Co-working spaces for digital nomads: great idea or scam?

Co-working spaces for digital nomads: great idea or scam?

I discovered the world of co-working spaces in Asia for digital nomads in 2015. At the time, I just came back from one year and a half of travel and I was struggling to adapt to my new Milanese city life. For Google, it was just too easy to cross my travel searches with my job-related queries to propose me an escape route called Hubud, a pretty famous co-working space in Ubud, Bali. Back then, the concept of digital nomadism was completely new for me, but the idea of freelancing from a designer’s style office in the middle of the jungle with other young professionals immediately resonated with me. I thereby decided that that was what I wanted to do for a living. I subscribed to every possible newsletter about digital nomadism, co-working spaces in Asia and all the surf-and-work propaganda that was spreading like a virus on the internet in those days (and still is).

Should I get a membership in a co-working space in Asia?

The next summer I actually ended up visiting Bali and decided to check out Hubud with sky-high expectations. The location itself is pretty legit. A fancy space built in the classic minimal-meets-local architectural style that you can find almost everywhere in hipster South East Asia, of which Bali is the capital. Basically a café with big desks, electric sockets and Wi-Fi. The real surprise came with the prices, tho. The rate is calculated per hour, and for a 50h/month deal (basically not even a part-time job) the fee is 95$, and for the (almost) full-time schedule of 100h/month it is nearly 200$! These are basically the same prices that you pay for a co-working place in Milan.

Here are the reasons why I think that fancy co-working spaces in Asia are not for me, but may as well work for you! Let me know your opinion in the comments.

 co-working spaces in AsiaCurrent office in Siargao, Philippines

Westerner prices for westerner people

See, this is the main problem with this kind of spaces. It’s a service with westerner prices for westerner customers. No matter if you are in an Asian country where the cost of living is one-third of its westerner counterparts. Personally, the choice of being completely location independent cost me half of my freelance business. While the amount that I make per month is still enough to allow me a good quality of life in Asia, it is not enough to pay European prices. May that is for the office, the rent, the motorbike or the food! That’s the point of digital nomadism in beautiful and cheap South East Asia, right? You can get along with less work and more fun!

If you are escaping office life, stay away from co-working space

Let’s be real. Co-working space is just another way to call the office. It might be ok if you are someone that actually needs an office to be productive, but in my case compelling to stay seated in an enclosed room for 8 to 10 hours a day is exactly the problem. The less time I spend in an office, the more productive I am. I’m more motivated to get the work done quickly and then go out and play! If you don’t like to work from home, there’s a plethora of extremely nice café around South East Asia that will only charge you the price of a coffee or a mango smoothie to let you work from their porch all day.

My home and office in Siargao, Philippines

Meeting likeminded professionals and participating in (useless and expensive) seminaries

Coworking spaces often organise seminaries and meetups. Most of the time, they are about extremely generic topics with surprisingly high prices. I guess these meetups might be useful if you are new to the freelance world, where networking is key. The same goes for the seminars, they might eventually spark some light on how to run your business. But I don’t really get how a newbie of the freelance world can embark on such an adventure as digital nomadism without any experience. It takes a while to establish your skills and find some clients, and this won’t be any easier from a country you don’t know. Plus, I find the price extremely disproportionate compared to the content of the seminaries. That’s why they might be seen as a scam rather than a learning opportunity.

Reliable internet connection and company vs authenticity

I can get that some people might rely on co-working spaces just to fight the loneliness and to enjoy reliable internet connection. Anyway, out there are so many options that will cost you a fraction of the price! I actually live in a digital nomad and surfing friendly island of the Philippines, where there’s no co-working space what so ever. We all get our work done no worries tho: most of the accommodations (shared or private) come with a Wi-Fi. As does almost every café on the island. The price I pay for renting a private bungalow with Wi-Fi is exactly one-third of what I paid for my shared flat in Milan. I live in a homestay, with other long-term travellers and the local host family. We spend some time together every day chatting, surfing and helping around the house. Which allows me to really experience the local lifestyle and enjoy nature and simple life while still being productive for my clients. Personally, I don’t see the point of moving to a tropical country to then close yourself in a backpackers’ office bubble.

What do you think about it?