I recently wrote about my experience of the coworking / coliving movement and have set out to gain further input into this topic. To explore the impact of the coworking and coliving movement I spoke with Eleni Atsikbasis, Founder of Digital Nomads Lesvos, Birds Bay Coliving Space and instigator of the Healing Lesvos Programme. Digital Nomads Lesvos and Birds Bay are new coworking and coliving spaces on Lesvos and opened in May 2016. It forms part of a strategy to bring a new form of tourism to the island. It is a project within a bigger programme called Healing Lesvos, initiated to rebuild and re-balance the island after it was hit by the refugee / migrant crisis last year.
What is your experience of the coworking movement?
I am the founder of the coworking space Digital Nomads Lesvos (DNL) and the coliving space Birds Bay. This year I have also spent time on Coboat and although fairly new to this movement, I already see it’s potential to change the world.
Why do you think people are choosing this working life over ‘normal’ or, traditional jobs?
Turning up to the same desk, same office and seeing the same people limits productivity, growth, our sense of belonging and our experience of the world. People are beginning to experience that travel breeds creativity and by creating a lifestyle born out of more worldly experiences is a source of inspiration that sparks solutions. Of course this is all made feasible through the rise of technology. It is now possible to work from anywhere.
However it is not always a choice. For example I believe some digital nomads are refugees of capitalism. Most aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers in the west are unable to progress in their home country as they can’t sustain themselves financially. Many are leaving their home towns for the East or more affordable locations where costs of living are much lower.
What are the benefits of this movement?
“Nomos” is Greek for pasture. A nomad moves from pasture to pasture.’ (Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Vintage, 1998 p16).
The more I see and understand, the more convinced I am that digital nomads, remote workers and the likes are our crank handles, the starter-uppers, for they are surfacing and moving about with the world of digital (global knowledge) at hand, and aren’t coming with the mindset, or from the pastoral milieu where all monotheisms were known to surface. (Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Vintage, 1998 p19)
I am seeing a huge social impact. The movement connects people to the world and, our universal problems. We have a lot more to gain by supporting this movement and I believe it is crucial to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. The more people move around and experience other cultures the more we connect with nature, people and places. Thus, creating interconnected selves which essentially results in more socially driven actions and decision making. These social entrepreneurs are engaged in helping others and are much happier and healthier for it.
DNL and Birds Bay was visited by Coboat and their community this summer and after spending time in our coworking space and learning about the challenges facing Lesvos the entrepreneurs on board immediately engaged with me. I am now collaborating with three members of the Coboat community which is just what the island, Lesvos needs.
The movement also has the potential to have a positive impact on our younger generations, essentially many of the future leaders of this world. At a young age we have such drive and risk taking spirit (the same mentality as an entrepreneur) which is sadly often lost post adolescence. By encouraging and supporting young people to consider this new way of living and working I am sure we will find they as well as, many adults will maintain this drive.
Coworking could help shape young people to engage with the world’s problems and find creative solutions. This year we are initiating the Lesvos1000 project of collabration born out of connections I made on Coboat. The project invites 1000 students from universities all over the world to take part in a living lab on Lesvos, set up to rebuild and rebalance the island after last year’s traumatic refugee/migrant crisis. By engaging the students through first hand experience, I hope to not only educate them but to spark their creative minds and it lead to more socially conscious ideas and decision making.
How can we better support and contribute to the growth of this movement?
I’d like to see the introduction of entrepreneur visas (EV) to remove the barriers of traveling for remote workers and similar communities. Visa situations can be prohibitive and often present grey areas of what’s allowed when working for yourself or another company unrelated to the country you are staying in.
There are such things as business visas which are being trialled in Barcelona and Portugal but you need to be earning a certain amount of money, tick specific criteria and, be able to prove you can sustain yourself. So although a step in the right direction, it excludes many who work remotely.
We should remember that by spending time in different places we are contributing to the local economy. The Entrepreneur Visa would have to be applied for in the spirit of supporting the location you’re in. It has to go hand in hand. The benefits are the transfer of knowledge and the kickstarting of social start ups.
For change and growth to happen, particularly in locations that are in most need, I believe it is imperative we expand the way we define our ‘selves’ and for this to work, we should think about how we can act to support the the younger generations who have so much energy to brainstorm/act/do (inherently part of who they are) to travel and work within such communities. It’s with the support of ‘elders’ that our youth may achieve ways of doing things that we adults have limited in traditional work environments.
Just after interviewing Eleni and whilst writing up this article Barack Obama announced the creation of start up visas to encourage entrepreneurs to start companies in the US.
What future do you envision and what’s needed to make it possible?
Now that Obama has introduced the start up visa I would very much like the concept to be adopted worldwide. Let’s start with Lesvos, Greece where renewal, rebalance and economic growth is imperative to help offset the recent trauma and, let’s migrate this model step-by-step globally.
I would also like to see more corporates facilitating location independence for their employees. Instead of being frightened by it, embrace it and see it is an opportunity to improve productivity and creativity within their organisation. Employees should be encouraged out of their comfort zone much more often.
The more we travel the more we will reconnect with our world and our identity grows. We all share the same water and air and I believe we need to find a new ‘universally integrated’ identity to face these crucial times and not be fearful of them. I would like to see the majority of our young adults working together in different communities to solve collective challenges.
This is why the EV is good because parts of the world can benefit from knowledge and skills they wouldn’t have access to normally, and therefore maximise the chance of solving problems. Be there, experience it, talk to the locals and implement new collaborations.
Other articles in this series are: