival those found in any city, is a huge part of the appeal, offering the benefits of collaboration and networking.
Connecting with the surrounding area—and each other
A growing number of these retreats are springing up across Europe and the U.S. Just outside of Berlin, Coconat Workation Retreat occupies a former country hotel and takes inspiration from the local co-living movement, offering accommodation and coworking space about an hour’s drive or train ride from the city center.
Similarly, Wolfhouse offers co-living for teams in a luxurious ocean-side estate on Tenerife. Nectar is a converted farmhouse in a natural park outside of Barcelona offering co-living and coworking for both individuals and groups.
Across the Atlantic, in the mountains of Utah, an ambitious project is taking shape. Powder Mountain is a planned public town of 500 houses conceived to host artists, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in a year-round roster of events and activities, from outdoor pursuits to brainstorming sessions.
While work remains very much on the agenda at these retreats, taking time out from a normal routine comes with its own benefits – whether for freelancers or office colleagues. A number of scientific studies have shown that spending time in nature boosts productivity, creativity and memory, as well as decreasing stress levels. “A rural setting allows people to disconnect from their day-to-day work,” says Ferroni. “This environment can help spark ideas and improve work product.”
And a natural location is not the sole attraction. “It’s not just about getting people away from the office but also engaged in different activities that teach new skills or fine tune existing ones,” says Ferroni. “A great view is always welcome, but the places that get the most attention are those that offer something unique which ultimately gets people to push themselves or helps them think in a different way.”
Activities can encourage team-building and communication, but not all are created equal: cultural context is important. “People want experiences and many are prepared to try something new, but these experiences have to be relevant and authentic,” says Ferroni. However, providing a range of options is almost as important as what’s on offer—so guests can decide for themselves what they want to do and when. “It’s not just about having everyone in the same place at same time, but giving people control and a sense of autonomy,” says Ferroni.
Making a workation retreat work
For purpose-created workation retreats and hotels eyeing the new market, location is a key consideration. “These retreats either need to be well connected to urban centers, or leverage their remoteness as a unique selling point,” says Ferroni. At luxurious ranches in Wyoming and Montana, for example, the hard-to-reach setting is part of the allure.
Thanks to their rural locations, the seasonal aspects of such retreats can present a challenge. “This can also become an opportunity, however, as businesses may want to send their teams off-season, and many digital nomads travel year-round,” says Ferroni.
Strong digital connections are also a must. “Workers want to spend time in nature, but they don’t want to be isolated from what’s going on in the wider world,” says Ferroni. And it’s not just a case of build it and they will come; the new breed of workation retreats may be in their early stages, but it’s essential to build their brand and market their services to their target audience in the urban workforce and digital nomad communities.
But get it right and there’s potential for these workation retreats to flourish, Ferroni believes. “It’s a trend that’s on the rise, not just on the physical asset side but also in terms of service and experience,” he concludes. “As technology develops, we’ll become increasingly dynamic and mobile in the way we work, and we can, in turn, expect the workation retreat concept to diversify and enter the mainstream.”