Would you pack up your desk to become a 'digital nomad'?

Go troppo: The author Anna Hart reclines at work

Go troppo: The author Anna Hart reclines at work Photo: zissou.com

Typing these words, my forefinger sticks sweatily to the trackpad. When I glance up from the screen, I see steam rising from the neighbouring paddy field. As with all workplaces, there's a steady hum of white noise: coffee being brewed, group meetings peppered with jargon such as "touch base", "reach out", "loop back" and "incentivise".

But Hubud, aka "Hub-in-Ubud", Bali, isn't a conventional office. It is a bamboo and wood building with an outdoor organic cafe and a pretty garden dotted with beanbags - and monkeys because it is just 100 metres from Ubud's famous Monkey Forest.

For everyone who has ever come back from holiday and wished they could have stayed, I am living the dream - and working in paradise.

Australian Cate Hogan left her marketing career to become a writer and book editor.

Australian Cate Hogan left her marketing career to become a writer and book editor. Photo: zissou.com

This is one of a rapidly increasing number of co-working spaces in the town. Here freelancers, sole traders and small companies rent desks and share facilities such as printers and coffee machines. But even within this hip realm, Hubud is an outlier - and one that its 250-strong community believes is the workplace of the future.


It is part of a trend that sees more and more jobs becoming portable, possible to do at a digital distance - not just web designers and freelance writers but fashion designers, models, photographers, marketers and even a remote-working GP.

If going it alone in a co-working space is the first step towards freedom for the growing number of young professionals, phase two is complete "location independence", also known as "digital nomadism".

Mona Motwani swapped the law for e-commerce in Bali.

Mona Motwani swapped the law for e-commerce in Bali. Photo: zissou.com

If all you need to run your business is a laptop and a Skype headset, why put up with pollution, traffic and high rent when you could open your laptop in Thailand, or Bali - and move on to another hot-desking set-up and Airbnb rental when you get bored of the view?

In his book The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich, Timothy Ferriss paints an intoxicating picture of a new generation of sun-kissed, barefoot entrepreneurs.

Ferriss's "new rich" are business owners and freelancers who leverage their independence from a fixed location to indulge in travel and adventure - which they prize more highly than material possessions.

It is true that travel remains an aspiration for members of Generation Y like me (those born between 1980 and 1995), and technological and financial circumstances have conspired to give us portable, lightweight lives.

In 2012, the digital-share analyst Mary Meeker identified the "asset-light generation", who access documents, music, film and other media digitally rather than in a material form, alluding to pillars of the sharing economy such as Airbnb, Uber and Spotify as evidence that young consumers are increasingly concerned with "access" rather than "ownership". Which is handy, because ownership, especially of homes, is increasingly a pipe dream. So what are we hanging around for?

To find out if digital nomadism is all it is cracked up to be, I waved goodbye to my husband and set off to try it out for a fortnight.

Bali, and Ubud particularly, has attracted writers and artists for centuries - Charlie Chaplin, H G Wells and Noël Coward were guests of the German painter Walter Spies in the 1930s - and from the 1980s onwards fashion designers from Australia, America's west coast and Britain have set up studios on the island. The Australian designer Alice McCall has worked between Bali and Sydney for years, while Katie and Millie Jackson, the British designers behind Angel Jackson bags and accessories, divide their time between Indonesia and London, with pieces hand-made in their Bali atelier.

But if the first wave of semi-permanent expats were bohemians, the most recent influx are MacBook Air-wielding digitally savvy independent workers. Hubud's founders, a Canadian video journalist, Peter Wall, and Australian Steve Munroe, who worked for the UN, belonged in this category when they met in Ubud five years ago.

Both have young families and had been attracted to the area by the prestigious international Green School founded by Bali residents of 30 years, John and Cynthia Hardy.

As with all good ideas, Hubud was born of necessity. "We were all doing our own freelance thing from home, and it just wasn't that much fun," says Wall. They set up Ubud's first co-working space with investment from 25 founder members, installed super-fast broadband and began hosting seminars and social events to create a sense of community.

"And then these digital nomads started showing up," adds Wall. "We never expected to become a centre for location-independent professionals, but we have."

Two years on, Hubud is moving to larger premises - the bamboo theme stays, as does the raw-food cafe - with plans to open more spaces elsewhere in Asia.

I slip into my Balinese routine with ease - yoga at 7am, a hemp smoothie for breakfast, a raw-food lunch, slinking off at 8pm for dinner. The time difference can be a plus or a minus. Many members keep Australian or British office hours so Hubud is open all night. For me, the time-zone difference means I am still receiving work-related emails after midnight. Rather than being distracted by massages and swimming pools and jungle hikes as expected, I find I work longer hours. Yes, it is perfectly possible to screw up your work-life balance in Bali, too.

