Travel

Meet the Nomad Championing Flex Work for Women

Nicole Vasquez co-founded Deskpass to be able to work from anywhere.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLE VASQUEZ, DESIGN BY GRACE HAN FOR THRILLIST
PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLE VASQUEZ, DESIGN BY GRACE HAN FOR THRILLIST
PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLE VASQUEZ, DESIGN BY GRACE HAN FOR THRILLIST

Nicole Vasquez was drawn to co-working spaces from the first time she stepped into 1871, in her hometown of Chicago. “I loved the energy, the buzz, the look and feel of the collaboration happening before my eyes,” she says. It led her to start a co-working space of her own in Chicago, later co-founding Deskpass in 2017, a membership-based service which links subscribers to 700 co-working spaces in over 21 cities across the US (think Classpass, but for desks and meeting rooms). It includes filters for finding specialized spaces, like those women- or BIPOC-owned, or spaces that feature mothers’ rooms.

As a digital nomad who’s been working remotely for over five years- including some memories of working from her car in between meetings, “borrowing” Wi-Fi from various Starbucks – Nicole has become a staunch advocate for flexible work: the ability for an employee to choose where they work, on a schedule that works best for them. She’s especially passionate about the benefits of flex work for women, BIPOC, and other minority employees. We spoke to her about the increasing importance of flex work as people ease back into office life, post-pandemic, and scored some tips on how to actually get work done when you travel. (Important: always have snacks.)

Thrillist: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about flex work, which is especially relevant right now. What do you see as its benefits?
Vasquez: Ah, there are so many. I can give you a story touching every single aspect of human life. But I think the lofty thing is that it allows workers to create their best life on their schedule. One guy told me that he felt like a better dad because of flex work. He was able to go into a workspace, focus, get work done, and save time by not commuting all the way to his company office. And then when he went home, he could be a better dad because he wasn’t distracted by unfinished work.

A woman told me that she actually lost weight because she was able to go into co-working spaces and pack healthy lunches, instead of buying food from her company office or snacking too much at home. And my husband, who worked in a busy office, really loved his co-workers but they would pop into his office [and distract him] all the time. So he actually started using Deskpass to work remote a few days a week. He was so productive and didn’t secretly hate his co-workers.

Why do you feel flex work is particularly important for women?
Vasquez: Whew. Topics like this are close to my heart. Although the balance is changing, women still tend to be the primary caregiver in the household, so having flexibility around when and where they complete their work prevents them from feeling the need to decelerate their careers, or even leave the workforce altogether.

And another thing is the benefits for women who are breastfeeding. A lot of companies just don’t have adequate mothers’ rooms. And so flex work allows women to work from home and pump comfortably. Most co-working spaces actually have mothers’ rooms set up-or at least something better than a company bathroom stall. On Deskpass we have a mothers’ room [search] filter.

And there are definitely also benefits in being able to choose female-focused coworking spaces.
Vasquez: I’ve been to more than 400 co-working spaces around the world, and there’ve been a few times I’ve walked in and it’s like, 40 tech dudes not used to having women in there. And it doesn’t happen often, but the fact that it’s actually happened a few times in my life was like, okay.

I think these female-focused spaces are a great addition to the industry. I was talking to a friend who had just joined EvolveHer in Chicago (an event and workspace dedicated to advancing women professionally), and she was like ‘honestly, I got sick of getting hit on in workspaces. I’d be sitting and some guy would be googling me. I love it here: I even dress up before I come in, and women compliment my outfits.’ Women are more likely to network when it’s a safer environment. Co-working spaces in my opinion are one of the best places to expand your business or expand your network. But as a woman, approaching a man often can feel worrisome of how it will get construed.

Getty
Getty
Getty

We let go of a lot of norms in 2020: like shaking hands, wearing pants, and (most importantly) working in an office. You’re no longer tied to a commute – so why should you be tied to one place? Enter: Landing, the startup that’s reinventing apartment living. Thanks to its network of fully furnished (and unfurnished) apartments across the country, you can have the freedom to live (and work) practically anywhere. With perks like a 24/7 online member support, fast and easy lease transfers, and waived security deposits, you’ll have more flexibility than ever before, too.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez
Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez
Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez

What do you see as the benefits particularly for BIPOC employees and other minorities?  
Vasquez: As a person of colour myself, I feel that people have to have work environments where they feel safe and supported at all times. In general from an industry perspective, black, indigenous, and people of colour at tech companies are still unfortunately underrepresented. Which means they are unlikely to have the same experience at the office as their white counterparts, and are more likely to feel discomfort and disconnection at work or with their teammates. So a trend that I’m really happy to see is the rise of shared workspaces and social spaces specifically for people of colour, like the Mox.E in Chicago, Black Dot in Seattle, and Space Called Tribe in Miami.

Flex work also allows BIPOC employees to choose a workplace in their own neighbourhood, or in a neighbourhood whose demographics match their identity. Another benefit is that seeing people who are successful that look like you is a great inspiration. Again, I think the freedom to choose is key in finding the best environment.

How does Deskpass work for companies, as opposed to individuals?
Vasquez: Technically a company can say, ‘hey, here’s access to 700 workspaces across the nation.’ But a company could also say, ‘we just want to pick the workspaces that are in New York, or in Brooklyn,’ and they could actually customize it to match their corporate culture and what their employees are looking for.

Companies recognize that flexible work works. Not only can employees be productive, but they enjoy doing it. A lot of companies still have all their employees at home, and they don’t know if and when they should return to the office. So we have a lot of companies using Deskpass right now to give their employees access to professional workspaces near home.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez
Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez
Photo courtesy of Nicole Vasquez

You have been a roamer for a while. Do you have any personal tips for balancing time while working remotely on the road?
Vasquez: I have four tips: Be realistic, be prepared, stand instead of sit, and take breaks.

So, be realistic: I learned many years ago that working from a beach or pool doesn’t work. Your legs get sweaty, you can’t even see your laptop screen, so it’s not the glamorous “oh, I’m working from a pool in Bali.” To be a nomad, yes, I work from exotic places-but during the day when I’m actually working, I’m indoors, on the Wi-Fi, connected to the electricity. You have to work from somewhere you can actually be productive for eight hours a day and be professional and maintain your job.

Be prepared: every seasoned digital nomad knows to keep everything you need in your bag. Not just your chargers, but like, a refillable water bottle, lots of snacks, hand sanitizer, napkins. A sweater or a scarf. Because if you’re sitting there like, ‘oh my gosh I’m so hungry, I’m freezing, now I have to leave,’ you can’t get any work done.

Standing instead of sitting: enough said. Stand. And then, take breaks. Definitely throughout your workday, but if you’re one of those people like me who travel and work at the same time, at least take two to three full days off per quarter.

What has been your favourite place to work remotely?
Vasquez: I was in the Dominican Republic last week and we’d go surfing in the morning and have kite surfing lessons at the end of the day. But during the day, no joke, eight hours a day, we’re sitting inside. It was a beautiful view from the inside looking out, but that’s the thing: I really wasn’t tempted. I’d be in a bathing suit working, sure, but no one needs to know that.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.