Could flexible work arrangements help unlock productivity, boost team morale and improve physical and mental wellbeing? The MH team hopped on a Jetstar flight bound for a ‘workation’ in Hawaii, keen to find out why working with the sand between your toes could be the ultimate performance booster
The sight of a giant green sea turtle blissing out as a school of luminous yellow and white fish nibbles away at its shell would make for a hell of a screensaver. On this occasion, though, this slightly comical scene, referred to by locals as “the carwash”, is unfolding right before my eyes in the warm waters of Turtle Canyon, off Waikiki beach
As work days go, a natural underwater variety show isn’t a bad way to start. It certainly beats a crowded commute on public transport or dodging homicidal motorists on a bike on Sydney’s treacherous streets, two experiences that often see me arrive at my desk hot, stressed and ready to go home.
Instead, as I write this story after hopping off a catamaran, HP Folio Spectre perched on my knees, my back supported by the gently curving trunk of a palm tree on one of the world’s most iconic stretches of sand, I’m feeling fresh, inspired and invigorated. Where normally I’m prone to clock-watching, this is a work day I don’t want to end.
he idea of trialling a workation was first proposed by MH editor Scott Henderson. How are we going to produce a magazine when we’re sunning ourselves on the sand? What happens when our deputy art director abandons the team to find the nearest CrossFit box? Isn’t the lure of the surf going to be too much for our goofy-footed, starry-eyed creative director who’s euphoric after catching his first wave? On paper it spelled disaster. In practice? Well, after hiking up the majestic Diamond Head crater at 6am to enjoy breathtaking views of Waikiki’s famous high-riseheavy foreshore before boarding a catamaran skippered by a hyperactive, megaphone-lunged local called Mash in search of the amicable sea turtles, I’d be happy if I never set foot in an office again
Of course, there is some work to do but in such sublime surrounds even the most daunting to-do list seems somehow more manageable. Maybe it’s the absence of the interminable hum of industrial air-con, the inane chatter that floats through open plan offices or the lack of Powerpoint-centric meetings. Research certainly suggests employees untethered from their cubicles achieve more. A Harvard Business School study found that people who work remotely are more productive than they are in an office setting. Meanwhile, a two-year study by Yale researcher Nicholas Bloom published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics found a 13 per cent productivity increase and a 50 per cent reduction in staff turnover among those working from home. They also took shorter breaks and had fewer sick days and the company saved around $2,784 per employee on lease costs.
It’s true: Hawaii isn’t exactly ‘home’ and you don’t have to set up your laptop in an exotic locale to reap these benefits. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. University of Michigan researchers explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature and found that walking in a park in any season, or even viewing pictures of nature, improved memory and attention spans by 20 per cent. “Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating,” says study author Marc Berman.
Which is perhaps why I’m feeling as relaxed as a sea turtle in a carwash and why, at the end of the day as I shut my laptop and dive into the still waters of the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, I’m still feeling the same way. – Ben Jhoty
What do you do between bursts of work-related activity in Waikiki? The MH crew took a group surfing lesson, with C+ results.
If you have even a trace of surfing potential, Waikiki is one of the best spots on the planet to explore it. You don’t get dumpers here; just gentle rollers offering a long, smooth ride of footballfield lengths. But you still need the adroitness to rise to your feet on a moving object – and to stay upright long enough for easily impressed females to notice you
Which is where our team of instructors, led by Errol Kane II, comes in. An affable, patient man with, of course, absurdly tanned skin and conspicuous muscles, Errol says he’s been taking kooks out to the reef-break here for 21 years. “And I haven’t lost anyone yet,” he ads, reassuringly.
On this pristine afternoon, several of us are amped to get wet and get charging, but our lesson starts on the sand, where longboards are laid out in front of each of us. It’s a comforting sight: a new Australian study found injury is far less common among longboarders than short-board riders. It also found surfers enjoy better mental health than the average Australian – a finding none of us would dispute in this idyllic setting of transparent turquoise water lit by the exquisite Hawaiian sun.
Errol’s top priority is to teach us how to fall. It’s a smart play: there’ll be plenty of slapstick toppling going in a group comprising a single waxhead and six Barneys who wouldn’t know a carve from a cutback. The key, Errol explains, is to fall flat, preferably on your side, so as to steer clear of the coral and avoid emerging from the soup looking like an extra from a slasher flick.
Once on a wave, “standing up is a simple three-stage process,” explains Errol. One, from lying on your stomach, you’ll get to your knees. Two, you’ll plant your lead leg. Three, you’ll push off your back leg to standing.
“Once up, stay low, weight forward,” urges Errol. We practise this for a few minutes, with a growing feeling (possibly delusional) that it might even work.
Once in the water, Errol points us to our congregation point: an orange buoy about 250m from shore. For the paddlepusses among us, the distance is troubling, but we all manage it without a single drowning or humiliating descent into panic.
After a couple more pointers (including not rushing the three-step process), the instructors start putting us on waves in the same way you’d help a boogie boardriding seven-year-old onto a two-footer. In the seconds before I’m launched I tell my guy – a lean, blond dude, Evan Locke – that this will be my first board-riding experience. “I’m stoked for you, man,” he says, as if I’m about to join a religious cult.
Needless to say, surfing’s trickier on water than sand. But most of us make it to stage three and enjoy at least one or two shaky rides. There’d be few points awarded for style. But, hey, this isn’t the WSL, just a workcation lark. And a sick one at that. – Daniel Williams
Jetstar flies direct to Honolulu from Sydney and Melbourne and offers flight-and-hotel packages featuring a 10 per cent ‘price beat guarantee’. jetstar.com
Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort
This sprawling, 3000-odd room resort boasts the widest stretch of beach in Waikiki, plus Elvis filmed Blue Hawaii here back in 1961. There’s no better place to rest, play and, oh yeah . . . work. Hiltonhawaiianvillage.com
Waikiki Beach, Bali Steak & Seafood.
Enjoy spectacular sunset views as you savour the island flavours of Hawaii, Bali and the Philippines. Fresh seafood and succulent meats make for high-end surf and turf. Hiltonhawaiianvillage.com
Spirit of Aloha
Visit Turtle Canyon on a luxury catamaran to snorkel with green sea turtles, sunbake on the deck or just sip Longboards in the sun. $130, hawaiiactivities.com
Hawaii Hotspot Surf School
Learn to catch a wave on Waikiki’s iconic break with the expert instruction of Errol and the gang. $95, hawaiihotspotsurfschool.com
For stunning 360˚ views of Honolulu, head up this 233m volcanic crater, a reasonably challenging 45-minute hike from the base. dlnr.hawaii.gov