“So…I’m Ready To Be a Digital Nomad” Part 1: Where to Work
You’ve secured the ideal remote job, one with flexibility and an understanding and supportive management team. Effectively, you can now live wherever you’d like in the world, and you’ve quickly decided on your favorite global city.
Whether for the weather, the food, the beautiful people, the architecture, the art, it’s no matter. This is your new city, and you’re ready to take the leap into this nomadic lifestyle in your favorite place on earth.
You know the city well, but only as a visitor. This will be your first time as a local, living and working from this far-off locale.
It has been nearly a year since I moved to Barcelona, electing to adopt this nomadic lifestyle. I’ve developed and practiced a series of actions, some quite obvious, some not as obvious, that dramatically increase comfortability, productivity, and overall ability to enjoy this unique experience.
Over a number of articles, we’re going to focus on these simple actions that transformed my one time trip to Barcelona in 2016 into an entirely new lifestyle. Here, we’ll discuss the importance of finding the ideal workspace.
The Importance of Coworking Spaces
Conventional wisdom suggests that finding housing is the top priority for digital nomads, that we’re really nowhere without a roof over our heads. But I disagree with this.
There are exponentially more apartments in a city than there are available single offices and coworking spaces; and after all, this incredible opportunity to travel is because of a company’s flexibility, so making sure work quality doesn’t suffer is crucial.
The first step is to find the ideal working space. Even if you’re self-employed, finding a social workspace is highly recommended, as you’ll be able to use knowledge from fellow mobile workers to create a competitive edge over similar companies back home. It also provides an invaluable opportunity to network and to potentially create a new client list.
Keep in mind that this experience is not a vacation, not a trip, not even travel. This is your life, and you are picking it up and moving it to another part of the country, or even another part of the world. It’s crucial to be mindful of the responsibilities you still hold within your organization, and finding a comfortable place to work, and execute at a high level, is paramount.
In my own experience, my coworking space in Barcelona has been key in helping keep my priorities in focus and my output high. Over the days, months, or years as a remote worker, you’ve likely grown accustomed to the comforts of working at home. After all, it’s amazing. No commute, no need to really get ready, plus lunch and dinner are just a few steps away.
But as a digital nomad experiencing daily life in a new place, you’re likely looking for more than the comfortable, yet insulated experience of working from inside your apartment all day.
Cowork spaces create an instant connection to your new city and the people in it. Almost immediately, you’ll better understand commerce in that city, and learn about what dozens, if not hundreds of people do to make a living. The space creates immediate inroads to new friendships and contacts, and an opportunity to better understand your new language just by listening to those around you throughout the day. After all, you’ll make precisely zero of these new contacts and friends cooped up in your apartment all afternoon.
Creating a short commute, whether by foot, train, bus, or bicycle, establishes a deeper connection between you and the city you are in. The languages you hear, foods you smell, and obstacles you encounter within the street, authenticate the uniqueness of your experience. These short commutes can also help you appreciate the work day ahead and the gift your organization has given you by sanctioning your choice to live abroad.
Notice the emphasis on “short” commute. This is why finding your ideal workspace first is crucial. You don’t want to spend 45 minutes frantically switching buses and trains to get to your office. It’s important to find something close to your domicile, but that requires a bit of effort to get there.
During my time in Barcelona in 2016, my 20 minute walk to my cowork space, BCNewt, was a unique period of reflection and observation, unlike any I had felt before. This led to me eventually practicing meditation more frequently and helped me to develop a routine each morning that creates my own environment for success.
I’m not saying one 20 minute commute to a cowork space in Berlin will make you the Buddha. I’m saying that setting aside time for self-reflection and observation of a new environment will have an important impact on how you view your city.
There are a few key environmental characteristics to consider when deciding on the right space. These are noise level, size, and accessibility.
Find the Right Noise Level
To me, noise level is the most important factor and should be the first question you ask a prospective coworking space. Although before you ask the cowork space manager, ask yourself; do you prefer a quiet environment to work, or do you feed off social interaction around you?
Do you conduct meetings via google hangouts or skype on a daily basis or do you spend you day working independently?
Once you have a better understanding of what time you want to work in, ask the space’s manager, “What is the regular noise level in the work space?”. You will receive a litany of responses, and likely hear some adjectives you never thought could be attached to sound.
“We are a calm workspace.”
“Noise is to be kept at a respectful level.”
Yikes. Just tell me whether the space is quiet or not.
If you are in a more operations-focused role, where you are required to meet daily with colleagues around the U.S., and even around the world, the spaces discussed above are likely not for you.
That said, if you appreciate quiet while also needing to occasionally conduct meetings, find a space with free 24 hour conference rooms and inquire about their availability. Furthermore, I would recommend buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, something I’ll discuss frequently in posts.
Search for the Right Size
Cowork spaces around the world, through global brands like WeWork, have become increasingly trendy as millennials ditch the standard office job for a startup role in a cowork space. Some of these spaces are like daytime disco techs, where you ditch the gin & tonic for a MacBook Pro, the dance floor for a ping pong table.
For many, this is the ideal environment, as a worker can feed off of the energy of those around them to quickly and easily create a social foundation in a new city. In Europe, Betahaus is becoming an increasingly popular brand, as well.
These multi-story cowork spaces normally host weekly – if not nightly – networking and social events that not only light up your social life, but help establish professional contacts.
For me, I am more of a big fish in a small pond. I prefer to work in a smaller, more intimate space with high ceilings, and a lot of room around me. I generally choose a cowork space with a large, open-floor plan, preferably a gentrified, post-industrial warehouse.
If your main motivation for joining a larger cowork space is the social aspect, the networking events at hubs like WeWork and Betahaus are normally open to the public.
Pay Attention to Accessibility
It’s important to remember that not all cowork spaces – specifically smaller ones – are accessible via key pad 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Thus, you need to determine if you’ll need access to the space at odd hours, based on your role within your company or responsibilities otherwise.
Do you work for a U.S.-based company and need to be connected for meetings or have clients that may want to meet at hours that suit their time zone? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, I would highly recommend finding a workspace with 24-hour access. This can require a larger fee, but the flexibility makes it worthwhile.
In Barcelona, I have a key to the industrial building, locking the front door each time before I leave. In Croatia, a manager locks up the work space after I leave. In the states, a 24-hour keypad means I can come and go as I please.
Don’t neglect the importance of ensuring you are available during the hours you are when living at “home.”
While your nomadic experience should be about self-discovery, your work is what got you here in the first place, and it’s crucial to focus on your work as a main priority each day, with work hours included therein.
Now that you’ve made these key determinations, it’s time to find the ideal space. There are countless resources to locate the ideal space, here are just a few:
ShareDesk.Net – This was the initial resource I used a couple years ago, when locating my first cowork space, and it’s proved to emerge as a leader in cowork listings.
DesksNear.Me – Another useful tool with an easy-to-use map interface. Once you find cowork spaces that match your needs, compare this map side-by-side with potential flats.
Daysk – Founded by Barcelona-based Frenchman Julien Palier, this up-and-coming app could revitalize how nomads find a cowork space. Stay tuned.
WeWork & Betahaus – Larger coworking brands mentioned above.
CIC – If you’re looking to move your entire startup into a cowork space, CIC is a great fit. With spaces in Boston, and Rotterdam, Netherlands, this is definitely a company to watch.