Name: Kirsty Thompson
Headquarters: Barcelona, Spain
Superpower: Blending work and vacations
This week I interview Kirsty Thompson of Coworkation. They host retreats in beautiful locations to inspire and teach people how to live a location independent lifestyle. We discuss how to prepare to become location independent, dealing with social and cultural judgements, and tips for designing your perfect lifestyle – in style!
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Lisette: Great, and we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette, and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And I’m totally excited today because I have Kirsty Thompson on the line. Kirsty, you’re in Barcelona but you either or you work with the company. I’m not sure. We’ll find out in just a second, called Coworkation, which is when work needs vacation. So I’m very curious about this. I’ll tell you why in a second. But this is great for remote workers. And let’s start with the opening question. What does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Kirsty: I guess the most important thing is [inaudible – 00:41]. That’s the thing that defines most of our daily lives. But for me and for Coworkation, I certainly feel like I need a space that makes me feel a little bit inspired now. That might be a day I get to spend working from gorgeous cafés somewhere. But generally speaking, it’s about the countries and being able to travel. So my virtual office is roaming. At the moment, it’s Barcelona, before it was in Bali. It’s important to me to have community. It’s really easy for your virtual office to be lonely and singular. So whilst I definitely have days where I sit in bed on my laptop and have a super productive day, getting up just to drink coffee. I think part of my virtual office is having community and friends and co-workers around me from time to time to keep me motivated, keep me feeling like I’m a part of something bigger. So those are the main things, I guess.
Lisette: I love that your virtual office is roaming because to be honest, for the most part, I don’t talk to a lot of people who have roaming offices. It’s a lot of telecommuters, people who work from one space or just people who work from home or companies who work remotely. So I love this idea of the roaming virtual office. So that’s going to get us right into what Coworkation is because I want to ask about why it’s so important for people to have this roaming digital office. So tell us what is Coworkation.
Kirsty: I’ll give you a little bit of a definition of another term first. When we talk about roaming lifestyle, virtual office, or whatever, what springs to mind is the term location-independent. So what we are a part of is this location-independent movement where people are able to work from wherever they want in the world. And like you just said, some people don’t realize the potential of that in the sense that they work from home or they work from a co-working space. But they don’t like to think, “Oh, wait a minute, if I’m just using my laptop, I can literally be anywhere in the world.”
What we do at Coworkation is provide a retreat, we could call them, where we give people the information and the experience necessary to realize the potential of this lifestyle. A lot of people are entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, whether they creatives, thought leaders, startups, freelancers. The list is pretty much endless. They are the kind of people that are really passionate about what they do. Not everybody [inaudible – 03:37] differently [inaudible] necessarily [inaudible] to have a really defined workday where they just work for these eight hours and then they do this [inaudible – 03:46] their pleasure time.
At Coworkation, we believe in the fluidity of this work-life balance. And I think for a long time, people have thought how horrible the thought of working is when I’m on vacation. But it’s actually no. If you are passionate enough about what it is you’re doing, then you want to be working on it consistently throughout your life. It is your life. It is part of who you are and part of what you do. And that’s not to say never switch off the email. It’s not to say that at all. It’s more about understanding that you can create exactly the kind of life you want for yourself and what does that look like.
So Coworkation is traditionally like we’re doing one to two-week trips where everything is catered for. We take you to beautiful locations. The accommodation is gorgeous. There’s amazing, excellent Wi-Fi everywhere we go. But that’s just the framework. What makes it special and different is that we’re using the inherent qualities of a location, say a waterfall, or even something as cute as a sauna bath to really let the lessons we’re teaching during our workshops and in our activities that really sink deeply into you. So it’s one of those kind of things that you don’t necessarily realize until you’re doing it in the moment. But there are so many levels to our understanding. So we can go to [inaudible – 05:17] have somebody talk at you [inaudible – 05:20] and none of it sinks in. We use locations and environments as the signals for true inspiration. So we have a much more defined program than a lot of other, similar companies, which there are plenty of. We try and provide experts in the fields of personal development for professional growth, business big-picture strategy, vision, things like that, and also lifestyle design. So you come on a Coworkation not only to have a curated, fun, relaxing, relaxing, gorgeous experience in a place you might not otherwise go on your own, but you go to learn these skills. So it’s easily justifiable business expense.
