Header

Freelancer Moving to Prague? Consider Coworking

September 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Guiri Guest | Work and Employment - (Comments Off)

Guiri Guide Guest: Will Bennis, owner Locus Workspace

***

Locus Workspace

Are you a freelancer, entrepreneur, writer, or other independent worker thinking about making Prague your home, at least on a temporary basis? Wondering how difficult it might be to set up shop and create a productive work environment for yourself in that foreign city? Joining a coworking space—a shared, community-oriented, work spacecan make this challenge easier than you might think.

I own and run Locus Workspace, one of Prague’s coworking spaces that is particularly oriented toward Prague’s expat community and to solving the work/life challenges that group most often faces. While I can’t present an unbiased picture of Locus relative to other coworking spaces in Prague, I can tell you a bit about the coworking movement, about why I wanted to start Locus Workspace, about some of what makes Locus special, and about some of the resources available to learn more about coworking and the options available in Prague.

What is coworking?

The term coworking (as used here, without the hyphen) was coined in 2005 by Brad Neuberg, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and coder seeking to bring some of the benefits of a traditional workplace (the community, resources, and structure) to freelancers and other independent workers, without requiring them to give up their independence. In his own words from his original blog post in 2005:

Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community. Coworking is a solution to this problem. In coworking, independent writers, programmers, and creators come together in community… Coworking provides the “office of a traditional corporate job, but… Even though each of us is doing separate work, perhaps programming or writing a novel, we can feel each others presence, run ideas by the community, or take breaks together at the “watercooler.”

Neuberg’s idea didn’t take off in its initial conception, but with contributions from other people who supported the idea and were active in the open-source movement—most influentially Chris Messina and Tara Hunt—the concept caught on. They set up a coworking wiki and a Google group (initial with just a handful of people looking for the first permanent coworking space), and they set down five basic values that guided their project: collaboration, community, openness (in the sense of transparency), accessibility, and sustainability. Six years later the Google group now has more than 3,500 members, the wiki has more than 3,000 contributors, there are more than 800 self-identified coworking spaces around the world (including three current and three more upcoming spaces in Prague), there’s a dedicated online coworking magazine (deskmag.com), and there are several coworking-space finding services and apps (see, for example, loosecubes.com, deskwanted.com, desksurfing.net, or liquidspace.com).

Not all businesses that identify as coworking spaces embrace the five values noted above, and many spaces with similar values and idea existed before the coworking movement got its name or momentum, but the general idea of shared workspaces for independent workers who don’t want to work alone has caught on (under the rubrik of coworking) and is spreading rapidly around the world. For independent workers seeking to get started quickly, effectively, and affordably in a foreign land, coworking spaces provide a powerful tool that was unavailable until less than a decade ago, and in Prague until just over 2 years ago.

Why start Locus Workspace?

I wanted something like a coworking space for doing my own work but couldn’t find anything like it. I had been working toward a Ph.D. in a discriminating graduate program (that largely left the project of writing one’s dissertation up to the students after they had finished their initial course work). I was struck by the relative frequency of previous-high-achievers who were struggling for years to finish their dissertations, and also had several friends from outside academia who had gone the freelancer route who were similarly struggling to achieve, not for lack of creativity or intelligence or skill, but for lack of motivation, discipline, and clarity of vision. I was beginning to struggle with my own enthusiasm for my dissertatation and did not want to fall into the same rut I had seen so many peers fall into. At some point I concluded that it was largely in the nature of the non-structured work environments themselves. Much as Neuberg wrote in justifying his idea of coworking, there is a clear appeal to working independently, to creating things that have personal meaning and value rather than working on things you because it’s your job (that’s why most of us had chosen this particular graduate program), but it’s also damn hard to stay focused and motivated over an extended period once you take away the externally defined expectations, incentives, and disincentives common to traditional workplaces. The problem seemed to me to be largely at the environmental rather than individual level, and there seemed to me to be an incredible amount of lost human flourishing as a result.

In 2007, with the good luck of having a friend describe a potentially profitable version of this kind of business and an agreement with my wife that we would move from Chicago back to Prague, a city that I thought would be perfect for coworking for a number of reasons, I began to think seriously about setting up this kind of business, and soon after discovered the term coworking already existed and seemed to be getting ready to take off. By the time we finally moved to Prague at the end of 2009, it already had its first coworking space, Coffice, and a second much larger space was in the works as part of the Hub franchise. But by this time I had a pretty particular view of what I wanted for a coworking space which none of the other spaces provided, and I was sold on the idea of coworking as something that could thrive in many shapes and sizes as long as each individual space was of high quality. Locus Workspace might succeed or fail, but not because there were other coworking spaces in Prague, any more than a new Sushi (or pizza or Thai) restaurant would succeed or fail because there were already some other restaurants in Prague, or even some other Sushi (or pizza or Thai) restaurants. Just the opposite might be true: for a coworking space (or a restaurant) to succeed, there needed to be enough of them for people to know they exist and to see their appeal.

What sets Locus Workspace apart?

There are two domains that I think set Locus apart from other coworking spaces around the world, not just Prague, and a third that are more like a checklist of good features, some of which some other spaces have, but which together few have. I already mentioned the first domain above: Locus is particularly oriented toward Prague’s expat community and to solving the work/life challenges that group most often faces. The language of the space is English, there are Czech (and English) lessons offered on the premises at intentionally low prices. The approximately forty members come from more than twenty different countries, and all of them have gone through similar challenges regarding what it takes to successfully live and work for oneself or a foreign company in Prague. And there’s a solid base of contacts to service providers often needed by independent workers, whether they be lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, or potential partners. There are also a number of Czech members who find value in this international community and can help bridge the gap between expat and local.

