Co-working Spaces vs Coffee Shops vs Libraries — Which is the Best Workspace for a Digital Nomad?

Tim Grassin
Nov 8, 2017 · 8 min read

As a digital nomad you have the freedom to work from anywhere — but that doesn’t mean that all work spaces are created equal. In fact, there are some environments that are just better suited to getting work done.

There are quite a few options for a remote worker who is wandering around a city with a laptop and a to-do list. You could rent a spot in a coworking space, find a cosy corner table at a coffee shop or hide in the peace and quiet of your local library. But which option is the best?

These digital nomad workspaces all have their pros and cons, so let’s take a look into the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Coworking Spaces

One option for digital nomad work is the co-working space. These are membership based communal offices where remote workers, freelancers and other independent professionals work together in a shared setting.

There are many different coworking spaces around the world, from Bali to Berlin to Boston. Usually these spaces will be open plan and will include typical office facilities such as printers, scanners, copiers and more.

To learn more about the coworking movement, check out the Coworking Manifesto, which is an online document that has been signed by over 2,000 working spaces around the world. It outlines the values of this way of working, including collaboration, learning, community and sustainability. So, coworking spaces aren’t just a place to work — they are part of a social movement.

Pros

  • You’ll have the opportunity to mingle and network with other like-minded digital nomads and entrepreneurs — which could lead to collaborations and business activities.
  • Many digital nomads find that they thrive in a coworking space, as it is exciting to be around the “buzz” of other workers. When you see others around you working on exciting projects, you’ll be more motivated.
  • Because everyone is a freelancer or remote worker on their own project, there is no sense of competition like a normal office. You don’t have to put on a “work persona” to fit in.
  • Many coworking spaces come with meeting rooms, which can be helpful if you ever need to meet with a client or if you want to do a project with a team.
  • Coworking spaces are a lot cheaper than renting an office, yet they still offer you many of the same perks including copiers, scanners, printers and meeting rooms.
  • There is no need for a long term lease on a co-working space, you can usually pay for a day, week or month at a time. This is handy for digital nomads who have a flexible schedule and may not be around in the destination for a long time.

Cons

  • It’s easy to get distracted due to the social atmosphere of a co-working space. You might spend too much time chatting to your co-workers and not enough time getting your work done.
  • You do have to pay to use the co-working space, so if your budget is small you are better off using a free service like a library.
  • If your work means that you will need to be on phone calls a lot, then an open plan co-working space might not be for you as it will not offer a lot of privacy.
  • Although some coworking spaces are open 24/7, others might have limited hours — so that doesn’t work for you if you get your inspiration to work late at night.

Coffee Shops

Another option is to find a great local coffee shop, choose a comfortable table and settle in to get some work done. In most coffee shops you can bring along your laptop and work for a few hours while snacking on pastries and sipping a latte. You might also be able to work in bistros, pubs, bars, restaurants and other places that serve food and drink, but usually the coffee shop or cafe is the type of establishment where bringing your laptop and getting some work done is most socially acceptable.

However, it’s important to note that all coffee shops are not suitable for remote work. Some have comfy seats with plenty of wall outlets, while others don’t seem to have any outlets at all. Some shops only allow customers 30 minutes or one hour of free WiFi with purchase. In many busy shops, you’ll get glared at by the staff for taking up a table for a long time during the lunch rush.

When you find a great coffee shop to work in, one with a peaceful atmosphere, unlimited WiFi, convenient electrical outlets and patient staff, it’s a digital nomad dream come true and you’ll want to keep coming back again and again.

Pros

  • The pleasant, ambient noise of a bustling cafe has been found by psychologists to make you more productive.
  • You’ll always be able to get another cup of coffee or tea — studies have also found that caffeine improves mental performance. You won’t have to get up and make it yourself, just flag down the server and order another cup.
  • Being in a bustling environment can perk you up and encourage more creativity.
  • There are many coffee shops and cafes in most cities around the world. So, you’re likely to find one close to you. If that one doesn’t have a great working environment, you’ll probably find another one not too far away.
  • Many coffee shops, especially ones in trendy, modern cities, have really cool and funky decor. They make for a very stylish and comfortable place to work.

Cons

  • The wifi in a coffee shop is not necessarily made for workers, it’s just made for customers to use while eating and drinking so it might not be that strong.
  • You might feel awkward working in a coffee shop for hours at a time, especially if the staff start looking at you funny for working on your laptop.
  • You should be purchasing drinks or food at regular intervals to justify your time spent there. This could become expensive after a while and it also means that you’ll end up overloading on caffeine or eating too many calories.
  • Getting up to go to the bathroom can be difficult. You will need to decide whether to leave your stuff at the table and risk having it stolen, pack it up and bring it with you and risk having your table taken by someone else, or asking a stranger to watch it for you.
  • You will be limited to the opening hours of the coffee shop, so this might not be the best option if you work late at night.

Libraries

When it comes to spaces for digital nomads to work, there is another one that many don’t consider — the local library. They usually offer cubicles and tables with electrical outlets that are perfect for getting some quiet work done. Plus, if you are looking for inspiration you will have shelves and shelves of books all around you to pick up and read.

Here’s a clever tip: check out the local college or university library. They are usually open to members of the public as well as students, and they often have earlier and later hours than public libraries. Just make sure that the internet is accessible to the public, rather than just to students with a special login.

Pros

  • It is generally free to sign up for a library membership if you can show proof of address that you are based in that city. Even if you aren’t, many libraries will allow members that are from outside the area sign up for a yearly fee.
  • There are many gorgeous libraries around the world, offering not only a peaceful workspace but also an architecturally inspiring environment in which to work.
  • Libraries are usually very quiet and peaceful, offering you a tranquil environment in which to get deep, focused work done with very little distractions.

Cons

  • If you get hungry you will need to leave, as most libraries will not allow you to bring food.
  • You won’t be able to have coffee on demand either. Some libraries do have a cafe, but it’s separate from the library itself and you likely won’t be allowed to bring your drink into the library.
  • You will probably be working on your own in silence, so you won’t have the hum of ambient noise to make you productive and you won’t have other workers to talk to.
  • You will be limited to the hours of the public library, which may not allow you the flexibility to get work done late in the evening.
  • The WiFi might not be great in the library, so you may want to set up a generous data plan on your phone and tether a hotspot instead.
  • You won’t be able to take phone calls, as you will need to stay quiet.

So, which is the best work space for a digital nomad?

These are a few great options for places where digital nomads can get work done. The one that is best for you really depends on your personal work style and preferences, the type of work you need to get done (deep, focused work, collaborative work, phone calls, etc.) and the amount of time you need to spend working.

You might use all of these different options in any given week, depending on what works best for you that day. Being a digital nomad gives you the freedom to work anywhere you please — as long as the work gets done. Also, I have a secret location I like to work from and which i’ll announce in my next article! Stay tuned.


I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ll make sure to write another one with some of my tips and tricks to lead the optimal digital nomad lifestyle and the perfect way to get started.

Thanks for hitting the “Clap” button if you enjoyed this article. This will tell me to write more!

Keep Nomading,
Tim


I’m a co-founder at Candy Banners, a digital advertising studio and Stinson Design, the leading presentation consultants in North America. Previously founder of social game Predico and on the board of ad tech company Viewor.
Follow my adventures on Instagram @timgrassin

Tim Grassin

Written by

I build businesses. Co-founder TendoPay, Candy Digital, Stinson Design (sold)

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