I've been doing the digital nomad thing for more than 5 years straight now and I find that working in coffee shops works best for me.
Coworking spaces certainly have their pluses and will probably work better for those with a more structured schedule.
Below is a list of reasons I can think of where a coworking space makes more sense:
- you work full time and have a set schedule
- you need a quiet area to work
- you need to make phone calls regularly
- you need a big monitor or a second monitor (though I see people do this in coffee shops sometimes)
- reliable Internet connection
- access to a printer/photocopier/fax machine
- community and events
From this list, the only thing that applies to me is access to the community and events. I've actually signed up for coworking memberships in the past just for this reason. I would use the coworking space for a couple days a week for 2-3 hours a day and attend events.
For some reason, I prefer working in a space where there's activity and ambient noise. It helps that in many places I visit, I don't speak the local language or understand it well enough that I can easily tune out of the conversations going on around me, so those don't bother me at all.
In most coworking spaces I've tried, I simply found the environment too quiet that I actually start falling asleep. The setup usually feels too much like a traditional office to me. It makes it hard for me to get into the flow in this kind of setup.
There are definitely coworking spaces that I've tried and enjoyed that resemble more of a coffee shop setup. One that comes to mind is Hubud in Ubud, Bali. It's great because they have an outdoor area with a cafe where you can watch monkeys playing on the trees on one side and a view of a rice field on the other. They also have events multiple times a week which is a really nice way to meet people. The other nice thing is you can get a monthly membership based on hours used per month which was perfect for me as I typically only work 3-4 hours per day (and "work" here means focused work where I'm doing something on my laptop, I basically think about the business almost all the time but don't consider that work :)).
I also like to be able to change my environment and it can be fun to check out different coffee shops to work from. It's one of the things I look forward to when I visit a new city. Though if I find one or two that I really like, I usually keep coming back to them and only switch up occasionally.
The biggest downside with coffee shop-working for me, though, is the Internet connection is often unreliable. It can be very frustrating if you're in the middle of something and the connection suddenly drops. But often times you'll know within the first 15 minutes whether it will be a problem so what I do now is just tether to my phone's Internet connection right away if I find this to be the case.
I still do customer support for our app business but we only provide email support so being able to make phone calls is not an issue. I don't have to worry about potentially annoying the customers because of noise in the background or a slow Internet connection. I actually don't even need a fast Internet connection most of the time as my work mainly involves pushing and pulling code and API data. A reliable connection is more important in this case than speed.
For now, this setup works really well for me. I don't see much reason to use a coworking space but if I find something with a setup I like, memberships based on hours used, and an active community with regular events, I'd probably try it out.