Lisette: I love it [laughs].
Kirsty: You can totally rank that work. And your [inaudible – 06:13] the other people that they’re going to be present as well. That’s the exciting thing, like I said, communities [inaudible – 06:17]. It is for most people who are location independent. They might love to travel but you need to have people around you to understand your lifestyle and understand what you’re trying to create in your life. And you want to meet other people to collaborate with. And so as with the co-working or co-living space, the people [you need – 06:35] become your friends, become your colleagues, become your inspiration. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to cultivate with the colocation as well. So you’ve got community, you’ve got education, and you’ve got all the perks of staying in some gorgeous spots somewhere in the world. We have a few different exotic locations lined up for the next six months or so.
Lisette: I saw on the website [inaudible – 07:01] there’s Bali and there’s Barcelona and Thailand, Mallorca and Costa Rica, all beautiful, all involve beaches, it sounds like.
Kirsty: The one we’re doing in Barcelona, actually, we’ve got two coming up. One is a city and country event, and that is going to be different. So that won’t be beach-focused. One thing the guest pointed out a little bit – and this is my experience as well – is that a lot of the promotional materials you see for [inaudible – 07:39] lifestyles are people with a laptop on a beach. And as we all know, that’s absolute rubbish. Your thighs get really hot and sweaty. You can’t see the screen properly. But it sends the message, and the message is you don’t have to save up working 8-10-hour days for 50 weeks of the year and go on a two-week holiday to sit on the beach. If your work is remote work, if you have a virtual office of any kind, you can live this lifestyle. Sure, you might be in a co-working space next to the beach because that makes more sense than being with the sand and the sun and the salt messing up your laptop.
Lisette: So people are coming to these two retreats to not only learn about the strategy of starting a business maybe. Is it both starting a business and learning the lifestyle?
Kirsty: The actual focus for us, we’re not like an incubator, no. So you can come on a colocation at any stage within the development of a location-independent lifestyle or even if you’re just curious about them. We do not have a process where we vet what stage of development you are at. If you’re purely intrigued in what location-independent life is about, if you have some ideas that you want to sound out, if you are an established entrepreneur that maybe has been working on a project and reached the point where you’re not sure that you’re doing what you want to be doing anymore – you’ve lost your mojo; you need some inspiration – at every stage along the way, a colocation would be fun and a value because essentially, it’s about inspiration. When you are doing the same thing every day, you get on autopilot, even if you are on a gorgeous spot somewhere on a beach. [inaudible – 09:32] another beautiful day on the beach. You go on autopilot. So the whole point, again, the word we probably overused is to shake things up to get inspired. So for some people, the most inspiring thing might be the people they meet. For some it might be the beautiful, exotic location. For another it might be the workshops that they attend and the feedback they receive because we have things like think tanks where you could also present your idea for concepts and get feedback from all these really valuable, skilled people that you would normally not have the opportunity to connect with. A lot of co-working spaces in Asia that I visited are very event-focused. It’s a lot of mingling, a lot of sharing. In Europe, I noticed a slight difference. There seems to be a lot of startup teams that are very focused on what they’re doing and events are a bit of a distraction. So there’s not as much of that give and take happening. So Coworkation is one of those great opportunities that you can have. It’s a sounding board. And I don’t like the term networking but it’s a great opportunity to meet other people you might want to hire or work with in the future as well.
Lisette: What do you see people struggling with when they’re coming to you? When they’re curious about location independence, what are people really having a hard time with?
