The message came through just as I was coming up the steps from the park to the street.

I was out of breath, having just done the sprint I like to do at the end of an otherwise slow run.

“Better be there in 15, or your pay will be docked!”

My co-worker Dominique is so full of motivating talk in the morning. As always, her message made me giggle.

“Coming …!” I messaged back.

I jogged across the street to my apartment building. A fast shower, a moment in the kitchen to grab water and coffee, and there I was, in the “office”, at 9:02.

The Virtual Co-Working Office

Most weekdays mornings, three of my consultant friends and I get together in a group Skype call.

After a quick good morning chat — similar to the one you would likely have in the coffee room in a brick and mortar office — we buckle down to work.

We follow the Pomodoro technique, in that we work for 25 minutes, break for 5, then repeat. Every four Pomodoros we take a longer break.

While in a Pomodoro, we still stay connected on Skype, but mute our microphones and turn off our cameras, so we don’t disturb each other.

One of us is in charge of keeping time, and “waking” up the others when it’s time for break.

If something comes up during the no-talk, no-socialize, just-work Pomodoro session, we use Skype’s text chat to let the others know.

Why It Works

There’s a huge difference between working by yourself at home (or wherever) and working while you know there’s a group of others who are also working alongside you.

There’s the sense of camaraderie, of getting feedback, having a sympathetic ear to rant to when you just can’t get started.

And then there’s the big one: accountability.

At the start of each morning’s co-working session, we each tell the group what we want to get done during the session.

This setting of an objective and intention is crucial, because we know that when the timer goes off for a break, someone will ask you how you got on, and whether you managed to do what you said you were going to do.

Sure, there will be times when your response is, “Nope. Ended up goofing off on Facebook, then had a phone call and then …”

But more times than not, knowing that you have to report back, like, in just 25 minutes, tends to fire a light under your procrastinating behind.

Short Feedback Loop

Weekly mastermind groups are great for accountability.

Each week during the meeting, each member commits to completing something specific by the following meeting.

The problem is that the next meeting is 7 days away, and there’s no sense of immediacy to starting to work on your thing.

More often than not, you will remember the day before, and either hustle to get something done, or start working on your excuses.

In our virtual co-working group, the feedback look happens every 30 minutes.

Hard to goof off for four consecutive Pomodoros.

It’s human nature. We get competitive at wanting to report something good.

United Diversity

I love our co-working group. For starters, everyone in it is a close friend and we have ties beyond the working group.

While the friendship and sisterhood is an added bonus, what makes the group work is actually something else.

We are all freelance consultants in some way. The actual structures vary — there’s a private practice, short-term contracts, a retainer arrangement.

Feedback comes from such varied perspectives by virtue of the different areas of expertise and the industries within which we work.

At the same time, we are united in the way we architected our work to be time and location independent, so that we could fulfill two key roles: wife and mother in an expatriate family.

The Social Connection

Yes, we are time and location independent, but we all miss the social element of being in a predictable corporate structure.

Our co-working sessions provide that water cooler chat, moral support when going through difficult patches, and lots of shared hilarious moments.

While we lived in the same city (as recently as last month – sigh), we also arranged to meet up in person a couple of times a month.

We would gather at one person’s home, and the host would be in charge of providing coffee, water and wifi. The guests would bring snacks.

These sessions always took a bit longer to get started on the working part, because it is always so much fun to socialize, especially when, as an expat spouse, you may be new to the area, and your social circle is somewhat non-existent.

Stuff gets done

The working sessions mean that you are chipping away at those mammoth projects, be it complex reports, websites or manuscripts. It eventually gets done.

Working in 25 minute increments means you MUST chunk it down anyway, or you will forever be saying, “I’m working on it.”

Being quizzed on how you’re getting on makes sure that you are advancing in your project every time you participate in a co-working session.

Having a sounding board and honest yet supportive feedback built-in is magical, because it is constructive, non-competitive, and immediate.

Basically all the good things of working in an office, minus the crazy politics and the nasty boss.

It’s Portable and Repeatable

“Anyone around and up for a Pomodoro?”

Our group has been scattered around the globe for the past couple of weeks.

Some are on summer break, others in the middle of transitioning to a new country in the next chapter of their working abroad journey.

“I’m just walking back to the hotel, and can connect in 15 minutes,” I messaged back.

It was early afternoon for me, late afternoon for another, and just 9 am for a third. Our fourth member wasn’t even connected as she was holidaying with family.

The beauty of the virtual office is that you can change the hours to suit the members, literally on a daily basis.

It helps you stay on track when everyone around you is in summer holiday mode, but you have a deadline looming.

And it gives you that familiar feeling of coming home when you log into the virtual co-working office, and those warm, friendly faces are right there, ready to dock your pay because you showed up late.

Will you join a co-working group?

Consider joining a virtual co-working group, or better yet, create one yourself.

Pick out the bits you like out of office life, and leave out the rest.

Invite like-minded individuals, knowing that physical location is no barrier.

Want a taste?   Join my Lead Magnet Creation Sprint event here.

Where shall I send the checklist?

Yay! The Checklist is On The Way.

Where shall I send the workbook?

Yay! The Checklist is On The Way.