The article originally published by Sophie Seepra on her blog: Where is Zebra?
Hong Kong was always somewhere on my bucket list- I simply liked the name. So because I’m not tied up to any particular place and deciding on my next remote office location is pretty much like throwing darts on the map – I gave it a try. People who’ve been there already were mostly focusing on two aspects of the city telling me more or less: “amazing and very pricey”. But how the Hong Kong co-working scene looks like- nobody knew.
I started my research after I bought the plane ticket – the decision was made and there were no excuses. A friend advised that the best area to stay in would be Tsim Sha Tsui – more casual, with vivid nightlife, not too high end like the Central Hong Kong island. One evening of Airbnb searches resulted in a cosy, clean room for a reasonable price – 260usd per week. This apartment had a TV and a bathroom – just no desk or another spot to place my remote office. Why? Because the whole place with the bathroom altogether was squeezed into…12 quadrat meters. Welcome to Hong Kong!
After Myanmar where WiFi was almost a luxury new place delighted me with a very good internet connection – in my room. But that was just an easy beginning of a very bumpy road through Hong Kong co-working scene.
No money – no honey
First step: I googled some co-working places and next contacted them explaining what I do. I said, that because of the research on various co-working places I’m doing, plus the fact I’m gonna be in HK only for a week, I’m interested in just one day pass.
Good thing- most of them replied. Bad thing – daily passes didn’t exist.
When they did, the price swept me off my feet. Guess how much you have to pay for a one-day hot desk in Cocoon? That includes literally a place to sit and a wifi connection. Ready? Forty-five US dollars. For this amount of money in Thailand, you can use co-working space, rent a motorbike, book a cheap place to stay, have dinner and a big night out and a massage in the morning.
Next spot that popped up from google researches on Hong Kong co-working was WeWork, where daily passes were unavailable. A lovely lady explained to me that I can always pay for a whole month and come just for one day. OH REALLLYYYY? Girl, I suppose I could even pay for the whole year. Twice! And never show up!
(but maybe next time)
Third time lucky
The third spot I found researching options for my remote work was a Paperclip co-working campus. I couldn’t believe my luck- they were offering 2-day free trial. Amazing! Not waiting any second longer I messaged them telling what date and time I’d be coming over. Just in case if they were interested in this information. A day later I started receiving their newsletter I never signed up for, so I figured out that I’m by all means invited to explore their manor!
The Paperclip Campus was located on the third floor of a shiny building in a maze of posh and glossy streets of Central. Even with a crazy GPS fails I experienced in HK, I didn’t face any problems with finding the place.
Knock-knock, who is it?
An elevator door opened in front of me a warm light wooden space and the “office atmosphere”.
– Hi, I came for a 2-day trial pass. I proudly announced to the guy behind the counter.
– Hi….- he replied looking very surprised, even perplexed. I kinda started thinking that with my fails-skills I was in a wrong place or I definitely made a serious faux pas.
(I’m actually writing this article on my phone now, coming back from Cheung Chau island, where I went jumping accidentally on a wrong ferry. 2 hours of an unplanned journey! Fortunately, this wasn’t the one to Macau – one pier closer – and, fortunately, this wasn’t the last one, so I’ll be in my bed tonight. But – yes, the fail factor runs through my veins like blood).
– Youuuu….run a co-working space and as I read on your website you offer a 2-day free trial pass..? – I continued.
– Yes, we do. – (phew, what a relief) – Did you register?
– What’s your name?
The guy looked down, then started for a moment into my eyes as if I was a browser and my email was about to pop out from there. Deciding he won’t find it in my pupils he just pointed on a hot desk (long counter with tall chairs), gave me wifi password and said: “please, sit”.
I sat down, opened the laptop and started doing my job but also, I was still hopefully waiting for the guy to show me around. Desk options, private rooms, coffee, water, toilets- whatever! After an hour I realised that I can wait for eternity and nothing is going to happen. Also, my hopes for meeting some like-minded digital nomads disappeared like a smoke of a cigarette. I was given a spot, a connection, I should be satisfied. I couldn’t help but wonder: how do they even gain new clients? The answer was the most obvious one: prices. As I learned later on, for this location, cleanliness and quality, the place was a real bargain. Even with its always daydreaming Man From Behind the counter who at the end, to emphasise his level of scatterbrained nature, offered me a key to the male bathroom.
