Perched on a bench by the pool in Bali, a young mum from LA sips on a coconut while analysing her fashion company’s Facebook page.
Next to her, a Polish copywriter crafts her latest blog post, a professional surf photographer tweaks his shots and an Irishman conducts a conference call from a bean bag.
It appears an incongruous sight – scores of people Skyping and typing in paradise.
But this is no resort. It’s Dojo coworking, one of a rising number of enviable “offices” in exotic locales around the world, where digital nomads are plugging in for days, weeks and months at a time.
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* How to become a digital nomad and make money while travelling
* Why I chose to be a nomad in my forties
1 MILLION REMOTE WORKERS
A Global Coworking Survey by Deskmag estimates there will be more than 1 million people working remotely this year, up from just 43,000 in 2011. The figure is projected to keep climbing as the nature of work changes and workers crave more balance and flexibility.
From the French Alps to the beaches of Hawaii, the mountains of Thailand and even a tiny jungle island off Panama, mobile professionals are firing up their laptops wherever there is Wi-Fi.
Bali is fast becoming a magnet for workers with wanderlust, with the number of coworking spaces and retreats skyrocketing in the jetstream of the island’s successful first offering, Hubud.
Take Dojo coworking in the surfing hotspot Canggu.
In October 2015, ex-Perth businessman Michael Craig took over a fledgling space called Salty Volt, with a desire to turn it into a place where people could work, exchange ideas, collaborate and drive change.
Then there were just eight active members. Now, renovated, rebadged and rejuvenated, Dojo boasts 360 – from entrepreneurs, web designers, email marketers, programmers, journalists, photographers, lawyers, artists and more – and he’s considering capping numbers.
Plans range from AU$75 a month for 25 hours of Wi-Fi up to $270 for unlimited access, with facilities including the pool, personal power points, fans, meeting rooms, two cafes and Skype booths. A day pass is $20.
Craig says he has seen some incredible examples of collaboration unfold, such as a Danish skincare company forging a deal with an American coworker to sign up one of his Hollywood contacts as the beauty brand’s new face.
One day the former head of ethics at Google popped by, and was mobbed by a group of about 40 curious coworkers, he recalls.
He says creating community is a vital ingredient in coworking success, with events such as hackathons and speed networking staged every night.
“The cross-section of workers in here is hard to comprehend – there can be someone working on the latest cryptocurrency or talking about creating conscious computer networks, it’s crazy,” says Craig, who founded Perth-based software company Mintox and digital agency Clue Design.
“What will happen is these spaces will become like education centres – you pay your membership fee, sit down, and within 10 minutes can get consultancy advice from a coworker that’s worth 10 times that.”
But like many in the coworking game, he says it’s no money spinner.
“It’s not a profitable business model, we have the cafe but there’s not much turnover,” he says.
“I don’t draw an income. People are creating verticals to try and make them more profitable.
“But I set this up as I wanted to create change, and create community.”
MySmallBusiness conservatively estimates annual turnover is $324,000, based on the current membership.
The funky space is a melting pot of accents and ideas, with Australians second only to Americans, followed by workers from Britain, the Netherlands and Canada.
Copywriter Justyana Fabijanczyk has been leapfrogging exciting destinations as a freelancer for three years, from Chiang Mai in Thailand to South America and now Bali, and writing a blog about the experience.
The former journalist spends four hours a day at Dojo, with a client list ranging from multi-national companies such as IKEA to small start-ups.
“It’s the only office I haven’t dreaded going to,” she says.
“Travelling has always been a dream of mine and I wanted to see the world, but in the beginning I didn’t know that digital nomadism existed. I’ve been surfing, trekking in high mountains … but I’m now wanting to stay somewhere for longer as it’s hard to make lasting relationships when you move all the time.”
On the sun-kissed shores of Hawaii, the BoxJelly coworking space set up six years ago just two blocks from the beach.
It’s now home to about 30 workers a week who enjoy free beer nights, karaoke, barbecues, a treadmill desk and an artist in residence program on top of the standard office inclusions.
Co-founder Rechung Fujihira says the idea was partly inspired by people working from sterile airport lounges, and a drive to start a similar space with more life, soul and energy.
“BoxJelly only really started to catch on last year, no one really knew about coworking here so it’s been an education process,” he says.
“But now there are more spaces opening, it’s a sign of the times.”
He says 95 per cent are Hawaiian locals but the odd digital nomad passes through from far-flung destinations. Membership starts at $46 a month, up to $495 for a desk, and from $1260 for an office.
In Australia, Melbourne boasts the lion’s share of the coworking market.
Jay Chubb, the owner of Thornbury’s Nest Coworking, says his annual turnover is about $130,000 and agrees that running a coworking space rarely makes people rich.
“They make sense as a lifestyle business,” he says.
“I only get a 5 per cent return on investment and am earning what I would have been happy with at 25.
“There’s money in them if you are a property developer for example. But for me this is a passion project, it’s an incredible way to network and have unique exposure to so many different people and small businesses.”
FIVE OF THE WORLD’S MOST EXOTIC COWORKING SPACES
Say aloha to free beer and lunch breaks in the surf at Hawaii’s first coworking space, two blocks from the beach in Honolulu. There are private sound-proof booths, conference rooms, offices and single desks for hire.
CocoVivo, Isla de San Cristobal, Bocas del Toro, Panama
One of the world’s most remote and beautiful coworking retreats is on a jungle island accessible only by boat or kayak. Stage your outdoor work meeting over the Caribbean Sea and work from your desk on the deck at this eco escape.
Dojo, Canggu, Bali
Plonk by the pool on a beanbag, recline in the loft on a couch or share a table and ideas with a digital nomad in Bali’s hipster haven. The only rule is: no shoes allowed.
Hubud, Ubud, Bali
Inspiring views don’t get much better than Bali’s emerald green rice paddy fields. The word is out about this multi-level bamboo hub-in-Ubud, which has attracted more than 10,000 visitors from around the world and has now branched into coliving.
The Ski Locker, Chamonix, France
Hit the slopes in the morning, then cruise down to the “office”, just 100 metres from the lift for an afternoon work session. That’s how the average day flows at the Ski Locker, whose motto is “make work fit life”.