What living and working from a hotel for 3 weeks has taught me

Coworking has it’s perks! Cats!

For the last month I’ve been a nomad — working a remote job, for a remote based company, in a very remote way. Living out of a suitcase, sleeping in hotels and working from coworking spaces. Flying between Berlin, Germany — Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon — working to train two new teammates who have joined us on the support team at Basecamp. Since we are a dispersed company, we do our training a bit differently and fly our teams out to the same location to work together when someone is initially hired.

I can’t complain. I love that I get the opportunity to help onboard new employees and I jumped at the chance to be involved. I’m a traveler at heart and it’s something I’ve always loved, but while I know that to be true, this has been different than traveling for myself or traveling for vacation — this has been purely work related and is a different experience entirely.

I’ve learned a few things:

1) How to embrace differences and become a bit more flexible

Learning how to adapt and how to be flexible in new situations has been something I’ve dealt with a lot over the last few weeks and years. Living abroad in Germany for the last 6 years has prepared me to be a bit more flexible when it comes to how I process differences in culture, how I deal with the ways things are done in a new place and how I interact with the overall feeling of groundlessness that change can foster.

Instead of fighting against those feelings of otherness (being an outsider in a new place), feeling uneasy about not knowing everything about a place and an overall feeling of clashing with the differences that are around me — I embrace them. Embracing otherness and being an outsider is not easy or natural for me — I’d love to fit in easily and feel a sense of belonging — I think a lot of people can relate to that. But, I’ve learned that’s it’s okay not to know everything or all the answers. It’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to learn from others.

This leads me to the second thing I’ve learned –

2) How to listen and ask questions to learn

Learning how to really listen and to ask questions has helped me a lot when it comes to adapting to a new environment. Listening to learn and to understand the people I’m interacting with in a new place has helped open my mind up to new perspectives. Instead of fighting those differences, being judgmental and, assuming I know everything I need to know about a person or a place without interacting with them — once I start to understand something a bit more by learning from the source directly, I soften to the differences around me.

3) Letting go of control

Working from a hotel room and traveling for work purposes has allowed me to practice letting go of control. Something I struggle with is my need to control situations and I am a chronic worrier. I worry about things I can’t control and how they will affect me and my comfort. Working from home allows me to control my work environment: what I wear, when I work, when I eat lunch, when I talk out loud, what music I listen to or don’t, the noise level around me and so on. It’s pretty ideal for me and I know I work best in an isolated, quiet environment. But when you are working at a coworking space or from a hotel with other humans, all that control goes out the window! I’ve had to adapt and think about others needs and wants and let go of that control I usually have working from my own comfort zone.

4) Recognizing the importance of knowing what I need

I’ve also recognized that it’s important for me to be aware of what I need and that knowing myself is crucial in order to navigate through different environmental changes. The first week I lived and worked nomadically with others, I was miserable. I was tired, dehydrated, burned out and exhausted. I was doing my job excellently, but I was entirely outwardly focused! I thought I was there for our new employees who I was helping to train — giving them my attention and focus, but I was not showing up for myself and it was debilitating.

In order to take care of others without resentment, guilt, exhaustion and all those other things that come along with helping others, I realized that I need to take care of myself first. I wrote a list of everything that I need in order to show up for myself. For me that includes: working out, drinking a lot of water, eating good food, getting some alone time and getting adequate sleep. In the second week of training, I focused on all those things — making sure to show up for myself. When I needed time alone, I was communicative about that to the people I was working with and used those small moments to their fullest — recharging. It made a dramatic difference in regards to how I handled working remotely with others and the quality of my work improved. I still was not in control of the situation (because working with others includes “others” who have agency over themselves), but I was in control of my behavior in a situation.

4) Recognizing the impermanence of the situation

I think the most important thing I learned is that things are not always the same — they change. This has been incredibly helpful in times when I would take a look at the 3 weeks of my unnatural hotel dwelling, coworking life and feel uneasy about my decision to go so far outside my comfort zone. I recognized that this way of life is impermanent — it has a beginning and an end. Knowing this has helped me to enjoy the moments I’ve had with my wonderful teammates while in the same place (something that does not happen often), without feeling stuck to the idea that this is not my ideal way to live.

I’m not perfect at this — there have been hard times. There have been many moments where I’ve just wanted to be on my couch in Berlin, cuddling my dog. Recognizing the impermanence of the situation does not shield me from those difficult moments or the loneliness that can come from being far from home. Instead, it allows me space to acknowledge the difficult parts of a situation and let them go — not getting too closely stuck to them, because I know things will change. This has also helped me cultivate a bit more resilience and learn how to deal and process through moments of isolation. I like the mantra of “it’s not okay, but it will be” — which involves acknowledging hard things, but knowing they are not forever.

The things I’ve learned over the last few weeks — living in a hotel and coworking have been incredibly valuable. My mind has opened up to how I can work when I’m not in control of an environment and how I can when I am. I’ve realized there’s more than one way to work that works for me if I’m willing to stretch my perspective a bit. I hope to keep stretching.

