by Paul T. Cottey

How was your telecation?

Jul 08, 2019
IT Leadership

The point of a vacation is not to work less, but to not work.

Relaxing on hammock vacation 168344861
Credit: Thinkstock

Portmanteau (noun) – a word whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms


I just got back from telecation™. You don’t know what a telecation is? That’s because no one does yet: I just invented the usage of the word. (There are some usages of the word out “in the wild,” but none of them mean what I describe below.)

Let me propose this definition, and then I’ll talk about it:

telecation [tel-uh-key-shuh n] or [tel-uh-key-shuh n]


1. a vacation on which you take only your cell phone, not a laptop, and continue to try to do your full job

2. working via your cell phone while you are on vacation

verb: telecation, telecation-ing

3.  the act of being on vacation with only a cell phone, but still working

4. trying to hide that you are working while on vacation by using only your cell phone

As recently as a few years ago, a telecation would have been impossible. There was too much personal contact in working and there was an expectation, if not a need, that you would be physically present when working.

Practically it has only been in the years since the iPhone came out that telecations became possible. With the adoption of VPNs to establish secure connections, file storage in the cloud, ubiquitous email, instant messaging, apps to manage travel, working from home, WiFi on airplanes, and so on, it has truly become possible to go away on vacation with only a telephone.

Sure, we plunked away on our Blackberries in the 00’s and before that we answered our pagers and used payphones, but those tended to make it obvious that we were not truly “on vacation.”  It was hard to hide from a sky pager, but it was fairly easy to “forget” it on the nightstand of the hotel for a couple hours.

The small size of the phones and the excuse of “I was just checking the time on my phone.” while thumbing “TTYL” has enabled getting work done while nominally being on vacation. So, “tele” for our telephones, and “cation” from the vacation we should be on:  telecation.

Is a telecation good or bad?

Yes. Absolutely. For sure. Both.

Being on telecation is good because we have the ability to get away from work and from the office, but we can still be available for true emergencies. It is better to get pulled into a call and an email chain or two than it would be to stay home and not go on vacation. Coming back to a week’s worth of email gives a half-life of vacation relaxation of about a 30 minutes otherwise. In other words, by 9 AM of the first day back, you barely remember you had a vacation!

A telecation is also good because it causes us as IT people to spend time walking in the shoes of those mobile users, such as sales people or operations people, who spend most of their work time with only their cell phones. The telecation lets us experience, first-hand, the frustration of our mobile users and focuses us on making their work lives easier.

Being on telecation is bad, however, because it keeps us from getting away and recharging. The point of getting away is not to work less, but to not work. Being on telection also lowers our productivity, not just for the need for stealth (“I’m just checking tomorrow’s weather, dear.”), but because the cell phone is not optimal for all work tasks. If you have ever tried to review a long document or a complicated email exchange on your phone, you know this already.

Here is what you may be able to do to minimize the amount of your vacation that becomes telecation:

  • Set an expectation that you are on vacation. This means telling people, updating your calendar, maybe putting an out-of-office messages on your email, and so on.
  • “Deputizing” people to make decisions on your behalf in your absence and assuring them that you will not second-guess their decisions when you return. This does not mean you will not provide counsel around their decisions upon review, but it means that publicly, you will be a united front.
  • Do not respond to emails that do not need a response until you are back. I’d suggest that you should not read your email, but that is probably not who you are. However, if the subject is “Don’t read until you are back!” then don’t!
  • Time-box the amount of time you are on telecation to the start and the end of the day. During the middle of the day, be on vacation.
  • Pick a vacation location that discourages being in constant touch. It doesn’t have to be in North Korea, Cuba, or the mountains in Kamchatka, but being in the mountains of New Mexico, Colorado or Alaska may be enough to plausibly say, “Sorry. No coverage.”
  • Plan for time to get caught up. This may be the Sunday evening you are back, as you may not have the luxury of reserving Monday morning, but you know you are going to need to catch up, so plan for it.

Do you like my new word “telecation”? Have you been on one recently? Do you have other hints for people to transform a telecation into a vacation? Let me know on social media, but not from your cell phone on telecation!