Ideas

Back to nature

It’s long been a magnet for backpackers and hippies, but with the growth of co-working set-ups, Bali is attracting a new generation of professionals keen to reset their work-life balance

Words: Matt Munday
Photography: Getty

Back to nature

If you’re going to work abroad, you might as well do it in paradise. So why not Bali? The Indonesian island’s many attractions – tropical climate, verdant landscapes, pristine beaches, serene atmosphere – might be traditionally associated with honeymooners, backpackers and yogis (and there are many), but an environment that practically forces you to slow down and live in the moment can be surprisingly conducive to getting things done.

Surrounded by lush rainforest and spectacular terraced rice paddies, the mountain town of Ubud is the island’s cultural capital, thanks mostly to its mystical Hindu shrines and temples and a vibrant and long-established arts-and-crafts community. (Bali is mostly Hindu, unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim.) More recently, Ubud has become its capital of co-working, owing to the rise of “digital nomads” – people who can work anywhere with wi-fi – and spaces that cater for them.

The main co-working setups include Hubud – a beautifully situated members’ club with a strong community focus, and Outpost – another well-resourced space whose members “tend to be a few years more into their career”, says co-founder David Abraham. “They’re beyond finding themselves; they’re making the next big step.” A third space, Roam, specialises in co-living – members work and stay in a converted boutique hotel.

You don’t have to be a CEO to live the Bali dream. A simple room in a shared house can cost as little as £120 per month (a decent two-bed villa is £600-£800; a luxe four-bed villa more than £3,000). Ubud has a sophisticated foodie scene, but it’s also possible to eat a simple noodle-based meal for less than a quid. And the island will be cheaper to reach from September, when the airline Norwegian begins budget long-haul flights from the UK to Singapore (from £179 one-way, Norwegian.com). From Singapore, you can make the short hop to Bali from £80.

Relocating needn’t be for ever. That’s the beauty of being a digital nomad. But don’t take our word for it – read what members of Hubud have to say about their working lives below.

TOG

Steve Munroe, co-founder
and CEO, Hubud

I moved to Bali with my wife and our two young sons in 2009. Before that, we worked for the United Nations for 20 years. We came without a plan – which I don’t recommend unless you have a high tolerance for stress – but we found a whole island full of people just like us. A totally random community, who were also at a transitional point in their lives: they’d sold their company, or quit their jobs, or taken a sabbatical. Somebody once called it the most talented group of unemployed people he’d ever met. So we started playing with the idea of putting them all together in one place.

We eventually opened in 2013. Our building, which used to be a showroom, is made from bamboo and recycled wood, and has a ground floor for hot-desking; meeting rooms and Skype booths in the loft, and a café in the outdoor gardens. We’re 100m from the Sacred Monkey Forest – every so often, the monkeys wander over and fill up people’s Instagram feeds. To be honest, the monkeys are a pain in the ass.

Hubud is a classroom as much as an office. We hold 350 events a year, everything from brainstorming sessions to “fuck-up nights”, where people talk about their most humiliating business failures, which is always fun.

Since we’ve been open we’ve had almost 6,000 clients, from 80 countries. People ebb and flow. We’ve had tons of people from the UK. The common thread is that they are location independent and digitally enabled. Collaborations happen all the time – people team up to launch a business. It’s my belief that what we really offer is meaningful human connection. People might not know it, but that’s what they’re here for.

Janet Keating, director,
JK Interior Design

Life here is very chilled. I get up at 7am, do some yoga or go for a walk. Then I go back to the house, shower and make myself presentable before leaving at 9.30am. Then I have breakfast, so I might not sit down to work until 10.30, but then I’ll work through until 6. Back home in Perth [Australia] there was no way I could do that as I’d be at my desk at 8am.

I first came to Ubud on a yoga break in 2014. I needed to do some work and someone said: “You should go to Hubud.” So I walked in and was like: “What is this place? Who are all these people?” That’s how it started. Every holiday after that, I came back.

As well as running my own business as an interior architect, I lecture at Curtin University in Perth. In 2015 I started teaching online. That’s how I was able to move to Ubud permanently, because I could lecture from anywhere, although my business is still based in Perth, as are all my clients. They brief me on Skype and I then draw up plans and send them over.

Ubud isn’t a place for party people. If you want to party, you go to Seminyak or Canggu. In the evenings I hang out with friends I’ve made here. At weekends we go on road trips to the beach, which is about an hour away. It costs about £35 a month to rent a motorbike. I spend my money on rent, Hubud membership, food, transport, wine and yoga – that’s pretty much it. It’s a lovely life!

TOG

Clare Harrison, founder, Start Me Up

After graduating in 2006, I spent eight years working in London, first as a financial journalist, then in market research. I tried a few different things. The job market wasn’t great, so I set up my own company doing ghostwriting work; I was also doing some freelance corporate PR.

When I went to India for a friend’s wedding, I found myself doing a bit of work while lying in a hammock in Goa. That’s when it struck me I could live a little differently if I left London permanently and moved somewhere else for a while. So I returned to India, then went on to Nepal, and eventually to Australia, lugging my laptop around and saying yes to all the client work I could get. I joined my first co-working space in Sydney, and while I was there someone told me about Hubud.
I moved to Bali three years ago.

The great thing was, I didn’t have to work many days in the month to cover my costs – which gave me time to learn new skills. There’s a lot of collaboration at Hubud: I learnt about sales, marketing, coding and website design, and helped to launch a startup. In time, I developed a completely new skill set.

I launched Start Me Up with $100 at the beginning of 2016. We send young people abroad to do one-month internships working on startups. We mentor them too. The point is to give them inspiration about potential careers, because they’re crying out for alternatives to corporate life.

I won’t be here for ever; I’ll go wherever my work takes me: Mexico in August, then the US from September. But this has been an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Roam.co: membership from £400 per week or £1,400 per month (accommodation included)

Outpost-asia.com: monthly membership from £40 for 25 hours; unlimited monthly from £180 

Hubud.org: monthly membership from £46 for 30 hours; unlimited monthly from £215