Locus Does NaNoWriMo

A November 2013 blog post from Sarah Tatoun that was mistakenly never published. As relevant now as when it was written.
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Born in the same year- 1999- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and coworking have, at first glance, nothing much more than that in common. A deeper look, however, shows a common origin: both were born out of the recognition that people are designed to work in communities. Cut off from others, most of us flounder, while often the mere presence of others, even without any active attempt at cooperation, can make the same activities easier- even fun.
The difference between the processes in writing my first two novels  – twenty-five years apart- is a case in point. The first one, written in my twenties, was done at a time in my life when I was particularly isolated. I was living in a new place and had few friends. The only structure I had was the one I tried to build: forcing myself to sit down for a daily two to three hour writing stint. I had some advice from professional writing friends, but they were distant and, in those days before email, not readily accessible. Taking a writing class gave me some contacts and more structure in the way of deadlines and the demands of professional formatting. Still, the whole thing was excruciatingly slow and painful.

Twenty-five years later I was living in a whole different world. I had moved back to the US after nine years abroad- but, via the internet, I was still in touch with friends not only in the Czech Republic, but across the US, Europe and Asia as well. And I had made new friends locally, too. When I heard about NaNoWriMo in 2005 I thought maybe it was time to dust off my writing dreams and an old plot that had been lying around all these years and give it a whirl. So every day for the month of November, I sat down dutifully and churned out my 1667 words- on my way to writing the 50,000 words that mark the lower bound for a work to be called a novel. Only this time, instead of one or two people offering encouragement- and more who were tired of hearing me talk about it- I had an army of thousands of people around the world, all aiming for the same goal, egging each other on with ‘word sprints’ and challenges, complaining to one another, or offering advice. It still wasn’t easy, but it was satisfyingly hard, like running a marathon for which you’ve been training for for months, not painful. And the story I was writing opened up into something new and unexpected. Five years later, back in the Czech Republic, I used NaNoWriMo again to write a ‘prequel’- only to decide that what I had was actually a series of at least five novels.

NaNoWriMo turned out to be just what I needed for writing- but there was still the problem of revising. Once again I was stuck in isolation, trying to put and keep myself on some kind of schedule and finding it hard going. And that’s where coworking came in. I started coming occasionally to Locus for various events: movie night, lectures, poker… It hadn’t even occurred to me to become a member- until the Friday Critique-Free Writers’ Meetups got started. Usually there were at least three or four of us in both the morning and afternoon sessions. After saying what we hoped to accomplish we got down to writing. The sound of everyone else clicking away was enough to keep me on track. I found I was getting more done in a single day at Locus than the rest of the week put together. It wasn’t too long after that that I decided to become a member. I bought a ‘virtual membership’ – one day a month- and paid for extra days so that, with the Friday Writers’ Meetup, I was coming two days a week. About six months later I began helping with the management in exchange for a full time membership.

The presence of other people working is always a stimulus to getting things done- still, I find what helps the most is being in a group, all there for the same purpose and with a clear goal for the day’s work. So this year for NaNoWriMo we threw open the doors of Locus every Saturday for the month of November to anyone and everyone in the Czech Republic doing NaNoWriMo. Some people came from other cities, most were already living in Prague. Some came every time and some came only once. A total of around fifteen people came to at least one meeting- and three of our members that I know of – perhaps more- ‘won’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 by writing at least 50,000 words on their novel. And yes, I was one of them, writing the third of my historical series- set, fittingly enough, in 18th century Bohemia.

Nomad Holidays

Below is a wonderful blog post about organizing work-holidays for independent workers by the Czech Republic’s own Robert Vlach, founder of na volné noze. Read the original Czech version here.
 
Nomad holidays
 
26 September 2012, by Robert Vlach
 
Translated by David Creighton 
 
Organising a longer holiday can pose a real challenge to freelancers. But do you know how a holiday can boost your business?
 
Although it may not seem very obvious, a quiet revolution is sweeping through the labour market. In the USA, 25% of the workforce is now working on a freelance basis, and this number is the same in a number of European countries. This revolution is ushering in new lifestyles, including the freelancer‘s approach to holidays. In this article we’ll look at the main principles and then offer full advice on everything you‘ll need to know about organising holidays abroad for digital nomads.
 
