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How to Plug In and Connect for the Sophisticated Nomad

February 22, 2016

How to Plug In and Connect for the Sophisticated Nomad

We learn from one co-working space about providing food for the curious

SIMONE SPILKA, PSFK LABS

New York City has long called to creatives: writers seeking inspiration, teams brainstorming over drinks, local entrepreneurs meeting with global entrepreneurs. It serves as a hub for the rest of the world: for fashion, tech, media and science to collide.  The draw for digital nomads and remote workers is that in New York serendipitous interactions are the norm through vast opportunities for networking and collaboration, and simply walking down the street might lead to a new business opportunity.

One of the city’s premiere and unconventional co-working spaces to be inspired, catering to a prestigious, erhm, sophisticated tier of nomads is a place called Neuehouse. A playground for the untethered, dream hub for the design-oriented and home for the creative and the curious, it aims to provide a highly unique experience for individuals and small teams to plug in.

Neuehouse Founder, James O’Reilly is a nomad himself, as well-versed in travel and movement as he is tuned into the importance of establishing community and habits. For ourNomad Class Debrief, PSFK learned from O’Reilly the distinctive ways that Neuehouse has built a business around nomadic productivity and connection, the culture of untethered living, and the forces continuing to drive the movement forward.

PSFK: Can you comment on your own experiences with and opinion on the nomadic life?

James O’Reilly, Neuehouse Founder: Specifically as it relates to what we’re doing here in New York, it happened organically. 40 percent of our community at Neuehouse are actually international, and they’re incredibly peripatetic. They’re in New York for three day, and then they spend the rest of the week in LA, or in Miami, or in San Francisco. The following week, they could be in London as much as in Milan. What we found is that for a specific subset of entrepreneurs, particularly those working in this, shall I say premium category, they’re constantly traveling between these major global creative hubs and capitals.

Neuehouse is about being a home and a hub for ambitious and curious people. Do you see those as qualities that are important for the nomadic lifestyle?

I think the nomadic lifestyle, as you call it, can be unsettling if there’s too much change. What we found is having some level of continuity in the environment, whether it’s where you work, the people you surround yourself with, or where you live when you’re not at your home.

Constant travel can be jarring, and having somewhere you can call home that’s not your home is particularly valuable. Right now, I spend 50 percent of my time on the road, and I am also a creature of habit. I like to spend my mornings in a certain place, and my evenings somewhere else.

I think people come to rely on Neuehouse in a similar way. They come to expect a certain environment, to be surrounded by people who are like‑minded, traveling as much and of culturally different backgrounds.

I think that’s an important distinction, that even when you’re not traveling, to surround yourself with people who might be living where you’re living, but are from different worlds, different nationalities and different industries. That constant travel exposes you to cultures and groupings of people, and I think people really get energy from that difference.

Do you think that co-living will become more of a trend in the future?

The idea of co‑living is one that many people are interested in. It has not yet, in my experience, been delivered with a certain level of sophistication.

Say I’m an entrepreneur and just starting out, maybe I can’t commit to a long‑term lease for whatever reason: I can’t do the large security deposit or invests heavily in a space. This thinking around people in compromised positions defaults to co‑working spaces as being the norm.

What we created in Neuehouse, we created for a set of people who have lots of good options, but they’re not coming to Neuehouse for lack of options. They come here as a preferred alternative.

I think in the environment of co‑living, we haven’t yet seen somebody providing a product that would actually be a preferred alternative to traditional living. I think there’s a real opportunity for somebody to provide a super-sophisticated co‑living environment, which, to date, does not exist.

What is the appeal in having or finding a community to support the nomad on their journey, whether they’re location‑independent, a freelancer or just a generally free‑spirited entrepreneur?

The world has changed so much in the last 10 years. Some of the most sophisticated entrepreneurs 10 years ago had to be tethered to a large organization if they wanted to affect any real change. Today, that’s not the case. As a freelance independent whatever, you can change the world with a small, federated team of 10, 15, 20 people. I think the need to be at a bigger company to accomplish things has changed, and the need to be around people.