This wasn't my first foray into digital nomadism. A few years ago I funded our six-week honeymoon around south-east Asia by working intermittently as we travelled. I didn't mind the occasional morning holed up in the hotel room or beach hut conducting interviews by Skype because for us, it meant we were able to afford a long, decadent trip, and I'm a mild workaholic anyway.

But six weeks of that lifestyle was enough for me. The freedom to work in exotic surroundings is thrilling, but it quickly becomes isolating, uninspiring, lonely and - depending on the internet speed - frustrating.

At Hubud I am surrounded by people who pay membership fees (between $20 and $250 per month, depending on internet usage) for similar reasons. "Spending all day in a hotel room is not living the dream"; "I found myself getting depressed - even at the beach"; "I need a physical divide between my working day and my downtime." As Wall puts it, "People come to Hubud for the internet and they stay for the community."

Stay five months in Ubud and you are aristocracy: the average tenure of a digital nomad in any one place is shockingly brief. Some are on long-term travelling sabbaticals and plan to move on to a Thai beach in a fortnight, while some come every year to dodge the winter in New Zealand, Canada or Sweden. And it is certainly an eclectic community: rich techies from Silicon Valley, broke hippies launching social enterprises, yogis, Bitcoiners, traders.

I would never have guessed that the paleo-obsessed, yoga-honed, Eat Pray Love-inspired New Agers would have near-identical lifestyle requirements as ambitious, money-driven techies, but in Ubud the two worlds have synergised beautifully.

When they say, "Tao came over and we did some work", it might mean they thrashed out the business plan for their start-up, or it could mean the tantric dude came over to clear their chakras.

And the list of portable professions is growing. Dani Gordon is a Canadian GP and early adopter of virtual telemedicine. She runs a clinic three days a week, seeing patients all over British Columbia via a Skype-like secure video platform.

"Patients are screened by an assistant beforehand and I get them to upload high-resolution images of skin rashes, for instance," she explains.

In Canada, where many communities are remote and there are insufficient doctors, patients have been quick to embrace technology which enables them to see a doctor without driving for 10 hours. "They love it because they get to see me from their own home, and I feel like I provide more thorough care [because I can] link to online resources - like food, sleep and mood diaries and YouTube videos - than in person-to-person encounters."

Still, Ubud hasn't been dubbed "Silicon Bali" for nothing. TedxUbud, the local chapter of the video-conferencing phenomenon, is in its fifth year and initiatives such as Livit and Tribewanted - boot camps for start-ups which offer accommodation, office space and meals - are thriving.

The original digital nomads were enticed to idyllic destinations such as Bali, Chiang Mai and Hanoi by the exotic surroundings, the low cost of living, great food, warm weather and the dream of getting healthy on yoga and coconut water. Ubud differs in that professionals are now coming specifically for the accelerator programs and mentoring sessions - a booming industry here.

Given that Gen Ys are predicted to change careers every three years, there is a lot of money to be made by capitalising on career crises. Hubud is partnered with the adult education company TurnPoint which offers residential courses in everything from coding to new-business mentoring.

As in many expat communities, bonds are rapidly forged and carefully nurtured. Everyone I meet is warm and welcoming. Mona Motwani, a former civil and human rights lawyer in the US, moved to Bali a year and a half ago after contracting Lyme disease and finding her job wasn't conducive to her recovery. With the help of an entrepreneurship course at Hubud, she launched her own e-commerce company selling wellness-oriented travel accessories such as an eye mask that is now a top-rated product on Amazon.

Cate Hogan, who quit her marketing career in Sydney in 2013 to become a writer and book editor in Bali, is now making more money and with far lower living expenses. "In Ubud you find people who would never generally socialise together in the 'real world', but necessity and shared values make us a tight-knit bunch," she says.

"You have to be when living overseas. Only recently a friend came down with dengue fever, another with typhoid, yet another had a motorbike accident. We look after one another and use our network to cross-promote and support each other in business, too."

I've always known that travel is good for the soul, but this experience has convinced me that it can also be good for your CV. It is liberating to know that if I ever felt stuck in a career rut, there's a bamboo desk waiting for me - provided I could persuade my other half to come with me.

But I'm not tempted to abandon our life. You could find you simply trade old irritations (rain, commuting) for new ones (mosquitoes, homesickness). You don't need to be in Bali to reassess your priorities, overhaul your lifestyle and rethink your career; opportunity can be found much closer to home.