The problem: irreplaceability
 
One of the downsides of being a freelancer is irreplaceability.If employees are on leave, colleagues can usually stand in for them, but most independent professionals have nobody to replace them, and they can’t be offline for more than a week(according to recent research, up to 80% of freelancers are in such a position). And what if a long-standing client needs urgent help, or a lucrative project comes in?
 
Such fears are justified. Self-employed people running small businesses need to think twice before heading off on a break to the middle of nowhere. What’s more, unlike employees, self-employed people have to pay travel costs and run the risk of a considerable financial loss in the form of lost income. In other words, the traditional summer holiday is much more expensive for a freelancer than an employee.
 
The solution: a nomad holiday
 
The market is able to find ideal solutions to very tricky problems. When I first wrote about digital nomads, I thought the term meant a fringe phenomenon involving holiday adventures. But I was very much mistaken. Among freelancers abroad, nomadic work is coming to the fore, which is a huge leap in just one year!
 
Essentially, digital nomads are independent professionals able to work remotely from abroad for their clients, using a laptop or mobile phone. The nomad holidayusually involves an average of two hours’ work a day; the rest of the time is spent like any other holiday – with families, partner or friends. And as with classic holidays, nomads go on trips lasting several days and meet local people, among other things.
 
A traditional holiday has a different “structure“ from a nomad holiday, but a huge benefit of the latter is that it promotes relaxation, inspiration and ideas, and is an opportunity for nomads to recharge their batteries. And in these respects, traditional and nomad holidays are practically the same. In professions that don‘t require frequent contact with clients (such as translating or programming), the stay can be several months longer, making the holiday impact even stronger. And earnings can be a pleasant surprise during the stay, in line with the well-known Pareto principle, where up to 80% of your income is earned from 20% of your work.
 
A holiday for nomads is therefore a surprisingly neat solution. It answers the problem of irreplaceability over a longer period and the corresponding impact on income. At the same time, the positive features of a holiday aren‘t lost. You can easily alternate between a traditional and nomad holiday, depending on your situation, taking into account the season, agreement with your partner, etc.
 
