The Rise of Split as a Co-Working and Digital Nomad Destination

Total Croatia News

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Photo credits - Pete Volich

June 5, 2018 – There has been a gradual rise in the number of foreigners moving to Split in recent years. Co-working spaces are the new thing, and many of these new arrivals are digital nomads. I wanted to do a feature piece on it on TCN and reached out to digital nomads and co-working space owners on a Split expats group last week. The first answer, from Tanja J Polegubic, was very comprehensive and more in-depth perhaps than my planned feature, so it seems reasonable to publish in its stead. Originally from Canberra, Tanja moved back to her Croatian roots in January, 2017. 

Why did you choose Split?

I chose Croatia, due to my connection to the country (citizen).

I chose Split due to its coastal location and the number of internationals compared to the other coastal towns.

I was looking for the Med lifestyle and proximity to the sea. Also, to base here to move forward with investments in the region – my own, and attracting other investors.

My work allows me to work remotely, so I opened the first Saltwater Workspace to a) give me an office and b) allow others to come through to connect, get work done and have a go at operating my first business. So far, so good!

I opened the first space as a “test run” last July. It is boutique, has 5 seats in the main space, a meeting room and private office option for rent.

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(Photo credit – Hani Salama, Amalas Studio d.o.o.)

I opened the second space (which is larger with 18 seats and a meeting room) last month, after beginning to receive an increasing number of enquiries from Digital Nomads and corporate groups looking for a “Workation” in Split. I didn’t open because it was a money-maker. It’s still far from that. It’s because the second space became available after 30 years of non-use and is in a location which was too good to pass up. It needs some time to break even, so hopefully your attention on the issue (and potential) of Split as a remote working destination can help! As well as spurring the city and Tourism body to do more.

I want to note – my members are a mix of “Remote Workers” and “Digital Nomads”.

How does reality compare to your perception?

Yes, I still consider Split is a great decision, as it is evolving and has the ability to fulfill its potential as a place to live and work while still keeping international connections and retaining the all important ‘fjaka’.

It was a slow start, also in part due to my main work commitments. The first space was more of a Side Hustle for me, and I saw it gain momentum in January, so I took a chance on Space Two. It’s not often two central locations like these come up. Since opening, we have had two regulars (Croatians) working in our first space since December 2017 (locals) and a slow trickle of digital nomads – here for a few days, a month or more. They are here with partners and families. US, Australian and UK visitors to Split.

The second space is not even a month old, and also starting to gain momentum with companies looking to base here, either long term or for a staff ‘rewards’ so this is also proving true to what I believed would happen when I opened.

We cater for business looking to set up before making the full commitment and the overheads a full office needs – so I expect more of this to start coming through. Also, I don’t just offer a space, I can find and fit out spaces now. Have done it twice within the last year! 🙂

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How are co-working space options/ease of interaction and meeting of other digital nomads?

I hope they are good, as I opened two!!

Each of the spaces in Split offers a different style, price point and vibe – as well as proximity to attractions which a visitor will come here for. Getting around by bus or walking in Summer can be trying, so it’s UBER or SELF DRIVE. Saltwater is geared more to those staying in the centre, looking for a quieter space, and events which locals can attend and benefit from. What our members love are the bars, restaurants, Riva… stroll to Marjan and quick ability to find someone to explore with or soundboard an idea with. This is very easy, especially for the solo traveller.

Recently, more women are starting to come through, perhaps because I am a female founder. These are solo travellers or those with a property in Split, needing a place to get work done. (Printing, conferences, the “loneliness cure”, etc).

I find people are looking for advice on where to go, eat, etc. It is a way to get your work done – but also get the local ins and outs of the city – from the perspective of the locals, as well as other nomads who have encountered the same issue (eg. where to eat, do laundry, etc). We also invite members to excursions and activities from time to time. Eg. we went to pick grapes at a local vineyard last year, with a 3 course Varenik meal afterwards. We also play “Expat Soccer” (myself included) so this is another option – access to the Expat community, and also people with Croatian heritage.

This is something which I am seeing more of – people of Croatian heritage being referred to me, as I have that Australia-Croatia connection. Those with mobility are looking to move to Croatia, or invest here, and a cowork space is a good way to meet people working here, ask questions, especially if your job can come with you – which it now can. Or, what I consider an even better option, explore what business you can start here – and have the “instant community” to support you in your endeavour. You don’t get that in a hotel or alone in your AirBnB apartment. 

