You’ve probably experienced the magic productivity effects of coworking in your real life: when you’re stuck on a thorny part of a major project, or struggling to focus on dissertation research, or trying to debug a tricky bit of code, you may have found yourself packing up your laptop and heading to a local coffeeshop or coworking space to surround yourself with other busy, focused people who are also trying to get big things done. Just being in a buzzing coffee shop can inspire creativity and focus. (Side note: if you find that the background noise of a coffee shop inspires you, check out Coffitivity.)
But what happens when a coffee shop or university library or members-only coworking space isn’t available to you? Maybe you’ve moved somewhere more rural. Perhaps you’re home taking care of a kid or a sick loved one. Maybe you don’t have access to transportation. Maybe you’re avoiding surging COVID rates in your area. Whatever the reason, you can’t just pack your bag and head out for a boost of focus and inspiration.
Enter virtual coworking.
What is virtual coworking?
Virtual coworking spaces exist online to connect you to other people trying to focus on their own projects. Usually, you connect via video and sometimes via text chat to set your intentions, then work separately on your own individual projects while sharing your video (though not your work screen). Kind of like young kids doing parallel play— you’re not working on the same project together, but you’re inhabiting the same (virtual) space with a common goal of staying focused on your respective tasks. Some virtual coworking spaces match you with a single, individual partner, while others set people up in small coworking groups with a leader, coach, or facilitator.
Focusmate is one of the best-known virtual coworking apps (also sometimes called social productivity apps, or body doubling apps, or virtual accountability partner apps), but there are a growing number of options in the virtual coworking space.
Advantages of virtual coworking spaces
The benefits of using a virtual coworking space are similar to real life coworking. When you head to a coffee shop or a members-only coworking facility, you feel inspired, motivated, and kept accountable by those around you. When you’re working alone, it’s easy to get distracted and start doing a less important task, particularly when you’re working on intellectually stimulating work. But when you’ve set an accountability goal with your partner or group members at the start of the session, you feel more compelled to follow through on the goal you shared rather than going down a rabbit hole of distraction and less valuable work.
It can be demoralizing to be working at home alone if your friends or family have headed out for things that sound far more enjoyable. When you get matched with an accountability partner on a coworking app, or join a group work session, you’ll feel less alone— there are other people all over the world who are also wrestling with a thorny work project, working on their book manuscript, or trying to build their side hustle on their weekends, too.
Body doubling apps for ADHD
While virtual coworking can offer accountability and camaraderie benefits for everyone, some people with ADHD have reported they’ve found this tool especially helpful. Body doubling is the practice of doing work or chores with a companion in the room, either virtually or in real life. This practice has recently been highlighted in news outlets like Refinery29 and The Washington Post. If you browse Reddit for ADHD body doubling, you’ll find plenty of posts of people from people for whom this was an effective strategy— and others for whom it wasn’t the right fit.
List of virtual coworking spaces (aka body doubling apps): a complete guide from A to Z
Ready to give virtual coworking a try? Here’s an alphabetical list of the best virtual coworking apps (aka social productivity apps; aka body doubling apps; aka virtual accountability partner apps) to help you find the best fit.
Pricing: paid membership with free 7-day trial; currently currently $40/month or $30/month (annual rate)
Description of Caveday: “Get more done in less time in The Cave. Facilitated work sessions in a community that keeps you focused and accountable. Join thousands of members who achieve distraction-free work every day.”
Schedule of all guided sessions on Caveday (can view by time zone): https://www.caveday.org/schedule
Description of Cofocus: “Get focused, with a little help from a friend.
50 minute 1-1 coworking sessions over video. Unlimited sessions for free.”
Pricing: paid membership; currently $40/month or $33.33/month (annual rate)
Description of Flow Club: “Fight procrastination. Get your work done. Go have fun. Join committed folks in virtual co-working sessions designed to drop you into productive flow.”
Pricing: limited free tier available; full membership with 30-day free trial; currently $25/month or $19/month (annual rate)
Description of Flown: “Daily deep work sessions. Work deeply in the virtual presence of others. Expert facilitators, accountability, focus, community.” Flown also offers Portholes, asynchronous pre-recorded videos that allow you to work alongside someone else focused on their work.
Schedule of guided sessions on Flown (can view by time zone): https://flown.com/all-sessions
Pricing: limited free tier available; plus membership currently available for $9.99/month or $6.99/month (annual rate)
Description of Focusmate: “Focused. Productive. Together. Virtual coworking for getting anything done.”
Pricing: Free, currently by invitation or invite code from current user only
Description of Groove: “An accountability community for dreamers, doers, movers, and shakers. Say hello to your accountability buddies. In a 50 minute Groove, 2-4 freelancers, and creatives virtually co-work together. Doesn’t your to-do list feel shorter already?”
YouTube “Study With Me” videos
Pricing: free with ads
Description: This last option is a little bit off-book. If you enjoy the camaraderie of virtual coworking but can’t make your schedule, work environment, or time zone line up quite right, you can search for on-demand video inspiration in the form of “study with me” videos on YouTube. Study and productivity YouTubers have put together some well-edited videos— complete with music or Pomodoro countdowns— to keep you company, asynchronously, as you do your own work.
How to choose the best virtual coworking space app for you
A bit overwhelmed by the choices available? Here’s a quick breakdown of the key features of each virtual coworking app:
- Want 1:1 video pairing and flexible scheduling across all time zones? You'll prefer Focusmate, the original virtual coworking app.
- On a budget? Check out Cofocus and Groove.
- Want to work in a group with a dedicated facilitator, coach, or host? You’ll enjoy Caveday, Focus Club, or Flown.
- Prefer to work independently, but be inspired by asynchronous videos of other people staying focused on their own work? Check out Flown Portholes or YouTube “Study With Me” videos.
On mindful productivity & virtual coworking
Hope you find a virtual coworking app that's the right fit for you!