How to organise a group nomad holiday
 
A good number of people have asked me how I organise the successful nomad holidays about which I’ve just been writing. Over the past few years we’ve developed an approach, through trial and error, that deals with most of the familiarrisks and suits those involved. This method can also be used on a wider level, and should be regarded as just one of many approaches to a holiday for nomads:
  1. Why a group? Group dynamics have, over time, become the theme of our holidays. When you put together a group of fantastic people for a month and mix in local friends, you have a recipe for amazing things. Can you remember the last time you spent a whole month in one place with your peers?! It’s a very intense experience and–for all the participants–an enriching one too, with a creative explosion of ideas as well as discussions, trips, shopping, new friendships, and who knows what else.
  2. Organiser On our holidays I take the role of initiator of the entire project. This key role must be the responsibility of someone who is fluent in English, is reliable and trustworthy, and can smooth out problems and minor conflicts.
  3. Holiday dates As the organiser, I have to start with all the date options and then come up with suitable times. I tend to have less work in the winter and summer holidays. So I organise shorter winter breaks of two to three weeks and longer summer holidays of three to five weeks. In summer, it‘s good to go away for at least four weeks because it gives us enough time to make friends with local people.
  4. Destination country My responsibilities also include making a list of possible destinations. Most people want to spend the holiday by the sea, somewhere where it’s warm and quite safe. Ideally, it should be somewhere relatively close at hand, and I comply with these criteria. After this year‘s experience in Morocco, I‘ll leave out the Arab countries. Women are worried about travelling there.
  5. Sending out invites beforehand When I have an idea of where we’re going, I then send out invites to friends. A month, or at best two months, before the date under consideration, I send the list to 120 potential nomads (all members can travel with their partners). The goal is to ensure a number of participants expressing a preliminary interest, defining who will make up the core group.
  6. Core group These are the serious candidates who want to stay for the entire period. They‘re willing to equally split the costs and responsibilities, including for resolving issues. They also share the risks associated with organising the holiday and property rental. The core is made up of three to six people (including me).
  7. Firming up arrangements We confirm the date and place with the core group members. For long summer breaks, we prefer an attractive seaside resort that also offers cultural and other activities, because we would become bored after a week in a small resort. Barcelona and Lisbon are excellent examples of places where you can combine a resort holiday with other activities.
  8. Estimated number of participants The core group is present throughout the holiday, but we also need to have spaces available for those who are with us for a shorter time. When the core comprises five definite people and 20 tentative people, we know that we have to look for a property with a capacity of 10 beds. Seven would be too small (there wouldn’t be enough room) and 15 too much (we would run the risk that we would be unable fill more expensive properties). On the other hand, the more people the better!
  9. Choosing a place The advantage of travel in a large group is that we can afford to pay for very luxurious, centrally located, accommodation, which is just what we‘re looking for. We don’t want to be stuck out in the suburbs or in accommodation with mouldy walls. We look for an airy, bright flat, ideally with a cleaning service, air-conditioning, a terrace, and more than one bathroom. We also look for a property with double bedrooms and a quick, reliable internet connection. All of us have the task of finding accommodation, most often on Airbnb, Homeaway, and Homelidays.
  10. Discussions with the owner We usually choose from a selection of apartments. Beside the price, what‘s important is the communication process with the owners, how quickly they can hand over the property and a willingness to accommodate our requirements. When renting a property for longer periods we can sometimes agree to a discount of up to 30%.
  11. Deposit The core of the group divides the overall accommodation cost equally. The deposit is paid, and the organiser is responsible for paying the rest. The reservation is binding upon everyone, and payments are not refundable if somebody has to cancel and the only option is to find a replacement. The amount involved is quite high, so it pays to consider your plans carefully. We all then buy cheap flight tickets.
  12. Costs for visitors Short-term guests pay more for the beds available than the core group members. This is because they do not bear any risk or additional costs connected with renting the holiday accommodation. Generally we agree on a price of around EUR 20 per person per night, which is similar to the price of a bedroom for 10 people in a cheap hostel. On the other hand we are all together, and visitors can take advantage of all the comforts of property. In addition, they are sharing it with friends, not strangers.
  13. Gender balance It‘s quite important to have a balanced number of men and women, otherwise the holiday doesn’t quite work. I therefore give priority to inviting a couple of men or and a couple of women, so that there is balance. At this stage I’m still fine-tuning the make-up of the group, through personal meetings.
  14. Reservations In the first stage I send those who are tentatively interested an invitation with detailed information and instructions. The reservation goes through the system on a first come first served basis and becomes binding when the full payment is deducted. Everyone can track their reservations and occupancy rates online. This year in Lisbon we were fully booked in a record two hours!
  15. Costs split equally Ultimately, the payments from the short-term guests make the stay cheaper for the core group members, who bear all the costs and risks of the  holiday. This is a good system, and ultimately everyone is 100% satisfied. Once we are fully booked, we spend part of our funds on other items, such as renting a car. It is available, including petrol, to everyone. We also spend money on minor items for the kitchen, refreshments and such things. It is the little details that make the holiday perfect, and we want our guests to feel at home.
  16. Sending out more invitations If there is a lack of interest, all members of the core group send out invitations. We don’t try to have a full house at any cost, but rather our aim is to have a holiday with lots of great people! Having free spaces left is better than a full group that doesn’t work well together.
  17. Before we depart When we reach full capacity, the preparations are essentially finished, although there is work to do a week before departure. At this stage I contact the owner of the property. I check with him/her that everything is in order, that there will be enough keys, beds and tables, etc. Then I send everyone in the group an email with last minute instructions, our telephone numbers, etc.
  18. After we arrive There are almost always some minor niggles after we arrive, and as the organiser my responsibility is to resolve them tactfully with the owner. First of all we check the workspace and the internet (it’s a good idea to carry a spare Wi-Fi router). Then, as soon as possible, I see what’s on offer in terms of local groups  and activities on Couchsurfing. Then we can start meeting the locals! It’s best to do this on the same day that you arrive.
  19. During the holiday We have just one rule: we mustn’t disturb others, and should respect their rights to work and peace and quiet. If people are still up at 4 o’clock in the morning and making a noise, I try to sort this out, but usually people are considerate and tolerant so there isn’t much to deal with. As the organiser, the only thing I have to deal with is buying minor items for the accommodation, and managing the transition when short-term guests come and go. Everybody can get up when they like, nobody is forced to do anything, and organising trips and entertainment is spontaneous. Some people eat out; others do their cooking at home, as they wish.
  20. Departure and settling the bill The holiday accommodation tends to be in my name as the organiser, so I always want to be there when the property is handed over and have assurance that everything is okay. Within a week after we return we settle the bills. If there’s any money outstanding, we divide it up equally between the core group members. And I’m pleased that everything has turned out well!
 