When I talk to people today who are at the top of their game, working for a Google or a Facebook, or some other super smart ambitious company, they talk about being super engaged in solving an important problem, or having some purpose. The next thing they talk about is surrounding themselves with the smartest people on the planet, engaged in solving that problem.

I think what’s lacking when these independent spirits break away from the mothership is that engagement with people who are also doing interesting things. In terms of a community, I think that’s what people feed off.

This idea of working and genius happening in isolation, in a garage or somewhere else—genius doesn’t happen like that. There’s a whole ecology that supports genius, and community is one part of that, surrounding yourself with others who can provoke thoughts which might not necessarily come from you locking yourself away in isolation on your solo problem.

Surrounding yourself with outsiders who can shed light on a problem from different perspectives is incredibly valuable, and being embedded in a community with lots of different perspectives can be super helpful.

Do you think that cultural and economic forces are also driving people toward a more nomadic life?

Culture is a currency today. I think people recognize that an interdisciplinary approach to lifelong learning is more important than ever. I think exposing yourself to whatever the current cultural narrative is informs your point of view of the world, of your work, of who you are.

You can learn as much from a painter as you can from a scientist, and sometimes, the best conversation is when you have that dichotomy of ‘art meets science.’ I think culture is something that people have an appreciation for today even more than ever.

Look at big brands. All major premium brands want to be around the Frieze Arts Fairs of the world, or the Basels, or some other cultural happening. I think there’s a real currency in understanding the cultural landscape, and applying it to how you work and what you’re working on.

I also think there’s a cultural roadmap that these nomads tap into, and travel around these major global events knits together a community who are also traveling this social and cultural circuit.

And at these events, are they still using technology as a means of supporting them in their creative process?

Technology supports that flexibility, the ability to be at a social and cultural gathering, yet still be very much tethered to your commercial life. When it’s done best, it facilitates the throughput that allows you to remain productive, whether you’re in an airport or you’re on a beach.

I also think we’ve developed technology platforms, whether it’s in Skype, or it’s video chat or some other collaboration platform that facilitates more meaningful connection through technology. That facilitates people living this nomadic lifestyle.

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How many people within the Neuehouse community would you consider a digital nomad? 

Is it 30 percent? It could be higher. I think a lot of this was spawned in 2008 when the economy turned and many people were forced out of the traditional means of employment. You started to see this dis‑aggregated, fragmented workforce. With fewer options and larger companies looking not to take on permanent overhead, which had the associated health costs and benefits associated with full‑time employees, it started going into more contracted, flexible work arrangements with individuals.

Initially, people were forced into that environment. I see a lot of people here at Neuehouse, super established people from the world of fashion or from the world of technology, and from particularly in the world of advertising, living in this dis‑aggregated economy by choice because they have freedom of choice as to what projects they work on.

They get to pick and choose, and they also get paid a premium for doing so. I think the more talented the individual, the more flexibility they can warrant. It’s really enlightening to see that the power has gone from the few, such as the few organizations that control the power, to the many individuals who are now dictating the terms upon which they want to engage around specific projects. That’s happening in every industry I see.

Any concluding thoughts?

In the Industrial Age, people began to assemble together in these large, almost mechanistic hierarchies to produce and to create production, and to create wealth.

Then it became almost like the widget economy, factories, and large organizations. I think since the dawn of the Information Age, information and power has disseminated. I think the optimal size of a company is shrinking. It’s gone from thousands to hundreds, to 10, 20, 30, 40.

I think the new machismo is that it’s not about how big you can grow. It’s how much you can do with less. I don’t think people are interested in managing thousands of employees anymore. I don’t think the smartest, most ambitious people are interested in that.

I think they’re interested in solving big problems with a few resources, in a federated manner. I think this is now a real possibility, where people can change the world with just a few full-time employees, but connected to a much larger federated economy of both these other small companies, and other individuals, freelancers.

Neuehouse 

Inspired by a new generation of borderless creatives and professionals, PSFK Labs Nomad Class Debrief examines the emerging technologies and services that are connecting individuals as they work and travel around the globe. Download the full report here,request a presentation at your office and join the conversation on Twitter with#NomadClass.

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