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It took three wrong turns, but finally I found it: Work Saigon, a coworking space, school, and cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. I was deep into my digital nomad adventure but it was my first time in a coworking space. Spending time at Work Saigon opened my eyes to a new way of working as a freelancer. In fact, it led me to explore a whole new career path that channels my passions for the arts, education, and community. Since my first afternoon in a shared workspace in Vietnam, I’ve become convinced that coworking is a vital part of the success, growth, and mental health of remote workers and entrepreneur.
After more than six months of backpacking and relocating every few days, I returned to my hometown near Toronto, Ontario. Tired of the shared dorms and unfamiliarity, I sought the stability of home. I continued my work as a freelance copywriter with the same clients, in the same place I’d spent most of my life. The contrast between this life and my time on the road was stark and the comedown was difficult. Two months were filled with long days where the only form of human contact came from notifications on a screen. The effects on my creativity, output, and wellbeing were evident. I began seeking new opportunities and reached out to The Station, a coworking space for creative freelancers. Shared goals and experiences were evident from our first conversation and soon after, I became the Community Manager.
I’ve been delighted to find that despite my initial concerns, many of the things I love most about traveling are fulfilled through being a part of the community at The Station. If you’ve got the travel bug, are considering putting down roots, or are suffering your way through post-travel blues, I can’t recommend coworking enough. More than a hot trend, shared workspace is a direct response to the growing gig economy and needs of sole proprietors.
Across the world and back again, here are the reasons I’ve found coworking can offer just as much (if not more) to digital nomads vs. a perpetual life on the road:
For many with a strong case of wanderlust, routine can walk a fine line between pleasantly consistent and frustratingly static. It takes more effort and intention to seek new experiences, expand your skills, and grow when you are stationary. Take personal responsibility for what you need! As a member of a coworking community, you can benefit from the accountability, inspiration, and productive energy created in a shared space. You may feel inclined to put in an extra hour of work if others still have their heads down when the clock hits 3pm and you want to slip out. If you know you thrive on accountability, create a “buddy system” with a fellow coworker. Share with them what you’re up to and ask them to check in on your progress, and offer to do the same for them. Set achievable goals around networking, event attendance, and passion projects to keep pushing yourself. The structure of shared workspace makes it easier to take the heightened awareness and willingness to say “yes” that many of us adopt on the road and apply it in a familiar setting.
Part of my initial hesitation about joining a coworking space, whether at home or abroad, came from fear of commitment. If I wanted to the option to pick up and leave on a whim, why would I sign a contract that tied me to a single location? What I realize now is that many spaces offer the benefits of coworking without the responsibility of a monthly bill. Drop in, drop out, sign up part-time, or do a trial. This is exactly why platforms like ShareDesk’s Marketplace are so accessible for the digital nomad-minded worker. If anything, coworking can add an extra option to your work week and some semblance of a routine – without requiring you to sacrifice autonomy or make you second guess booking your next flight.
Every day of travel is a lesson in personal boundaries, strengths, and sense of identity. However, finding the time and space for professional development and growth can be more challenging when you are working remotely and surrounded by people who are leisurely traveling. The flash and intensity of travel experiences makes it worthwhile, but it’s easy to feel frustrated when everyone is headed to the next sight and you’re searching for a café with wifi.
Here, coworking offers something that you won’t find as a perpetually traveling digital nomad. Being part of a supportive and consistent community can push you into new areas of self-discovery and enhance your professional development. Opportunities to share resources, demonstrate your own expertise, and learn from the experience of others helps hold you accountable to your goals and opens up wonderful mentorship opportunities, too!
The life of an entrepreneur can easily become quite lonely. Client emails and Skype calls are no substitute for face-to-face interactions with others. Long-term relationships, team collaboration, and a sense of belonging can be sorely missed during life as a digital nomad, as you move anonymously through spaces and time zones. Coffee shops offer little relief. Setting up your laptop to work only to find yourself surrounded by others engaging in deep social interactions, and exacerbate your loneliness. Travel connections can be personal, intense, and beautiful. Unfortunately, they’re often also transient. It can get tiring engaging in route small talk with strangers over and over again (Where are from? What do you do? Where are you staying?).
When you choose to work out of a particular coworking space, you build intentional, lasting relationships. Showing up somewhere familiar where people know your name is a nice feeling. The structure and deep network found in a shared workspace makes it easy to find like-minded peers and develop new connections with room to grow.
The “nomadic” nature of being a digital nomad is indeed exciting, but not without its drawbacks. Traveling to new countries and cities, while absorbing local customs is enriching, but battling strict client deadlines and no connectivity will often leave you stressed out and worried about money. I can’t count the number of times while abroad that I headed to a cafe and got settled in with my coffee, only to find the wifi was spotty or get distracted by a neighboring table’s conversation.
Coworking means no guessing games and no scanning the room for a suitable table. A guaranteed desk and reliable wifi connection offer comfort and stability, a form of reliability you’ll grow to cherish after an experiencing the erratic life on the road. Coworking spaces are set up for you to work, simple as that. This lets you get your work done as quickly as possible, so you can get back to doing the other stuff you love. Ample plugs, comfortable chairs, strong wifi, and controlled noise levels make a huge difference.
Whether you decide to put down roots where your birth certificate reads, or find a far flung place that fits your lifestyle and sensibilities, the experience of settling down shouldn’t mean “settling.”. The benefits of digging in and building connections to one specific community can be very similar to the joys of life on the road. It just means finding the right workspace for you.
About the author
Lauren Rabindranath is a Community Manager and Freelance Copywriter who specializes in digital marketing content. She has worked remotely while traveling to over 20 countries. Currently, Lauren works from (and for) The Station, a coworking space for creative freelancers in Toronto, Canada. Her passions include arts and culture, place-making, and developing strong local connections that create a positive impact. Connect with her on Twitter @laurenxrab.