Kirsty: To start with, I’d say that a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a valid way of living. They struggle with the concept that it’s a luxury, it’s a privileged lifestyle. Now I’m not going to argue that it is privileged because you need to have obviously the ability to be virtual with your work. And not all of us are 100 percent able to do that. We might have to be in certain place at certain times. I certainly do. To organize these events, I need to be in that country, doing that work with connecting with people. However, a lot of people almost get offended like, “Who do you think you are thinking that you can create a life like that for yourself?” So it’s a big resistance. Also what are their friends and family going to say? “What do you mean you’re selling everything you owned and you’re going to take your laptop and [inaudible – 11:54]? Are you having a crisis? What’s going on?”
Lisette: It’s like you’re running off to join the circus [laughs].
Kirsty: I think cultural and social judgments and people’s judgments, their own judgments, that’s one of the biggest things to get over. However, if you’re already in this lifestyle – you’re already a digital nomad or a freelancer, [an entrepreneur – 12:23], you’re trying to make it work – one of the things that can still be difficult is keeping it going, making it consistent, making it work. And what I said before about making connections with other people. So I’d say that that’s probably the second thing, people coming to us to kind of get an idea of who else is out there doing this. How do they make it work? What kind of jobs, what kind of projects make this lifestyle something sustainable, to be honest? Because you can just be a freelance graphic artist, fine. But if you’re not mixing with people in your industry, there are going to be limitations, and it’s going to be difficult to find work. So it isn’t as easy as all the blogs are saying. Get a remote job in ten days, no. You need to think it through. And this is a way that we would encourage people to come along. They can meet other people living the lifestyle, see what it’s like living in some of these countries as well. Not everybody is going to love Bali. I love Bali. Everybody I know love Bali. And it’s the most gorgeous, exotic place that also has a fantastic mix of startups. I’ve never been somewhere so thriving with the startups seen in a tiny, gorgeous, little town. So it’s a beautiful balance. But Coworkation, you come, you can experience a culture on its two-week trip. And it’ll give you a sense of whether or not that lifestyle would be for you.
Lisette: Okay, interesting. You mentioned earlier that people struggle with being always on because we can work from anywhere and we love what we do. What advice do you give for people that can’t turn off?
Kirsty: Yeah. Look, some of the most successful people I know, I look at them and I’m like, “Oh my God, you can’t turn off. Is that healthy?” For them it is. They do amazing work. And it is totally an individual experience. If you love it and you love going 100 percent all the time, that’s great. If you’re coming from the right place, if you’re creating something because you’re passionate about it, if you’re working towards something you truly believe in, it’s a very different thing than working a 75-hour week in an office because you’re afraid to lose your job. The motivation is completely different. And it’s awesome. Good on you. You found something you love.
But for me, I need to have a good amount of balance. So I construct my days where I make sure that I have time to exercise because I love being outdoors. I make sure that I have time to be alone, to eat well because that’s important to me, and be in a country or place where I can do both of those things. There are some countries where I can’t go for a run. So you need to decide what you want your days to look like and then come out of that. That’s how I would approach it. Sometimes work doesn’t feel like work, and that’s pretty awesome when that happens. It’s just I’m [inaudible – 15:52] oh, I’m working.
Lisette: Right, that’s the best. This idea of work-life fusion, I think, is very appealing to some and not appealing to others. I think there are some that really like the 9:00 to 5:00.
Kirsty: Yeah. And I’ve had that feedback and I completely get it. For me, it’s about flexibility. I love freedom. I’ve always been a bit of a commitment phobe with work. I’ve always been a freelancer because I’m like, “Okay, but if I sick of it, I know it’s done in three months or six months or whatever.” So for me, it’s an ideal scenario because I know that I’m going to have a different view next week. Also, I’ll have a base in my life that we all have different needs. Some of us need a base. Some of us are happy to be completely nomadic. It depends on the individual. But just what are your values is the first question. What do you value? And then construct your day around those values and your life around those [dates – 16:49].