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Why coworking doesn’t work for me

But might for you!

Illustration by Nate Otto

As technology evolves, and companies wake up to the possibility of remote collaboration, more and more people are trying out coworking. Progressive as ever, we at Basecamp have written about “working alone in a crowd”, in an office you aren’t responsible for. And we’ve put our pennies where our pens are, offering our staff a stipend to help with renting a desk somewhere.

I’ve worked remotely for years, in and out of cafés and shared offices, and I’ve even managed my own coworking space. And here’s what I’ve found:

Coworking doesn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

I came to this realisation during a recent trip to Manchester, England, where I helped train the new support person who’ll soon take over my weekend shifts. Rather than making Jayne, who lives near London, fly halfway around the world to our Chicago base and learn new names, new systems and new stupid in-jokes while struggling with time-zone delirium, we thought it would be more humane to pop her on a train instead — which, in the UK, is sometimes quicker and less stressful than a transatlantic flight. Instead, we got team lead Kristin to fly in from Oregon and meet us in our temporary home, a shared office called Workplace.

Workplace was perfect for our needs. We were given our own meeting room, with a quaint mock front door we could shut when we needed our privacy. We had comfortable chairs, high-speed wifi and other essentials like a steady flow of drip coffee and as many biscuits as we could eat. At first, we enjoyed the buzz of other people getting down to business around us, while we actually had face-to-face conversations and got to know each other IRL. But, by the end of week two, that room started to feel like a carpeted cell.

Why? Because that’s just not how I like to work. Training is one thing, meetups are another, but in my daily working life, I much prefer to be in my own home office. Desk sharing does nothing for my work, the way in which I approach it, or how I wrap my life around it. Since I stopped coworking, I’ve never been happier or more productive. It’s been better for:

My work

Here’s how my day-to-day goes: I listen to loud music and reply to emails. I look for answers, troubleshoot problems and pitch solutions. I teach an online class at the same time every week, and, at random, field requests for phone calls. When it’s quiet, I write. I have my colleagues at hand when I want their help, and complete solitude when I need it. And when I’m done for the day, I’m done. No part of this is enhanced by having other people around, working on their own stuff. Coworking spaces are wonderful places to collaborate, socialise and escape home life — but none of those are things I need.

My introversion

Almost everyone in my team, maybe even the whole company, falls at the introverted end of the spectrum. We work remotely, connected but alone, and exercise our empathy muscles until they ache. During a busy day, I interact with more than a hundred people over email, Twitter, phone and online chat, most of them complete strangers. After that, I want one of two things: hangs with friends, with whom I can be my true, unfiltered self, or time to myself, cooking, reading or playing records. The last thing I need is more casual acquaintances with which to make small talk or awkward eye contact.

My family

Truth be told, the only company I really need is my wife and “daughter”, a beautiful four-year-old who bears a striking resemblance to a French Bulldog. Zoë is a photographer who sometimes shoots on location, sometimes in our home studio, spending the rest of her days retouching images at the desk next to mine. That means I get time with my favourite person, practising our karaoke jams and squealing at photos of other bullies (don’t tell Olive!), but also time to focus on me. Going to a coworking space would mean being away from my fuzzy family, a trade-off I never want to make.

My weird habits

Everyone knows that you should have regular breaks during your working day, time away from that screen. But not everybody spends that downtime doing pull-ups on their bathroom door. Sure, there are a few “active collaborative workspaces” where such activity would be encouraged, but, outside of those broworking spaces, anyone doing push-ups between the desks will be cause for concern. Other weird habits I’m better off keeping at home: mid-morning showers; preferring to listen to podcasts rather than other people; staring at my dog while she sleeps.

My non-commute

A quick poll of my fellow Basecampers revealed that having no commute is their favourite thing about working from home, and the biggest block against considering coworking. I’m lucky in that the space I ran was down one flight of stairs from our apartment (which brought its own problems!), and any new shared office would be a short bike ride away. But, for me, an office door is enough separation between my work and life, and I’d rather spend my journey time walking the dog. Did I mention I have a dog?

If this doesn’t describe you, by all means — consider coworking. Everyone is different and each person works differently. Maybe your job is isolating and you’re craving human interaction. Perhaps your projects would benefit from an outsider’s ideas or their complementary skills. You might not have space at home to dedicate to an office, or the desire to own a printer-scanner-fax. Or you just want to get out of the house more.

If you’re looking for a new way to work remotely, coworking could be the answer. But you might have to search long and hard for a space that suits you, and you might have to sign-up for some trial months. And when you’ve found the right fit, you’re going to have to make it work for you. Whether you end up in a shared space or your own home office, focus on making each day a healthy, productive time.

With Basecamp 3, remote collaboration has never been easier. We’re spread all over the world, working together across every time zone, and we built this tool to help you do the same.