Megan and I rarely use coworking spaces, in fact, it would be fair to say that in the last 5 years – I’ve spent less than 2 weeks in coworking, and Megan’s spent exactly 0 days in them. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t understand the utility of co-working spaces.
So, what we’d like to do is offer up some reasons to use coworking spaces and then follow that up with reasons to not use them. We think it’s important to understand things properly before you go and pay for a month (or more) of coworking membership.
The Case For Coworking: 10 Reasons Why You Should Use A Coworking Space
We think that these are the main arguments that people offer in favor of coworking when you’re a digital nomad.
One reason that coworking is important for many people is that it gets them out of the house. That means that they can separate the personal from the professional. Many remote workers and freelancers find that their whole life can feel like one bad work fever dream if they can’t find a line between their home and their work.
Working by yourself can feel kind of lonely for some people. Going to an office to work is a way of getting a sort of social life together. Even if you don’t all hang out together (and most coworking spaces will organize some social events – often on a Friday), at least you can say “hi” to someone that isn’t your cat.
If you’re working with other people on a project, sometimes it can help to all be together in the same place and you may not want your colleagues piling into your home.
You might also be able to find someone to work with you on a new venture in a coworking space.
Free Stuff (Sort Of)
None of this is actually “free” because it comes in the cost of membership but coworking spaces can offer all sorts of perks including:
- Printing and scanning
- A reception desk with some admin support
- Health and fitness clubs
- Endless coffee
- Mail delivery and sorting services
- Super high-speed Wi-Fi
The Space To Grow
Solo freelancers and remote workers won’t care much but for entrepreneurs who may want to hire people at some point and work with them in an office – coworking spaces can often help scale you from a desk in the corner to a private office with half-a-dozen seats.
When you’re surrounded by other people working remotely or freelancing remotely, you can make professional contacts and while they may not give you work, they may know someone that can. This can be very handy if you need to grow your business.
Somewhere To Meet Clients
Most coworking spaces offer cheap meeting room access and if you have a long-term membership, they often throw in some free meeting room time. Make sure you know how to book it before inviting your clients. This can help a client meeting feel more professional than a meeting in a café and give you a more neutral place to negotiate rather than their offices.
Cheaper Than An Office?
We hear this argument a lot and we acknowledge that this might be true in New York or London but we’re 100% positive it doesn’t hold water in places like Bali or Chiang Mai. So, yes you can save money when compared to renting an office but only in some locations. We’d argue that no digital nomad is going to rent an office anyway.
It Might Make You Happy
Some people swear by coworking and say that they’d go crazy if they had to work from home. Maybe you’re one of those people? It can’t hurt to give it a go if you feel you’re cracking up working from home, right?
Well, this obviously depends on where you live but if you live in a fairly busy neighborhood in most cities – you’re going to have a coworking space within a stone’s throw. This isn’t always true in developing nations, mind you, where coworking is still coming of age but elsewhere it is.
The Case Against Coworking: 11 Reasons You Shouldn’t Use A Coworking Space
A few years back I wrote this piece, “Why I Never Use Coworking Spaces as a Digital Nomad & Why You Might Not Want to Either.” It is a caustic and sarcastic piece that has been very well received and which turns up on social media in many discussions of coworking.
The 11reasons I offer against coworking here are slightly different and a lot less “biting”.
I think this matters more if you have a permanent residence. If you move around a lot as a digital nomad – nowhere is ever quite “home” anyway. If you rent a decent apartment with a nice view and a decent desk then it’s going to be as good a place as any to work from. Just try not to work in your bedroom.
Socialization Is Better Elsewhere
I didn’t quit working a job working in an office, to go back and recreate office culture. I didn’t like office politics and the feel of working in offices. If I want to socialize, I’d rather go to a club where people have common interests with me or go to the pub.
I prefer working by myself anyway – I get more done that way.
Collaboration Is Overrated
If you have to work as part of a team, I completely get coming together to work but seeking opportunities to collaborate in coworking spaces? I’ve never seen anything good come out of it. Now, if we wait for a little while someone will come rushing in with a tale of “exceptionalism” where they met in a coworking space and then built a moon rocket.
The trouble with exceptionalism is that it’s a terrible thing to base life decisions on. What’s the norm? Collaboration “opportunities” that just burn out.
The only service I’ve ever used in a coworking space other than free coffee and the Wi-Fi was some printing. I had to pay for printing. (Which is fine).
I can’t imagine going to an office to work out. Why not live in a building with a gym or near a gym? Most of the other services are just unnecessary. I can make coffee at home (and do) and unless my Wi-Fi is out – it’s more than fast enough for my work needs too.
The value of “free stuff” is often about zero when you bottom it out. It’s going to work out cheaper to find a print shop, for example, than to rent a coworking desk to get stuff printed.
Networking Is Best Done In Relevant Forums
I don’t think there’s a huge amount to be said for networking in rooms full of people with different business objectives to you and most of whom are not going to be in the same location as you are next month.
If you hit up Meetup.com, for example, you can often find a directly relevant professional networking event nearby. These are usually free to attend, or they ask for a couple of bucks for coffee – that kind of networking is more valuable to me.
Client Meetings Are Better In Hotel Lobbies
Hotel lobbies and coffee shops are ideal for meeting with clients. Pick a non-peak hour and you’ll be sat in sumptuous surroundings which you get to use for the price of a couple of coffees – which will be cheaper than that coworking space (plus the meeting room charge).
Professionals meet in hotel lobbies all the time, nobody will think this is out of place.
We’d note, however, that your average digital nomad spends next to no time in face to face client meetings anyway as they are rarely in the same place as their clients.
A Better Apartment
This one still stands from my original rant. While I can see that if you’re coworking for a couple of hundred bucks in New York this is a great deal, $200 in Chiang Mai or Bali can, quite literally, double the size of your apartment, add a ton of additional facilities to the building you live in and get you on a higher floor.
I would much rather have a nicer home to be in than to rent a desk in an office. I find it quite bizarre that anyone would choose differently.
It Might Make You Unhappy
I’ve tried working in various coworking spaces since I wrote my original article on why coworking wasn’t for me. None of them has changed my mind. I got off the beaten track and found that coworking spaces become more professional if you’re away from digital nomad hotspots but still found nothing appealing about them.
The staff was always nice, and the coffee was always hot but as I think back on things, I can’t remember anything that stands out about any of them.
If I spent more than a day at a time in coworking every 3 months or so – I’d be miserable.
It Might Hurt Your Productivity
Some claim there’s a productivity boost from coworking, I don’t believe it. When you add a ton of distractions to your environment the only reasonable expectation is a loss of productivity. Swap your cat for 50 digital nomads and distractions soon start to mount up.
I don’t think a location can ever be more convenient than “5 meters walk from my bedroom”. Working at home means you can quite literally start when you want to and finish and be doing something fun immediately too. No walking to a place. No setting up equipment and then packing it away again. No risks of having your bag snatched on the way.
No coworking space can compete with a decent desk at home.
Coffee Shops Are Better
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – coffee shops are better. They offer Wi-Fi everywhere now too. In a coffee shop, you get better coffee, a wider-range of people coming through if you want conversation and that makes it a winner in my book.
Hopefully, we’ve managed to present a balanced case for and against coworking. We’ve admitted our own prejudices in order for you to clearly see what we think too. Coworking may be a huge benefit to you as a digital nomad or it might not.