Digital Nomad. Co-working. Co-living: Just what do these 21st Century Catch-phrases mean?

June 23, 2017

Technology has been a life game changer for some time.  But as we enter the 21st Century, its disruption into the way individuals work, live and play is – I believe – going to dramatically transform what my generation consider a typical job and a normal workplace.  The trend is in fact, already there, it just hasn’t reached the peak of the bell curve yet.  It will.  As we begin to design our lives more around experiences and less around consumption, we will see more digital nomads, more co-working spaces, more co-living options.  But what do these terms mean and how did we get here?

digital nomad

My VIPKid Amy presents me with a drawing of me - her English teacher!
My VIPKid Amy presents me with a drawing of me – her English teacher!

A digital nomad is just a fancy name for someone who uses a wireless internet connection and a laptop to work remotely wherever they live or travel.  They have a job they do regularly.  They just don’t do it in an office.  I’m technically a digital nomad now.  I teach English online to students in China with a company called VIPKid.  I set my own hours and I can work as much or little as I like from wherever I like.  And I earn a decent US$22 per hour doing it.  The best part of this job for me is that I can do it anywhere in the world.  I’ve taught whilst working full-time as an English teacher in South Korea.  I’ve worked whilst visiting my friends in London, England.  I put in several hours each morning whilst spending the rest of the day spending some quality time with my parents in Missouri, USA. And in August, I’ll be headed to Medellin, Colombia for a month where I plan to continue to work a few hours a day to pay for my travels.

VIPKid was recently ranked in Forbes Magazine as the #5 company in a list of 100 to work for remotely. If you are interested in becoming a teacher, then look at the VIPKid Website for more details. All you need is a Bachelor’s degree and an internet connection.

co-working Spaces

Antwerp co-working space by Going East encourages occupants to explore its diverse spaces
Antwerp co-working space by Going East encourages occupants to explore its diverse spaces

I love teaching with VIPKid.  It gives me flexibility and I find teaching English much more fulfilling than my previous career as a marketing manager in investment banking. But I won’t lie.  I miss having co-workers.  I miss water cooler talk. I miss after work drinks.  I miss the community that comes with an office based job.

It seems many other digital nomads felt the same, as there is now a plethora of ‘office’s around the world where digital nomads can bring their work into an office and work with other digital nomads.  There are the stereotypical beach hut co-working spaces like the one at KoHub in Thailand were during your mid-morning coffee break you can walk across the street and dip your toe into the ocean to the luxurious and contemporary spaces of Ninetytwo13 in the heart of Tokyo, Japan, which offers inspiring round-the-clock workspaces which are elegantly designed. Really there are co-working spaces for nearly every budget and every city you’d want to visit around the world, offering digital nomads, not only a space with high-speed internet and private office space when needed, but a community of like-minded individuals with which to share ideas with and build a community with.

Co-living

The Collective, London England's newest co-living space.
The Collective, London England’s newest co-living space.

When I was living in London, England, my single friends – and I –  regularly bemoaned that it was so hard to build a community as a single person in a sprawling metropolis.  Everyone’s lives were so busy.  Yet we all craved that community that connectedness to others.  This need was magnified as a single 30-something.  Paradoxically, whilst the advent of FaceBook and Skype – which technology has enabled – have in some ways helped us stay more connected to friends and family around the world, it has also left us feeling more isolated than ever.  It was one of the driving forces, behind me leaving the rat race of London.  I was to put it bluntly, lonely.

It is no surprise to me then, that we are now seeing a rise of co-living spaces.  Think of it like a dorm/university campus life for adults. On the luxurious end, like the newly opened The Collective in London, you can have your own private room with a double bed, bathroom and small kitchenette, but with access to a sprawling communal space that has a large kitchen, living room, laundry, gym, co-working space and it is inhabited by 500 other like individuals on a similar journey to you.  The additional beauty of co-living is that many spaces around the world, like the equally contemporary Roam Ubud, allow you to stay for a week or for a year.  It really does provide a place to call home whilst on the road.

co-working/Co-living retreats

Be Unsettled in Medellin Colombia for one month.
Be Unsettled in Medellin Colombia for one month.

Intrigued about this lifestyle, but not ready to give up your day job yet?! Well, then you can always try one of the growing number of co-working/co-living retreats startups around the world are offering.  In August, I will be headed to Medellin, Colombia to experience such a retreat with Unsettled. This retreat will bring together 25 like-minded individuals to both work and travel in this vibrant city for one month. This is not a travelling holiday – although we will be exploring the city and taking weekend excursions.  This is a working break, where other professionals will gather together to create an open environment for learning, growth and exploration with an incredible group of peers.  There are workshops to learn new skills and there are regular community dinners to help you connect. (If you do decide to book with Unsettled, please tell them that Gwendolyn DeSilva sent you! They’ll give me a little discount on my next adventure and I’d love to travel to more places with them.)

For those wanting a longer break and have deeper pockets, then check out the year long co-working/co-living retreat with Remote Year.  For a year you travel around the world, going to a new location each month to live, work, and explore.

final inspiration

My friends at Unsettled summed up how I feel better than I ever could, so I’ll leave you with some final words from them.

YOU’VE WORKED HARD.
You did everything you were told.
Checked the boxes, one by one, as your 20s went by.
You finished college. Made great friends. Started a career for yourself.  Sure, there were some bumps in the road, but whatever. In the end, you did it.
You got an apartment, lived the city life, and took your two weeks of vacation a year.  You learned how to survive – no, fuck it, thrive – on your own.
And then, it all seemed to slow down.  At some point, you couldn’t help but wonder, 
“Is this it?”
You have this undeniable feeling that there’s something more. Something different. You look at all the things you’ve collected, and they suddenly seem less relevant to who you are or what’s important. They’re just things.
You’ve realized that fear is an illusion. That the unknown is far more interesting than the known. That community is the strongest form of currency, and your “ net worth” is not what you own; 
it’s who you share it with.
You know who you are.
And you know what you seek.
Life’s a process; there’s no destination.  And it’s the constant journey of growth and discovery that keeps us venturing on.
Don’t fear the unknown.
Embrace it.

 

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