“I’m back at home after spending three weeks in Lisbon. What was the break like? Inner and outer worlds came together. On the outside, people are just travelling through a new world, meeting people and enjoying life. But at the same time they are changing inwardly, imperceptibly. The idea of coming back from the holiday is an illusion – and it should be, otherwise travellers lose a bit of what they gained while away. The digital nomads were great friends on the journey. I took everything back with me and nothing. And I’m not back –  I’m a step further on.”
 
What next for digital nomads?
 
So far, nobody knows, but things are looking up for us. Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing global nomads is the actual – not entirely intuitive – concept,which has almost endless possibilities. It‘s evolving organically through imitation, improvements and coincidental innovations.
 
Everybody has the chance to  discover something new and share this with others. For example, designer Vít’a Válka travelled with his family around Europe in a caravan and writes about it in his blog. It may be that this trend inspires travel agents to offer packages for nomad travellers. I’d love to hear about your nomad holiday experiences and would be happy to share them on our Digital Nomads page on Facebook.

August 9th is International Coworking Day

Every year on August 9th–10 days from now–coworking spaces and coworking enthusiasts around the world mark “International Coworking Day” (and hopefully tweet about it using the #coworkingday hash tag). It was on that day in 2005 that Brad Neuberg first publicly blogged the word coworking, sparking the innovative trend that has seen the opening of thousands of coworking spaces around the world.

Neuberg’s original message–in the first few lines of his blog post–goes a long way in communicating my original motivation to start Locus Workspace:

Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community.

Coworking is a solution to this problem. In coworking, independent writers, programmers, and creators come together in community a few days a week. Coworking provides the “office of a traditional corporate job, but in a very unique way. 

Coworking has come a long way since this initial description, with dedicated spaces and recognition that there is a far more diverse group of people who benefit from coworking, but the basic idea is the same: working for a company and working for oneself have largely opposed costs and benefits, and coworking can provide much of the solution: coworking adds the community, shared knowledge, continuing education, and social support often provided by a traditional office, while enabling people to follow their own passions and do what they most want to do, a path that traditionally has required giving up the community and support that comes from working for someone else, often at the cost of long-term success.

This August 9th, Locus’s Krakovská location is hosting a Jelly (a FREE open day of coworking for anyone in the area who’d like to join us with their laptops and some work to do to spend the day working alongside others). Locus hosts Jellies in cooperation with some other coworking spaces in Prague through our shared Meetup group, “Coworking in Prague”. Join us for this special Jelly and help us commemorate the 8th anniversary of coworking. You can sign up for the Jelly here.

FREE coworking around the world for Locus members and other independent workers in Prague

One of the cool things about coworking is that a lot of people who decide to get involved in it really care about the idea and the value it has to offer, and not just about the business as a business. Sam Spurlin‘s several recent posts on this blog attest to this. Another sign of it comes from the grass roots cooperation across thousands of coworking spaces around the world that have contributed to coworking.com. The particular example I want to write about now are four options for free office sharing options across coworking spaces around the world: (1) the Coworking Visa, (2) The Prague Coworking Visa, (3) Loosecubes, and (4) Jelly. 

1. The Coworking Visa.

The coworking visa is one of the greatest largely-unknown sources of added value to participating coworking spaces, and also one of the most impressive examples of value-added cooperation across competing businesses I know of in any industry. If you’re a member of Locus or of another coworking space that participates in the visa program, you may know about it already. This is an informal group of about 500 coworking spaces around the world that have agreed to let members of other “Visa”-participant coworking spaces use their space for free (usually for up to 3 days, but the terms depend on the space; Locus is free for up to a month, but limited by the terms of the other coworking space). Here’s a link for details with the list of participating spaces and their terms, organized geographically. 

