Today’s professional world affords many opportunities to ditch the traditional office space. Many folks are no longer chained to a desk and can travel wherever they like. They can pick an exotic locale, book their tickets, and leave for that dream destination. The life of a digital nomad is an attractive proposition. It’s a life of travel, exploration, and adventure, but it also has its challenges. There are several things to consider in order to venture off into the digital horizon. Being an effective digital nomad requires planning, discipline, and flexibility. Many digital nomads are using co-working spaces as a effective alternative to traditional offices while exploring the world.
One of the most difficult challenges is finding the right location. Some people simply think “I’ll just find a coffee shop to work from” or “I’ll use the wifi in my AirBnb”. Making these simple assumptions may be a big mistake for the newbie nomad. Coffee shops are rarely suitable for silent contemplation or private digital conversations. Your rented apartment might not have adequate internet. Additionally, you may grow lonely in your isolated space.
Co-working spaces have become a great alternative to the traditional office. These spaces afford people an opportunity to have the same benefits of office-life without being tied to a particular company. In large cities, like New York and Berlin, there are hundreds of co-working spaces to choose from. Each space is unique in its own way. Each space offers different experiences, but choosing the right one for a digital nomad can be daunting. With so many options, how can you select the right one for you?
Evaluating a Space
There are four layers of need that every digital nomad should use when evaluating a potential workspace. These layers include the ability to connect with the outside world, the physical environment of the space, the community in the space, and the extra perks that may be offered. These layers form a hierarchy of needs. Each layer should be evaluated before selecting the space that is right for you.
As a digital nomad, connectivity is critical. Being able to communicate with people around the world at the appropriate time is essential to success.
Connectivity has two major and critical components. First is the ability to connect digitally. The Internet is the backbone of the digital community. High speed Internet is important for anyone that needs to attend video conferences or download large files. Before committing to a particular space, attempt to test the reliability of the Internet connection. For a quick test, you can take a look at your download and upload speeds using a tool like speedtest.net. A more in-depth evaluation should also test for ping and packet-loss. This will show your ability to have maximum quality during important video conferences.
The second element of connectivity is the time that the physical space is available. Most co-working spaces are only available during standard business hours based on the time-zone where the space exists. This can be problematic. If these hours don’t match the hours of your team or client, then ultimately the space is useless for you. For example, if you’re working from Central Europe, but need to hold East Coast US working hours, you’ll need to work until 11:00 pm. Using a tool like WorldTimeBuddy is a great way to compare your current time zone with the other folks on your team.
Some co-working spaces offer 24 hour access, but it’s restricted to full monthly members. You may need to buy these larger packages to get the access you need. Make sure you always investigate what the available hours are and if there are limitations on “daily passes.” Some spaces can also be available during off hours, but they don’t publish it as an option. If you like a space, but their hours don’t work for you, reach out to them and ask. There may be other options available to you.
The physical environment of the co-working space is absolutely critical. The typical baseline requirements for a co-working space are a roof, a work surface, good internet connectivity, and electricity.
The specific needs of your environment will depend heavily on your style of work. If you require a place of silent concentration, a noisy cafe is probably not the best location for you. Unfortunately, this is sometimes difficult to determine from a website and you will want to visit the space to check.
Here are some specifics that you should look for before settling on a environment:
- Sound – Is it too noisy to concentrate? Do they play music during daytime hours?
- Location – Is the space near a mass transit line? How long does it take to get there from your living space?
- Private Spaces – Are there phone booths or privacy closets for sensitive video conferences? Are there meeting rooms for on-site client visits?
- Security – Is the space in a safe location? Would you feel comfortable leaving your belongings out when you use the restroom? Are there places to lock-up your valuables?
- Seating – Are the chairs hard as rocks, which will make working long periods extremely painful? Is there a good mix between desks and standing workspaces?
- Lighting – Are there bright windows that will make video conferencing difficult? Is it too dim for you?
- Power – Are there enough electrical outlets available for everyone in the space? Do you need more than a standard power outlet (i.e. USB ports)? Do they have international plugs or do you need your own adapter?
- Extra equipment – Do you need a printer or an extra monitor? Is there an available kitchen and refrigerator?
The community around the co-working space is dependent on individual needs. For some folks, a community is extremely important, as it is a means to meet new people in their field or is used as a social outlet. For others, the local community may not matter, since the space is only needed for a short time period in each location.
Co-working spaces are not only used by digital nomads. The majority of folks are local to the area, who use the space as an office alternative. They also use it as an opportunity to network, generate ideas, and collaborate. Many consultants use co-working spaces because producing new ideas and good work is harder in isolation.
Many co-working spaces hold social events in addition to supplying individual work spaces. They may have a weekly meet-and-greet, which is a great way to network outside of regular work hours. They may have training sessions for professionals in your industry. You can take these opportunities to find others that are learning similar skills. The social mission of co-working can be one of the most attractive draws for some people, whether it is networking, skill-sharing, or simply to avoid loneliness.
There are numerous additional perks offered by co-working spaces. These can vary from nice-to-have add-ons to bizarre services that resonate with a select few. Most of the time, perks aren’t deal breakers for a space, however they could help you decide between two spaces which are mostly equal with your other needs. Here are a few of the perks that have been made available at co-working spaces.
- Unlimited, free coffee
- Yoga classes
- Nap room
- Discounted food
- Mail services
- Virtual receptionists
- Gaming spaces (i.e. ping-pong or foosball)
Helpful Tips and Tricks
- Find someone else who works there and talk with them. The operators of a space are attempting to sell their location, so digging deeper with a third party is the best way to get the real deal.
- Always compare the daily rate versus the monthly rate for a space. If you’ll be using a space for two weeks, it might be cheaper to go monthly and you may also get more perks.
- Looks can be deceiving. Many fancy spaces with ultra-modern decor can be uncomfortable to work in. Remember that you’ll spend many, many hours in this location. Sometimes that beat-up couch is far better to sit in than the IKEA pain-o-matic 3000 desk chair.
- In a noisy co-working space, utilize a white noise generator, like Noisli, to help keep you focused.
- Here’s a great remote starter kit to prepare you for digital nomad-hood!
Always Shop Around
The life of a digital nomad can be enticing, however, be prepared for some challenges with this alternative lifestyle. Finding the right place to work from is perhaps the most important decision you can make when choosing a new destination. Don’t leave it up to chance. Do your homework ahead of time.
Arriving in a new city without a game-plan can make your professional life very difficult. Use the Internet to shop around, reach out directly to your short-list of options, and visit your top picks as soon as you arrive. There are many different ways people like to work. Luckily, there are many different co-working spaces to meet these needs.