What else can I say about the paperclip? Open only till 7:30 pm, which for me was kind of a deal breaker (that time I worked 3-11). Second thing: Very quiet. After co-working on Thai islands, I was hoping for a more laid back atmosphere. But it clearly appeared that this Hong Kong co-working space is not a meeting point for travelling digital nomads. This is the place to sit down, do your thing, don’t mess around and leave. Period.
Some of the rooms are permanently rented by startup companies, so maybe, that’s another reason why Paperclip is not that sociable- the companies do not “diffuse” with random visitors.
Anyways, as for a Hong Kong and free trial that was a very good option, but I didn’t know it when I resigned from the second-day trial and started testing my luck in various cafes.
I come to Starbucks only to plug in.
As an experienced digital nomad I’m familiar with the fact, that Starbucks cafe is more of a hub for MacBook users than a cafeteria. Works for me. I decided that if I was given 45usd I’d rather spend it on coffee than a desk rental. One cup is about 25HKD (4.5usd)- oh dear lord! 10 lattes in one day- that sounds like a heart attack! I don’t need more than a half of it!
From what I saw in my life so far, Starbucks was always well equipped with numerous plugs located almost under every table. Also, the wifi was just free of charge and available for everyone (that’s why you could sometimes spot people leaning against the glossy cafeteria’s window just using the internet not even entering the place- let go buying some coffee).
In Hong Kong, it’s an absolutely different story. The location I’ve chosen was next to the Quarry bay- I simply wanted to take advantage of the place and shoot some pictures in my lunch break. The cafeteria turned out to be tiny and packed with people. Plugs? Fairly present. I’ve noticed two: one next to a regular kind of table occupied by a man who looked like he was never about to stop charging his iPad. Second, behind a tall rounded table with a tall rounded chair- a set that sitting in for a couple of hours and work sounds nearly suicidal.
I sat down next to the window praying for my battery to be as efficient as Lenovo claims. Unfortunately, Starbucks in Hong Kong is not familiar with an unlimited wifi- 30min (long enough to post on Instagram and nothing more) and you’re out your connection. To have some more: get some coffee, sandwich, whatever. 8 hours of work equals 16 “somethings”- if these were about to be coffees….then I wouldn’t like to be in your body.
(but- still better story than CoCoon)
If you still claim, that Starbucks is your dream place to work go to the one in Albion Plaza, where you’ll find more sockets and, arm yourself with a solid data plan to set up a hotspot.
This is the droid you’re looking for!
The following day while walking around the Sneakers’ Street trying to take some pictures and spend some more money I accidentally found a real pearl : bright, quiet, spacious cafeteria with many tables, a counter just like the hot desk in Paperclip campus, unlimited (medium quality) wifi and- very cheap, as for HK coffee and other delicacies. Located on the B1 floor on Jordan Street, Main Street Cafe was so far my best shot. Unfortunately, once again, I wasn’t lucky enough to find any sockets, but I walked in well prepared for this circumstance and fully charged.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere there and also the simple fact that it wasn’t packed like crazy with hipsters rushing in and out. So I was sketching there my fantasy heroes with an old wrinkled Chinese gentleman sipping his espresso on the opposite side of the counter. Oh, be prepared that a walk to the toilet there is a real excursion: first, you proceed to the register and ask for the key. It’s adorned with an almost a4 cardboard with red TOILET on it. Next, you parade to the very second end of the venue, among every single table, proudly carrying your toilet sign. The same on your way back. Just so that everyone else knows where were you, for how long and how many times. They probably don’t even pay attention but still- the TOILET BOARD made my day.
It’s (still!) a kind of magic.
If you’re still dying to see this city and you’re not scared of the Hong Kong co-working situation- that’s great! Because this place absolutely stole my heart and every now and then I felt as if I wanted to hug it. To embrace my beautiful HK with its skyscrapers and crowded streets.
Just consider some simple things:
- Don’t go there for too long – working this way may become very tiring;
- Check if the place/Airbnb in Hong Kong you’ll be renting is big enough and furnished with a desk so that after a half day in cafeteria you’ll be able to work from your room, where not only sockets will be present, but also connection will be stable, fast and, unlimited;
- Before going to work at a cafe – take a look. In HK tiny spots sometimes a place proudly called by google maps “a cafeteria ” will be nothing more that a 1 meter counter with a barista and express machine attached;
- Power banks, hot spots;
- Of course, if you’re a nomad with an unlimited amount of cash to spend – there’s nothing to worry about 🙂