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A Tale of Two Cultures: An American’s Perspective on Coworking in Barcelona

By May 1, 2017Servicios

Meet digital nomad Daniel Page. Page is the head of operations for StudySoup and a recent coworker in our BCNewt coworking space in Barcelona.  He’s spent the past few years traversing the globe, exploring cities across the United States and Europe.

Page is part of the growing number of coworkers who are choosing to work remotely in order to move seamlessly from place to place. Coworking is on the rise across the globe, with nearly 1.2 million people expected to have worked in a coworking space by the end of 2017, according to the Global Coworking Survey. Because of coworking space flexibility, these offices have become hubs for digital nomads as they explore the world.

With so many options, it can be difficult to choose where to work. Each place offers new adventures and opportunities, but beyond this, each place has its own unique culture. For many digital nomads, this means adjusting to the new lifestyle and work environment of their host country. While there are similarities in workspaces across the globe, there are also numerous differences. When Page moved to Barcelona from California, he experienced numerous changes as he immersed himself in Spanish culture and customs.

One of the biggest adjustments United States employees can anticipate when moving to Barcelona is the change in work schedule. Although the workday varies from company to company, workers from Spanish companies tend to start and end their workday later than in the United States. In Spain, the average workday begins around 10 or 11 a.m. and ends around 7 or 8 p.m., with a long lunch break from 2 or 3 p.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. This can be a bit of a surprise for someone used to working from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. This variance in schedule also affects the number of hours worked per week. On average, Spaniards work about 41 hours per week, compared to the average of 47 hours per week in the United States. Typical work schedules aside, Page notes work schedules in Spain are much more malleable and flexible than back home.

“I’ve had experience with productivity studies, and this more relaxed schedule seems to actually boost productivity,” said Page. “This flexibility lets us get as much work done as in the United States in less time.”

This flexibility is especially prevalent in coworking spaces, where coworkers make their own hours. Page tended to start later in the day and work later at night to keep closer to California time, where his company is rooted.

Along with this change in work schedule comes a difference in attitude. Page noticed differences in how employees approached their work. In Spain, workers tend to take more breaks to chat with each other and work at a more relaxed pace versus the hyper-focused, “get it done now” attitude in the United States.

“People in the United States seem to approach work in a very similar, direct manner, where here there seems to be a wider variation in how people approach their jobs and interact with each other,” said Page. “They tend to let their personalities shine through a bit more.”

Page also noticed a change in his relationships with other coworkers at our coworking space in Barcelona.

“Back in the United States, everyone tends to feel very strongly about their opinions, and this makes it harder to take into account the different opinions of others,” said Page. “I’ve noticed my coworkers in Spain show each other appreciation and value through actively listening and taking into consideration the differences in opinions of each other, and I really admire that.”

This change in relationships is also expressed through the differences in lunch between Spain and the United States.  In Spain, lunches tend to be longer, larger meals that offer the opportunity to bond with coworkers or family members. Unlike in the United States, it’s not typical to each lunch while working on the computer. Because lunch isn’t eaten until 2 or 3 p.m. and the workday ends later in the evening, most Spaniards don’t eat dinner until 9 or 10 p.m. Dinner is a much lighter meal in Spain, focusing more on seafood and tapas instead of the heavy, meat-centered dishes in the United States. For Page, this adjustment wasn’t very difficult, and he enjoyed the later meal times and diversity of dishes.

Despite all of the differences, Page has also noticed similarities between the cultures when comparing his office in California to our coworking space in Barcelona. Dress codes are very similar for Spanish companies and companies in the United States. Employees typically wear smart, conservative business casual every day, saving more formal business attire for important meetings and presentations.  There is also a high concentration of digital entrepreneurs and tech-savvy employees in Spain as in the United States, especially in coworking spaces.

Page is currently working in Croatia for two months and plans to head to England for month and possibly work for a bit in the Netherlands before returning to California. He has no doubt he’ll come back to Barcelona someday.

“It’s my favorite city in the world, and I love working there,” said Page.

His advice for aspiring digital nomads? Take two sheets of paper, and fill one up with what you want for you life and the other with what you bring to your company and the people around you. Then erase all but five things from those lists.

“From here, you can decide where you want to go, how you want to live,” said Page. “It’ll also give you a better understanding of yourself that will help you convince your employers of the value you bring to the company now and will continue to bring even while working remotely.”

Global Coworking has changed his life, and he’d recommend it to anyone who is able to seize the opportunity.

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