Lisette: I can imagine it’s hard for people when they’re first starting out to figure out what it is that they like and they don’t like. I can imagine you think like, “Oh, maybe I’d love all the freedom.” And then once you have it, you think, “Oh, actually, maybe the structure was good for me.” And do you see this on your retreats, people discovering this about…? Okay
Kirsty: Yeah, that’s actually some of the stuff that we have workshops on. What is it that you want to do? Why do you want to do that? Really, what are your motivations? Why do you think that’s a great idea? It takes practice. Two weeks is going to give you a taste and it’s going to give you an idea. But really, if you want to live this lifestyle full-time, it takes some dedication and some trial and error. Some people I know commit to doing six months or a year and then they go back to their location-specific life because it’s really personal. But it doesn’t have to be either or. You can have a base six months of the year and travel for six. You can live in your city permanently but then know whenever you want that you can get up and take the computer and go on a two-week trip and not have to worry about it affecting your work. So there is no black or white. It’s just about creating freedom and flexibility in your life and creating a healthier, human-centered attitude towards the way you live, not based on external pressures and demands and quite outdated notion on what the workday has to look like.
Lisette: Yeah, indeed. I love the idea that there are now terms like location-specific and location-independent.
Kirsty: [crosstalk – 18:49] thing.
Lisette: I’ve heard it before. You’re not the first. That’s why I’m picking up on it. When I’ve been talking with the robotics people, the telepresence people that have the drivable robots, they actually referred to people who are there as in the flesh, and otherwise you’re in the robot. So there are all these fun terms [crosstalk – 19:10], which is really fun.
Maybe we can talk about tools for a little bit. Are there things, are there tools that come up over and over that you see people using or that you loved yourself that help you in this way of work?
Kirsty: Okay. I’m not super techie. I love my apps to travel. For me, that’s the biggest thing. When you travel, you want to be able to land in a completely foreign country and have a certain amount of control over your scenario. So nowadays, it’s so easy because everything from [Google – 19:47] flights making, finding a good flight easier, to an app like Citymapper or Airbnb or Uber, so that you can land somewhere and already know where you’re going to stay for the first night. You [can already have – 20:01] communicated via email or Skype with somebody who you’re going to stay with. You get there and there’s a local app that can connect you with maybe other people, expats or digital nomads or freelancers or whatever in Barcelona. Meetup is a really big site. That has an app. That’s amazing. There are all these groups on there. Whatever your interests, there are groups for you. So for me, those ease of travel apps are the best thing that I utilize. Communication, again, software, being able to Skype with loved ones all over the world. And I’m simple. This cute little laptop, that’s me, and my smartphone. We communicate with each other as much in real life as we can [inaudible – 20:58]. We don’t have any complex systems. We like to WhatsApp each other and keep it really direct. In fact, at the moment, the team is all together in real life. And it’s great, and we’re getting a lot of really good work done. And when we’re separate, we work differently. But not necessarily one is better than the other.
Lisette: I love that you have the idea of just keeping it simple. We don’t need really fancy things, the laptop and a good Internet connection and a few apps and you’re good to go. It’s an amazing world we’re living in right now.
Kirsty: It’s so easy. When you think about… I traveled before apps and before having a phone with me. I traveled without a phone. Now my brain is like [inaudible – 21:49].
Lisette: How did we even do that?
Kirsty: And you arrive in the airport, you’ve looked in your guide, and got an advice on how much a taxi to a hotel should cost so you don’t get ripped off. You point to the map. There’s a lot of trust involved. And I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose connecting to other people. But if you travel frequently, it does make life amazingly fluid. I got into Chiang Mai in May. I got out off the airplane. There were SIM cards available before I even left the departure [inaudible – 22:31]. Bought a SIM card, got straight onto Booking.com app. It brought up my hotel. And then it offered a translation written in Thai that I showed to the driver and there we go.
Lisette: What more do you need? [laughs] I love it.
Kirsty: The founder of Coworkation, Stewart, my boss, he teases me a little bit for my love of apps. He’s not as enthusiastic about all those things. It’s a personal thing.
