Co-working spaces let digital nomads work, rest and play

The most popular spot to get some work done at the co-living and co-working space SunDesk, Elizabeth Sharma writes on the travel blog Passport Stamps, is on the roof terrace.

There are 12 desks indoors, with endless coffee and tea, a meeting room for conference calls, and Swiss balls and standing desks for the health-conscious. But up on the roof there’s a meditative sea view, comfy throws and cushions, green plants and enticing patches of shade. It’s also where the communal breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, omelette, bread and honey is served every morning.

SunDesk was launched in November 2014 in the small Moroccan fishing village of Taghazout as a place where digital nomads, freelancers taking a working holiday and teams of colleagues could get away from the obligations and distractions of everyday life and work on professional projects in an environment that is peaceful and creatively stimulating.

There are opt-in activities organised to keep the mind and body active: yoga by the ocean, hiking in Paradise Valley, a scrub session at the local hammam and shopping trips to a souq. But guests are primarily there to work, not play.

This type of getaway, combining business and leisure, is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to a boom in the number of professionals able to work remotely via the internet from any­where in the world. A number of combined co-working and co-living spaces have sprung up in recent years with Surf Office in Gran Canaria in Spain, one of the first. It launched in 2013, and offers a bed, a desk and a lively community just steps away from a beach, for €65 (Dh261) a day for a single room. Surf Office now has a second location in Lisbon, and offers special packages for company retreats.

Co-working spaces have also sprung up in Bali, Thailand and Mexico, and there’s even a co-working and co-living space aboard a boat. Prices start at €1,180 for a seven-day catamaran tour of the Canary Islands with Coboat, which offers activities like snorkelling and dolphin watching as well as fast Wi-Fi, desk space, talks and mentoring.

For those who don’t have the type of job that enables extensive world travel, a boot camp launching in June next year called Destination: Dev can help them make the transition. For US$8,900, students will spend eight weeks learning computer coding to equip them for a job in software development, all the while living in shared accommodation and visiting local sights.

The Colombian co-founder William Duran, who says he has received dozens of inquiries from Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the first 20-student course, says he wants the programme to “encourage people to travel the world, learn the most valuable skill of this century and increase cross-cultural awareness”.

There are plans to run the boot camp elsewhere in the future, with the UAE among the countries being considered.

SunDesk, meanwhile, is the brainchild of the German entrepreneur Magdelena Hermann, who quit her hotel management job in Berlin and moved to Taghazout in 2011 to study for a business administration degree with an online university.

There she met freelancers from all over the world drawn to Morocco for similar reasons. “We all faced the same problems,” she says. “Slow internet connections, finding a quiet place to work, doing stable Skype calls and a lack of social contacts.” So she decided to create a space where travellers and digital nomads could live, eat, socialise and get work done.

Since then, she has hosted IT professionals, lawyers, translators, bloggers, journalists and others from all over the world – half of whom have jobs at home that allow them to work abroad for a month or two. The other half work remotely and are constantly on the move. The lack of distractions helps people concentrate, she says. The Mor­occan culture and mix of creative and entrepreneurial guests can be inspiring, and the culture is healthy, with fresh food and activities like surfing and yoga.

The Dubai-based business coach Murtaza Manji says that time away from the regular workplace routine can help to stimulate both personal and professional growth. “I have often begun coaching engagements with getting clients to take a weekend off,” he says. “A few days of living healthier, being more active, having stimulating discussions, brainstorming with an uncluttered mind, goal-setting while in the best of moods; these help to renew energy, remove self-doubt, and increase determination.”

But if there’s one potential hazard of regular retreats, it’s that everyday life back home may start to become less appealing. “SunDesk has become a second home for me,” says Katja Behrens, a freelance publicist and promoter from Berlin, “and every time it’s getting harder to leave.”

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