Ben Marks is an impact entrepreneur, activist and writer, currently founder and executive director of the #WorkAnywhere campaign.
Life on the road can be lonely – and loneliness is a silent killer. It is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and high blood pressure.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness website, it’s worse for you than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
For digital nomads like me, loneliness accompanies the many territories we visit. Always on the move, we can miss the fixed social ties that are so important to a person’s well-being.
But digital nomad influencers helped me a lot. I once saw an NFT advisor Olumide Gbenro talk about having had suicidal thoughts when he first went on a trip, brought on by a deep sense of being alone.
Inspired by Olumide, I wanted to facilitate solutions that deepen the human connections that everyone needs – as a nomad myself. I have found that the movement is at its best when you incorporate community life into your professional life.
Now, as our wider society experiences an epidemic of loneliness, I think we should all look to communities to feel a sense of belonging Far from home.
Build a community wherever you are
Coworking spaces may have started as something purely practical, but they are rapidly evolving.
Coworking concepts developed by and for digital nomads are the ones you want to research. These optimize social fulfillment at every level of their design and operation.
My favorite term here is “community workspace”.
One of the best examples of the community workspace model can be found in the The phenomenon of the “digital nomad village” which has grown exponentially in recent years, all over the world.
Gonçalo Hall, the creator of the nomadic village of Madeira’s Ponta do Soltold me that the community is fundamental to the success of the project.
“We maximize social connection with daily events, an internal community leader, and involving the community in all the big decisions we make,” he says.
Every event within the village, from beach workouts to skill-sharing events to hikes, was created to develop strong community ties between inhabitants.
Another great example is Selina, one of the world’s leading hospitality brands designed for Millennials and Gen Z travelers, offering coworking, leisure, wellness and local experiences in many Many countries.
Rafi Museri, CEO of Selina, told me, “Since our inception, Selina has designed its accommodations to foster connections between like-minded professionals and create unique, collaborative spaces for today’s digital nomads. “
They have created specific community programming designed to bring their members together and unlock authentic and meaningful connections. This covers everything from sharing skills and networking to fostering deeper conversations and fun.
It’s a solution for the modern workforce
Solutions created for small groups or niche groups can end up being of great value to society as a whole. The internet is an obvious example, originally invented to aid the military – it is now used (sometimes productively) by some 5 billion people.
I believe the “community workspace” model pioneered by digital nomads is now poised to scale just as exponentially.
Two trends have converged to make this possible and necessary.
First, the pandemic has disrupted professional life in a way no one could have predicted, with research showing a 600% increase in remote working in just two years. Changes that are expected to take decades have happened in less than two years.
Unprecedented masses modern workers break free from the claws of traditional offices.
At the same time, an epidemic of loneliness is rampant in our society. In the United States, 15% of men report having no close friends, an increase of more than 10% since 1990.
In the UK, the majority of people aged 18-34 – around 60% – say they feel lonely often or sometimes.
The latest research from my #WorkAnywhere campaign finds a link between working from home and loneliness, suggesting that the recent explosion of working from home may be having a negative impact on us.
While there are both individual benefits (cooking your lunch) and societal benefits (reduced commuting emissions) to working from home, data indicates that finding a “third space” in which working, at least part of the time, can protect and boost our mental health.
For those of us who are nomads, we have made a choice. We opted for a lifestyle that carried risks of loneliness and so worked to make adaptations. Now, the same risks exist for everyone.
I am convinced that there is a real need for proven solutions.
It’s time for a coworking revolution
As remote work brings the city to the suburbs, there’s no better time to implement the nomadic community workspace model in neighborhoods across the country.
I have a vision that looks like this.
Imagine a state-of-the-art community workspace within easy walking distance of where you live. No more stressful journeys.
Here you work alongside people because of your common locality, not because you are employed by the same company.
There is a professional atmosphere, but without office politics.
To participate this workspace could even reduce burnout by establishing a physical boundary between your home and your work. A recent study found that 69% of employees working from home have symptoms of this problem – surely we’ve all heard people say during the pandemic that they weren’t working from home, they were living at work. A shared teleworking space could be a solution.
Except it would be much more than a workspace. Meditation groups, running clubs and mentorship programs connect nomads. These new neighborhood hubs are at the heart of local life, consciously designed to promote social ties.
My research also revealed that coworking spaces would be the most socially fulfilling workplaces, beating out the office, home, and a number of other “third spaces” like cafes and libraries. So think about what they can do once they transition to true community workspaces?
We are fundamentally social creatures, having existed in tight-knit hunter-gatherer groups for the majority of our 200,000 year history. In other words, the need for community is deeply embedded in our DNA.
These spaces would help us return to the way we are meant to live.
No one should be left behind
By 2020, around 2 million people had used coworking spaces – a tiny number in relative terms, as that equates to just 0.025% of the world’s population.
I believe the coworking phenomenon will spread across the world, fueled by a growing remote workforce.
When this happens, it is absolutely essential that steps are taken to improve access to these spaces. Failure to do so in disadvantaged and rural communities would only amplify existing inequalities.
A recent report on hybrid work by Zoom went so far as to suggest that governments should fund local coworking hubs to provide workers in every community with the option of a “third space” from which to work.
Zoom’s head of government relations, Drew Smith, told me, “As more and more governments around the world are making it easier for people to adopt and thrive while working in a hybrid way, and with the initiatives in In the EU and in cities across the UK and US, it is local economies that have traditionally lost out to large urban areas that are expected to thrive.
“We are excited about the changing nature of work and the myriad social, economic and cultural benefits it is likely to bring.”
Ultimately, however, improving access will require a multi-stakeholder approach. Companies could also play their part by following in Spotify’s footsteps and supporting their employees with their coworking membership fees. As the need for businesses to own property or lease office space diminishes, this could be a fair trade-off.
Above all, we need a joint effort to upskill everyone through digital literacy.
Only then will everyone, everywhere have the opportunity to participate in the first place. Remote work is for everyone.