Lisette: Right, what works for you. It’s sounds like the theme of this whole lifestyle is finding what works for you and then building around that.
Kirsty: Yeah, definitely.
Lisette: One thing I want to ask is Internet connection in all of these places. And I’m assuming some places are better than others. What role does that play? Is it critical?
Kirsty: One of the most important things when we’re finding venues, accommodation, and co-working spots for our coworkations, it was the Wi-Fi speed. We take people to amazing beach bars and all these sorts of spots, but you have the potential to work in all of them. People can choose how much they do or don’t work. So for us, that’s crucial. When we are working ourselves, as we travel, recently, I was finishing the website. You can’t have a shoddy Internet connection when you’re uploading things to your website. It stalls your work, and it can be really, really negative to your work ethic and your [inaudible – 26:02] productivity if you don’t have that. I have lots of friends who are coaches or they give online sessions of different variety, business coaches and things like that. If you don’t have a constant connection or if it breaks all the time, you’re not going to get great benefit out of those interactions. So it’s hugely important. People who are working on developing apps and software and stuff like that, they can’t have something drop out.
Bali is one of the countries, Chiang Mai is another, that has recognized the importance and potential of catering to location-independent professionals. And they are doing the work necessary to put the infrastructure to make it easy. The fact that there are so many co-working spaces popping up all over the world speaks to that. The fact that cafés all over the world, to varying degrees, are happy for you to sit in there and they have good Internet for your pleasure, it’s probably the second most important thing.
Lisette: What would be the first most important thing?
Kirsty: That’s the most important thing for productivity. But the first most important thing would be that you’re enjoying your life. I know that sounds a little bit vague. But why are you traveling? Why are you working from wherever you want to work? Asking those questions to yourself again. If you’re not clear on why you’re trying to be a location-independent professional, you’re going to spend your days at the pool. You’re going to spend your days drinking beer. You’re not going to get any work done, and it’s going to be a waste of time. So I think the first thing is do you really want to be living this lifestyle. Otherwise, just go on a holiday. So that clarity for me is the number one thing. But then you have practically Internet.
Lisette: [laughs] Right, the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, of course. We’re running out of time, but I have a couple of things that I really want to ask. You mentioned trust. And then you mentioned that you have to have trust. So what do you mean by trust? Trust between whom when you’re working? And how are you building that?
Kirsty: Okay. One of the interesting things about the rise of peer-to-peer services online is that I think originally, people assumed that there would be less connection between others with the Internet. And what we’ve seen is in fact more connection. Airbnb is built on trust. Uber is built on trust. We are trusting other people to come into our homes, and we are trusting to go into others. One of the things I love when we talk about how great all the software is, these apps that we have access to, is although it’s different, I’m not just landing in some village and having to trust the person offering me a room in the street is a good person. That used to be and is still an enjoyable experience. But we still have to trust using these apps, using this technology. And we’re able to vet people. We’re able to see reviews. We’re trusting in different ways. We’re being maybe a little bit more – I was going to say clever, no – structured in our trust. We research beforehand, and we go, “Okay, this person [inaudible – 30:02] at least they have good reviews.” So there’s that level of trust.
And the same with when you meet people in a co-working space in, for instance, Bali, anybody can say, “Oh, I’m a graphic designer or I’m this, that, and the other.” You don’t really know. You can go to their LinkedIn page, which is what you would do. You would use technology to find a bit of information around. But you need to trust people. So in any situation [inaudible – 30:29] together with a bunch of strangers, trust comes into play. And when you travel, trust is a huge issue. You’re not always in control. You have to take people’s advice. You have to try things out and hope for the best. You have to trust that the food you’re eating is good. And you use common sense, and you use research. But essentially, it’s trust.
Lisette: So peer-to-peer economy is really built on trust. But we also have the reviews and the checks to [inaudible – 31:04].
Kirsty: [inaudible] structured trust. I don’t know. Research first [inaudible – 31:10].
Lisette: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. We’ll have to come up with a term for it. It’s like trust them but check them too.
