By Manon DeFelice
Flexibility is the future of work, and that future has gone global. With digital solutions freeing people from their desks and making the 9-to-5 day obsolete, it is no surprise that we are seeing the rise of coliving and coworking communities around the world.Roam is one company that’s taking the global trend and running with it: In five destinations — London, Bali, Miami, Tokyo and San Francisco (opening on May 1) — Roam lets independent and remote workers live by the mantra “have laptop, will travel.”
Cozier than hotel-hopping, services like Roam (along with similar ventures like Outsite and WeLive) give you a home base where you can make a nest for living and working, staying just a few weeks or indefinitely. And while the cyber jet-set lifestyle sounds elite, it can be affordable. Roam touts on its website that a stay starts at $500 per week. High-speed Internet is included, community is built-in and you even get cleaning services.
I spoke to three Roamers who were living and working at the Roam Miami location, a pastel-hued former boarding house near Little Havana with a swimming pool, lawn, hammocks and other quiet nooks and shared workspaces. Here is an inside peek at their nomad lifestyle, including tips for making it work as an unleashed professional when the world is your office, as well as your oyster. (P.S. If you want to live this lifestyle, services like Inkwell can help set you up with a flex job to make it possible.)
After 20 years in the corporate world — most recently as Global Program Director of Salesforce for Startups, a global startup program that she built and oversaw at Salesforce — Julia Barrett left her job in July 2017 to pursue her own projects. “I wanted to refresh and learn new skills,” she says. “It sounds cliché, but I sold my Porsche, got rid of my job and apartment and put everything into storage.” Newly unmoored, she set up a home base in Miami. Coliving was a familiar idea, but at first it was a hard sell.
“I had spent a lot of time interfacing with startups and their ecosystems, so I was familiar with the concept of coliving,” says Barrett. “I think it’s somewhat stigmatized: I had imagined some kind of industrial coworking space with Ikea beds upstairs, where you can never get anything done because someone is always talking to you.” When she discovered Roam Miami, she was pleasantly released from these preconceptions.
“It’s the perfect combination of character and calm,” she says. “We all respect each other’s privacy and need for quiet time. The community really is a community, and I’m around people who are like-minded.” At 38, she wasn’t looking for a dorm or hostel experience but something more grownup, and that’s what she found.
When we spoke, Barrett had been living at Roam Miami for five weeks, after traveling and working in places ranging from Tuscany and Tunisia to Cuba and Colombia (where her boyfriend resides). All the while she has been advising and mentoring startups, as well as nurturing a few pet projects— including offering English editing services to foreign tech startups and launching a line of jewelry with her sister. In Miami, she often works in a hammock.
It sounds romantic, but life as a nomad is not without challenges. “I don’t think working remotely works for every job,” she adds. “If you work for a big company, you’re going to miss a meeting here and there. But if you’re constantly delivering, I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Her biggest piece of advice: “Organize, digitize and automate as much of your life as possible. I live out of Dropbox.” Have a rainy day fund in the event you lose your job or need to resettle and make sure you’ve invested in your career enough to be able to afford a departure from the norm. “That way you can jump back in if you need to.”
When married writers Michael Jensen and Brent Hartinger first schemed about unmooring themselves from their home in Seattle and bringing their work lives on the road, they didn’t know there was a name for it. “We had a preexisting need, but we didn’t know there were services like this,” says Jensen. “We’d never heard the term ‘digital nomad’ before.” They came across an article in the New York Times and Roam was mentioned. “We thought, ‘This sounds good for us.’”
Like Barrett, the couple sold their home, digitized and organized, and either pared down or stored their belongings — a process that took a full year. Now their daily needs fit into one suitcase and one backpack for each of them. They made the decision to travel while working for two years, with Miami as their launch pad.
Only a few months into the experiment, they find they’re saving money as digital nomads. “We lived in Seattle for over 20 years, and it had become really expensive,” says Hartinger. “As writers, we could live in a cornfield in Nebraska and make the same amount of money.” Now they’re freed from many cost-of-living expenses including utilities and the upkeep on a house. “The irony is that we’re seeing the world but spending less money than we did before.”
Plans are hatched for Malta, Italy, Bulgaria and London so far and while they haven’t gone abroad yet, they already feel more like citizens of the world. At Roam they’ve met fellow nomads from the Netherlands, Tunisia, South Africa, Russia and beyond. “The bad side is that people are constantly leaving, but the good side is that new people are always coming,” says Hartinger. “I’ve met more interesting, fun people in the past six weeks than I think I did over the past five years in Seattle.”
The couple feared they would be less productive in a coworking space, but they’ve found the opposite is true. “The presence of other people makes one a little more accountable,” says Hartinger. “You’re less likely to surf the web or go to the kitchen for a snack.” As for obstacles to work, they haven’t found any yet — though they anticipate some challenges once they leave the U.S. time zones.
Remote coworking/coliving doesn’t necessarily work if you have kids or are very enmeshed with your family. “You have to accept that you’re leaving your previous community behind,” says Hartinger. Yet for the right person, “It expands your mind in a way that is unexpected,” says Jensen.
Advance planning and attention to detail is key; the couple looked into things like supplementary health insurance to use abroad. It may seem daunting to make the leap to nomad life, but it’s possible.
“Now that the entire world is clicked over into the future, it’s remarkably easy,” says Hartinger. “Everybody’s working in the cloud. You can have all this freedom, live all over the world. So far it’s been an interesting experiment and a happy experiment.”