The coworking visa was the fortunate brain-child of two of the women leaders of the coworking movement, Julie Duryea of Souk in Portland, Oregon (now run by someone else and maybe under a different name) and Susan Evans of Office Nomads in Seattle, Washington. They proposed it on a google group to a network of people running coworking spaces around the world, and it was almost immediately successful.


2. The Prague Coworking Visa.
A group of coworking spaces in Prague (including Locus) were inspired by this visa program to create a Prague version of the visa that allows members of each space to use the other spaces for up to 25% of their membership time. See details here.

 
3. Loosecubes
Loosecubes is a corporate alternative to the Coworking Visa and it remains to be seen whether their intentions are pure and how well the system will work, but as it stands it looks very promising. It is an invite-only workspace-sharing network of about a thousand coworking spaces and other shared offices around the world. Right now (and from what they’ve told me, this is their permanent business model), their system is absolutely free for members of the network (including Locus Workspace members). This means you can use any of the other spaces on the Loosecubes network for free, though each space has its terms in terms of number of free days. So if you’re traveling abroad and want to cowork in most major cities around the world (though biased towards Western Europe and North America), you’ll have a coworking space to work at for free. Loosecubes also provides a software backend and a user-interface that make it easy to use and (it seems at least) perhaps more reliable than the Coworking Visa. 
 
4. Jelly
 
Jelly is informal coworking that started around the same time as the coworking movement itself with a group of freelancers in New York City who decided they’d rather work alongside other people than alone in their home office or at a cafe. They starting meeting as a group at each other’s homes or cafes, they created a wiki, and Jelly grew into a movement, with groups meeting to work together rather than alone around the world. Here’s a sample list of Jellies around the world on Meetup.com.
 
The group of collaborating coworking spaces in Prague mentioned earlier hosts a rotating series of jellies across their three spaces, which means people who don’t work in a coworking space (and may not want to) can experience some of the benefits of coworking for free every two weeks, and get to know a few of the coworking spaces in the city in the process.
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To me the added value that comes from sharing membership across coworking spaces (and with the public)–not just for independent workers and coworking space members, but also for the coworking spaces themselves–is immense. For the members, of course, it means they can literally work their way around the world (as long as they stick to major cities), for the price of the coworking space membership they already have at their home city. For coworking space owners, it means a wonderful influx of interesting visitors who add spice to the host spaces and use resources that were mostly available and going unused anyway!

Coworking in Prague | Coworking v Praze

Recently Locus Workspace has teamed up with a group of other coworking spaces in Prague to see how we can work together to do things we can’t do as individual spaces.

The project was largely inspired by Coworking Seattle‘s collaboration, so we owe a big thanks to their positive example.

Central to the collaboration is a recognition from all of us that there are many ways in which we all gain by focusing on how we can collaborate as well as on how we can co-promote the idea of coworking, coming together as coworking spaces much as individual space members might come together to facilitate something greater than the collection of individuals. We all believe the potential future size of the coworking community in Prague is much larger than the capacity of our combined spaces, and that at least for now the more options out there the better for the success of coworking more genreally. For now–I think–the biggest barrier to our collective success is not one another, but the extent to which the public and media are unaware of the coworking option, and how valuable it can be.

We do things such as:

  • Co-sponsor a Jelly (free, informal coworking open to the public) that meets every two weeks and rotates across 7 different coworking spaces in Prague.
  • Participate in a “Coworking in Prague visa program” (inspired by the international Coworking Visa) that allows members of any one of 5 coworking spaces in Prague use the other spaces for free for up to 25% of one’s membership time.
  • Share a common website and Facebook page (please join it, we just started up) for promoting the idea of coworking and communicating options for coworking in Prague to the public and to the media.
  • Help organize cross-space events that can bring our members together as well as bring awareness about coworking and what it has to offer to the public.

I’m really excited about the collaboration and the support for it that has come from the other participants in the Coworking in Prague program!