Kirsty: [inaudible – 31:16].
Lisette: What advice would you give to somebody who is just starting out? I guess the first thing is go on a Coworkation. So go to Coworkation.com and go on a Coworkation somewhere. But other than that, what would you tell them?
Kirsty: On that note, we are a part of a rapidly growing ecosystem of companies servicing a location-independent lifestyle. And we’re really, really passionate about supporting each other because the more that’s available within the ecosystem, the more normalized this lifestyle becomes, the more people are going to be participating in it. And I love the idea of a true global community. I know that there are changes that occur to cultures and societies that might be resisted and aren’t always [inaudible – 32:08]. But I believe there can be huge benefits to a true global community and based on trust and sharing and breaking down barriers and understanding each other better and all this stuff. And technology allows us to do that.
We have on our website a list of other people holding events similar to us but with different slants. We have a list of co-working spaces that we think are really unique. Not all of them. We’ve curated these lists. We have lists of co-living spaces, resources, education, site such as your own.
Lisette: [That’s how we met – 32:47]. Yeah, that’s right.
Kirsty: [inaudible]. So that for us, I would say, do your research. If you want to check out what we have, go to Coworkation.com and go to the location independence page. There’s plenty of stuff there. There’s heaps online as well. Do a bit of research. And don’t get convinced that this is going to be easy. Really think about what you want. If you just want a holiday, you’re allowed to have a holiday. You don’t have to be intrepid. But I think most people are curious as to how they can make it work, in which case, yes, come on a Coworkation, potentially. But also just get out there. Go on some trips on your own. Connect with co-working, co-living spaces. And before you launch into it, trial out whatever dream work scenarios you have in your mind. There don’t have to be as many boundaries as you think. You can make money in a wide variety of ways. So if you have the luxury in your life to spend a bit of time figure out what you really want to do with yourself, how you can best contribute something special, go on a trip, take that time, figure that stuff out, and then take it from there, I would say.
Lisette: Love it. Love the advice. So do your research and trial things before you just quit your day job and go off on your own.
Kirsty: Dream big. Dream really big. There’s no limit. You can create the lifestyle that you want. You really can. But you have to be practical [laughs].
Lisette: That’s very smart advice. So it’s not just about sitting on the beach, which is not practical when you’re trying to work.
Kirsty: [inaudible – 34:38].
Lisette: And the sand and all the…
Kirsty: Yeah. [inaudible – 34:43] keyboard.
Lisette: The suffering, the suffering [laughs]. Final question is what is the best way for people to get in touch with you and learn more? Obviously, the website, Coworkation.com.
Kirsty: Yes, Coworkation.com is the best one. Email at email@example.com. Any questions, shoot it through. I’ll see it. And Stewart [inaudible – 35:09] very small team. And we’re really keen to just connect with people [inaudible – 35:16]. So get in touch that way. And any questions [inaudible], there’s contact page on the website as well and loads of resources on there.
Lisette: Great, I really look forward. I think my audience will really enjoy this kind of retreat.
Kirsty: [inaudible – 35:32] the normal. We’re on Facebook and Instagram. So look for Coworkation there as well.
Lisette: Oh, pictures are worth a thousand words, so that’s where you really want to go. [inaudible – 35:47] are there, folks.
Kirsty: [inaudible – 35:50]. And we’ve also got a few other groups that we’re a part of [inaudible] that we started up on Facebook to keep this conversation going. There’s the location-independent movement group page. And then there’s more specific to Barcelona [inaudible – 36:11] location [inaudible]. And these are places where… And you can see these through online co-location Facebook page. You can see [inaudible]. You can shoot through question on there as well and chat to other people, not just us, but have conversations with other people living a lifestyle.
Lisette: Love it. Thanks so much for taking the time today. I really appreciate it. And I’m very excited about what you guys are doing. I think it’s just a fabulous thing. So I hope that lots of people get in touch.
Kirsty: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Lisette: Indeed. So until next time, everybody, be powerful.