The idea of being a digital nomad is somewhat seductive. Work on a laptop wherever you want, in a coffee shop, in a park, or perhaps in a different country. Obviously, it can’t be anywhere at all, free WiFi is the bedrock of any sort of digital nomadic existence. That of course, and the bane of an traveller with a laptop, a power cord. Yes, laptop batteries are getting better these days, but it’s still usually not enough for a full days work, in particular if you are doing a lot of number crunching. I partially tried the digital nomad experience for over a year, when I started working independently, before opting to work in shared workspace. I say partially, because it revolved around the Starbucks nearest to my house, and very often even sitting in a similar place each time (which was largely dictated by the proximity to a power socket) – so perhaps I didn’t quite embrace the whole travelling element, quite as much as others have done!
I have to admit, it worked well at the start, in particular, because at the time I was spending a large proportion of my time writing my book, as well as researching markets as an independent entity. I hardly think of was the first or certainly the last person to watch the hours pass by in a coffee shop, writing a book. It is simply that I swapped a pen and paper, for the tap of keys on laptop. At least for me, I also found the experience, quite fun and I met many fellow entrepreneurs who were using a humble coffee shop as their springboard into startup life. It also made for a nice alternative to working from home, something which I never found that easy to do on a regular basis.
There is a cost saving element to embracing the whole digital nomad experience, if you can save the money on an office rental. However, if it regularly involves travelling away from your home base, and this also involves having a pay rent on two properties, there isn’t going to be a saving. There can also be the issue of client contact if you’re a digital nomad. Yes, we can work electronically, but if your digital nomadic experience means it is difficult to meet your existing and potential clients, it can be challenging. I’ve used e-mails, I’ve used phone calls, I’ve used messaging applications etc. However, ultimately to show clients that you want to do business with them, meeting them in person is still important.
After a while, being a digital nomad, became, just a little too nomadic for me! I wanted something more traditional. I ended up getting a hot desk in Level39, a London based fintech accelerator in Canary Wharf, and I now have a permanent desk there. Particularly if you are developing code and following markets, having a proper screen helps to make you more efficient, versus working on a cramped laptop screen, which is only really possible with a permanent desk. The data connections are far quicker in a workspace and more reliable. I do know of small startups who are all based in different cities and countries, embracing the digital nomad concept on a team level. However, if you are working in a small team, I think it does make it easier to be in the same office for communication purposes – earlier this year I made my first hire of a consultant, and being in the same office does make it a lot easier to discuss work. It also makes it far easier to meet clients, when I’ve had a proper office base.
A startup space such as Level39, also provides a community of fellow entrepreneurs around you, which I find drives me to push myself that bit more. Whilst the businesses are all doing something slightly different, we’re all in the same boat, as startups. There are of course alternatives to Level39, such as WeWork, which are dotted around many major cities including London. I’ve visited quite a few WeWork premises, and I think I could just as easily work at one of them (albeit I’d try to choose a location which was relatively quiet). So maybe being a digital nomad might appeal at first, but as a startup starts to grow and becomes established, at least from my experience, the benefits of having a proper base increase. That’s always the challenge though with a startup, as you grow you still want to remain nimble and forward looking.