Even 15 years ago, speaking with family and friends on the other side of the world via computer or booking a holiday online were unheard of. But today, doing so is commonplace. The digital revolution and globalization have revolutionized so many aspects of our lives, and the world of work is no exception. Writers, photographers, marketers, PR consultants, web designers, graphic designers and software developers among others can do their work anywhere and are not limited to a particular location.
They can be based at home, at coworking spaces, at cafés or public libraries, and do so individually, or with other freelancers. The nature of such work, using new technologies such as smartphone, Skype, wifi and web-based applications, means that freelancers can earn an income anywhere in the world and can travel from city to city do their work. They are therefore referred to as “digital nomads”, location independent professionals (LIP), or entrepreneurs.
Prague – the dream destination
Prague inevitably attracts its fair share of digital nomads for a number of reasons: the beauty of the city and its location in the heart of Europe. Some planned to be here for a few months but stayed because they found a partner, or they didn’t want to move from Prague, or other reasons. On the other hand, some nomads spend only a few months in the city; one of the freelancers we spoke to was on his second stint in Prague, after three and six months in Amsterdam and Lisbon, respectively. Digital nomads work in a variety of sectors and come from many countries, and for this article we spoke to four who have passed through Prague or are here more permanently.
But whether they are temporary or long-term in Prague, having a laptop and a particular set of skills means that digital nomads can work anywhere. “I’ve got my laptop, so I’ve got all I need. I can work anywhere. Last year, I spent a couple of weeks in Italy, and I could work during the day and then spend the evening by the sea! I’m a member of Locus Workspace coworking space, and I also work from home,” said Moscow native Pavel Mironov, who moved to Prague in 2008 with his family after wanting to try out something different. He now translates from Russian to English and vice versa, specializing in business bestsellers.
We asked the digital nomads how Prague compares to other major cities as a place to work and live. The four mentioned here and all of the others were very positive overall. “Many digital nomads I spoke to got stuck there, and I’m not surprised; it’s definitely a place you can get comfortably stuck in, with a very high standard of living,” said Henrik Heimbuerger, a German software developer who spent a month in Prague in 2012. He is currently on a nomad “world tour”, with stops as diverse as Stockholm and Tirane.
One of the most frequently plus points mentioned was the “liveability” of Prague. “I love the atmosphere of the city. It’s easy-going,” said Irish software developer Gerry Boland, who lived in Prague for two years before moving to Berlin in the fall of 2012. A similar view was expressed by Elke Parsa, who translates books from Italian to Dutch. “It has lots of beautiful parks, excellent public transportation, lots of places where you can sit and work, and there’s good coffee available everywhere,” She moved here with her Iranian husband, who works for Radio Free Europe, in 2010.
Mironov pointed out a plus that many expats in the Czech Republic might find rather surprising. “In comparison to Moscow, the bureaucracy and corruption issue in Prague is not so bad, although I know it’s not perfect. If officials in Prague tell you that a document is ready and available for picking it up, you can be confident that it will be ready. In Moscow that’s not often the case.”
In terms of negative aspects of life in Prague, the issue of getting to know both Czechs and the Czech language were frequently raised. “It was hard making Czech friends at first, and the language is tough going,” said Boland. Parsa echoed this statement, pointing out that she had to rely on Czech speakers when starting up in business.
On a more general level, a number of people we spoke to said that Prague was “conservative” compared to other central European cities such as Budapest or Warsaw. “I feel that there’s a lack of drive and ambition in Prague, and it lacks the dynamism of other big cities”, said Mironov.
Freelancer versus employee, and coworking
As well as moving to a new city to work, digital nomads work differently, but just how differently? Several of our sources pointed out that they are full-time workers; the only difference is that they are self-employed, and they don’t have to be in a specific place at specific hours. They therefore do their forty hours a week – or more – when they want, and are always available for contact. “When I moved to Prague, I kept my e-mail and work with the same coworkers. The only difference is that now they have to hire me for each project and I communicate mainly by e-mail and sometimes via Skype,” said Parsa.
Boland also notes the similarities between being self-employed and working for an employer, but feels that overall, working for himself is better. “I’ve had the experience of a normal office job too, but I do feel more productive working for myself. I don’t waste time on commuting, I’m not working from a cubicle in a noisy office, and I can easily tune out all distractions when I need to concentrate,” he said, adding “I know it will be a tough transition should I ever change to an office job in future.”
All of our interviewees work or have worked at coworking spaces such as Locus Workspace, and they stressed the importance of such facilities. Coworking spaces help freelancers be as productive as possible and ward off the isolation that often afflicts self-employed workers. “Coworking spaces are great because you can help and encourage each other there. There are lots of people around with different skills sets. So if I have a computer programme, for example, there’s usually an IT freelancer who can help me. And the people you work with are not work rivals but friends,” said Parsa.
Excitement and Stress
Moving to a new city is of course exciting and exhilarating, but the digital nomads interviewed said that setting up again in a new city is not without problems. “It’s definitely quite stressful. It’s not any one issue but rather little things: figuring out where to buy food, where to work, how the public transport works – all these things add up,” explained Heimbuerger.
Boland took a slightly different view. Initially he found the move to Prague stressful, but “once I arrived, I found an apartment within a week, and managed to figure out the essentials – how transport works and food shopping mainly – quite quickly. Looking back, it was not such a struggle.”
And what about maintaining relationships with partners, families and friends when on the move from city to city? Although modern technology such as Skype has improved communication hugely and is bringing everyone closer together, those interviewed pointed out that it will never replace face-to-face contact. Several of the people we spoke to had moved with their families, but being separated from families and friends at home remains one of the most difficult aspects of life as a nomad. “Yes, being a digital nomad can be more flexible and more exciting, but also often exhausting and sometimes lonely,” said Heimbuerger.
Photo from The Hub Prague