An Ode to Co-Working
As a digital nomad I can work anywhere, and I have. I remember waking up early in Colorado to get a few hours on the computer before hitting the ski slopes or being stymied by limited connectivity in Asia. I have checked in from beaches in Mexico and responded to clients from vineyards in France. And while there is an allure to the idea of being completely free to work from where ever, I have learned that the solopreneur route can be very challenging.
The digital nomad life has been somewhat romanticized and many people dream of how much easier their life would be if they could work from home, or anywhere they pleased. Who doesn’t love the idea of working in their pyjamas or putting on a few loads of laundry while catching up on e-mails? Working from a beach in the Caribbean or a café in Europe. No commuting, no small-talk with colleagues you don’t like, no long lunch lines or over-priced coffee. While there are many up-sides to not being tied to a desk, I found I could be extremely unproductive at times, people watching from a coffee shop, skiing instead of responding to e-mails, indulging in one-more cabana cocktail instead of proposal writing. To help me focus – I started co-working!
Co-working is being in the same physical location as others while you work, but often for completely different organizations. When I first quit my job, I stumbled upon an amazing co-working space in Ottawa, The HUB, where I learned about building a business and met people to collaborate with (like the awesome Kat from This Is Capra). But I wasn’t ever expected there – I worked there when I wanted. Finding a co-working space when I travelled became a priority; WiFi, access to scanners and printers, desks and chairs designed to working, interesting people – all components that boosted my productivity and lessened the loneliness.
When I first arrived in Europe, I found an amazing space. It was right in the centre of the Old Town, was cheap, clean, bright and everything was hip and new. The coffee was free and there was even a kitchen, it was perfect. Physically. But it didn’t fit with me. There was no community and after a month of working there two or three times a week, I didn’t feel welcome. No one had ever said hello to me. It was then that I realised who you work with, even if you are not working together, is more important than where you work. If I wanted to work alone, with no social interactions at all, I might as well stay home!
As a solopreneur, when I have a professional success, it doesn’t feel as meaningful celebrating alone in my comfy pants. When I need to bounce ideas off someone, there is no one there other than my cat (and while she has opinions most are not applicable to work). And while expensive coffees hit the pocket-book hard, they are much nicer than a Keurig or press in the kitchen. Less time might be wasted with gossip, but there are less opportunities for interesting conversations about new projects or opportunities. In Ottawa, I had a community of people who would help me develop ideas, provide insight, and celebrate my success. We learned together, from one another and with one another.
I joined another space that was a 40-minute walk away from where I was staying, it was more expensive, and I had to actually pay for my coffee (a whole 40 cents!). The building was old and falling apart, there wasn’t a lot of light or there was too much light depending on the time of day, but the people welcomed me and helped me learn the secrets of their city. I was invited to Christmas parties, wished happy birthday, included on random Friday drinks, found contract work and even an apartment thank to the amazing people there. I had a community and was meeting people both socially and professionally.
But to co-work, you don’t need an actual formal space. Since August, I have reimagined co-working and now have several good friends with whom I co-work. One is in pharmaceuticals, another in public policy, one specialises in numbers, another in analysis and we meet at each other’s homes or in coffee shops for several hours. We drink coffee and tea and hold each other accountable to daily deliverables. We strategize about new opportunities together, we discuss challenging clients, we share our successes and failures.
Part of the privilege of being a solopreneur and a digital nomad, is that I don’t have to stick to one work space or co-work solution, I can experiment and be flexible. I have learned to be productive on a snowy day in my home office (I have also learned to be very unproductive on a snowy day in my home office). I have learned to admit to myself that while most people believe that “working from home” is the dream, for me, reality is sometimes very different and being able to adapt and find solutions that work for me is vital to being productive and not becoming isolated. I have learned that each person will need different solutions to stay productive and focused and that flexibility is key. I have also learned that some people are amazingly productive alone in a home office.
Today I sometimes work from cafes, I sometimes work from my kitchen counter, I work from my friend’s home office, and I occasionally get day-passes to cool co-working spaces around the city. I continue to try new co-working spaces and connect with people who want to co-work with me. I co-work now and it connects me to people, my city, and my ideas in a way that working from home alone never will.
And as a side note; working from a beach is never a great idea, once you have overcome the glare of the sun on your laptop screen, you still have to deal with the sand in your keyboard … I speak from experience!