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Events and collaborations are key to a space as they build community.

Almost every event held has seen a connection take place and be followed through – not just among the nomads – but the locals, which is very important to us. An example is a few young ladies coming to an event last year on remote working for EU freelancer week. These were 4-5 young women frustratingly working in tourism (seasonal) and it was the first time they heard of the concept of a VA (Virtual Assistant) so I consider the spaces enable connections and exposure to ideas for Split, not just for the nomad, but for the local (which is my goal).

I partner with Go Be Here, a group specifically for women who are working while travelling. The first member came through last month, and walked into an “instant community” and had a local liaison to assist her in getting around.

Companies are looking for alternatives to the ‘sterile’ hotel meeting room offer, as cowork spaces are hubs with local contacts and more – something. Soul? Companies are picking Split for the recreational offer, not necessarily for business contacts, so it’s important to promote this aspect (something the City and Split Tourism should do). I struggled to get us (all coworks!!) listed on the Split Tourism website. I was told NO until another cowork owner, a local, made the call. (This should be in Q.4).

Saltwater co-hosts a monthly “Split Biz” meet up with Amosfera. We invite local business owners to talk about their experience in business. There are other tech meetups, but SplitBiz started to offer an alternative to Tech topics. (Which are also great, and we support these – partnering with Shift and the Split Tech City team – and more recently, the Women in Tech group). 

Events are important, and are on a range of topics. We have covered writers, academics, coffee experts, culture groups, City of Split staff. More workshops are in the works, I am just balancing it with my ‘day job’ (that’s actually a night job while running an office space).

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What does Split need to improve to make the city more appealing to digital nomads?

I answer this from the perspective of a cowork space manager:

More local council support for the spaces – especially for women.

I am a member of the European Creative Hubs Network (EHCN) and attended their campus event in Brussels this January. 10% of the EU’s economy comes from the creative industry, so the EU parliament is looking at how to support this sector. What’s important is support from local council, which to date I haven’t had a great experience with. I had to explain what a cowork was. I stopped trying after that. Instead, we will take it into our own hands, forming a body together, either Split specific, or under the umbrella, which we are all under. It is just a stretch to get this underway, as I’m managing two spaces, working as a consultant and trying to fit in “fjaka” – or else, what’s the point in being in Split.

Also – I believe there is more room for coworks, and the city could position itself better as a place to come and WORK (live or visit) even in the non-Summer months. Goodness knows there’s enough accommodation available at that time! The city should do more to promote this as a destination for remote working- and assist existing and future coworks.

It’s not “The Future of Work” – it’s already here. This IS Today’s Workplace. The city should see this, it’s touted as the next Lisbon – but the barriers are in accommodation and even knowing what these spaces can do – and that workers and businesses are increasingly using hubs as their office/meeting/small conference alternative, as it’s lower overheads and ‘instant community’.

Accommodation pricing in the peak is an issue. Groups want to come in the peak season, and can’t afford or have to share a space. I believe Berlin capped rent due to its influx of coworkers. I am exploring a co-living coworking option, which may or may not take off – and I wouldn’t do in Split, but outside. Watch this space for Saltwater III “rural edition”.

I have a mentor who was a community manager at BetaHaus Berlin, so I have discussed strategies on what to do about forging ahead as a grassroots business. These spaces are all created from scratch by me – from the financing to the furniture selection. There’s no US company behind it, or govt funded – but I hope there will be support from the city or women in business perspective, in order to improve the offering, such as workshops for local – youth, senior, etc.

The ‘nomads’ coming in can bring in knowledge exchange and cross-pollination. Coworks are trying to just keep above water as we also rely on the ‘seasonal’ traffic – it’s the outside months that the City should recognise can make this place more year round. But no – instead I go in and have to explain what a cowork space is, and justify why people don’t just work from their hotel rooms. Perhaps in 5 years it will be a different conversation. Groups like Split Tech City and the Shift Conference team are helping – but that’s tech. I would love to see more Smart Ag, Bio, Wellness and other innovative practices come from this city, and launched from these spaces!!

Your verdict on Split as a digital nomad destination (from 0-10) – advantages and disadvantages.

9/10. Would be 10 if accommodation options were easier in season and the city supported or subsidised programs to bring in workshops.

Otherwise, there is everything here you could need – and if it’s not here, you can start your own business to deliver it (out of a coworking space, to boot!).

Learn more about Tanja’s co-working space at Saltwater Split


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