The second domain concerns Locus’s commitment to building an environment that helps bring out people’s best. The Ph.D. I eventually received was in Human Development, and my particular area of research emphasizes the interaction between culture, environment, and cognitive processes in how people think and behave. The idea of creating a social-cultural and physical environment that brings out Coworking.com people’s best is directly in line with both my passion and expertise. There’s still a long way to go in this domain, but a big part of Locus’s emphasis on the social stems from an understanding of how important human social interaction can be to well-being and performance. Locus has regular events, like weekly afternoon coffee breaks, poker and movie nights, and occasional outdoor adventures to help break down barriers and help those inclined to get to know one another a bit. There are regular early morning tea meetup for those who want some concrete commitment to get their day going right. We’ll soon begin weekly meetups for writers, just to sit together, check in with goals and how things are going, and then write like mad. There have been and will continue to be talks or workshops on how to most effectively set and manage long-term and short-term goals, how to effectively deal with procrastination, and time management. And there is a commitment to ongoing education and training to help people excel and feel a sense of mastery in their own work.

Finally, there are several more practical features of Locus that each on its own is not so special, but that together make Locus a great coworking space. It is just 50m off Wenceslas Square, about as central for walking and public transportation as any location in Prague. Members get their own keys with 24-7 access so it’s possible to set working hours that suit your needs. The space itself has top-quality office furniture and infrastructure, ample natural light, and beautiful interior design that’s hard to beat. Locus is a member of the coworking visa program, an agreement across hundreds of coworking spaces around the world to let members of those spaces use each others spaces (for a limited number of days depending on the space).  The prices are hard to beat, with unlimited 24/7 access for as little as 3,000 Kč / month, day passes for as little as 300 Kč / month, and a few options in between. Most importantly, there’s an amazing group of members from around the world who care about and contribute to the space and make it what it is far more than the space managers could hope to do.

How can I learn more about coworking, especially in Prague?

A great resource for finding out what coworking spaces exist in Prague is also the best resources for learning about coworking spaces around the world: the space directory of the Coworking Wiki. Check back often because at least three new spaces are slated to open in the near future. Coworking has received an incredible amount of press across a range of prestigious newspapers and magazines, so you can learn a lot just by searching Google for “coworking” alongside your favorite daily newspaper or business weekly. But nothing can beat trying out a few different workspaces for a day or even a month to see if its the right fit for you. Mention this article and you can work in Locus for a day for free. And I’d be happy to point you in the direction of the other coworking options in Prague as they suit or don’t suit your particular needs. By virtue of location alone, Locus isn’t for everyone, and there are some great alternatives to choose from!

Teaching TEFL in Prague

September 8th, 2011 | Posted by admin in Education | Paul | Work and Employment - (Comments Off)

TEFL Courses/Jobs

If you are a native English speaker then you have arrived in Prague (and the wider Czech Republic) with a valuable commodity which can earn you money. If you think of how widespread English is spoken around Prague, just think that at one time or other that person probably had an English teacher. This gives you an idea of how widespread the demand for English language teachers is here. There are several ways to enter the marketplace and this really depends on your aims and objectives. Are you looking to make a few crowns to supplement your income or or are you looking to make a living from it? This is an important consideration as there are differing requirements. At this point it it worth mentioning that a career in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not the path to riches. Some wags disparagingly call it ‘eff all’ as this is precisely what you earn! Somewhere between the two lies the truth. If you however are looking for job which is somewhat out of the ’9-5′ treadmill and like meeting lots of people you will onto a winner.

Teaching English with no TEFL qualifications

If you are looking to teach English as a sideline then you don’t really need any existing qualifications as such. If you have a teaching qualification that’s all to the good. Try putting postings up on websites and cards on noticeboards in supermarkets like Billa or Albert.

Many Czech students may already have reached a good level of English and may just want to practice conversation and polish their pronunciation or iron out habitual mistakes.

If you don’t have a TEFL teaching qualification then this is where you should be possibly aiming.

Even teachers with TEFL qualifications don’t for example usually teach Czech students who are absolute beginners, they tend to be taught by Czech teachers who can provide first language support.

Teaching English with a TEFL qualification

The TEFL teaching sector in the Czech Republic is a mature one, nearly a generation having past since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The market is more or less divided up between some major players and a host of small language schools. Major schools include Caledonian, James Cook Languages and Presto. Whether you work for a large or a small language school they will almost definitely require a TEFL language certificate such as CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or equivalent. Whilst not mandatory an undergraduate degree might help. Additionally, any previous teaching experience is helpful even if it is not TEFL related.

You are probably best to approach language schools with a prospective email, attaching your C.V./resume. If they are interested the likely recruitment procedure is one or two interviews, which include a language/grammar test and teaching a mock lesson.

Getting a TEFL qualification

If you would like to teach TEFL in the Czech Republic there are a host of providers which can be located via internet searches. CELTA and other courses are usually carried out over four weeks and are very intensive. So hear again a word of warning. Make sure you really want to do the course as you will be spending a whole month doing it and it will cost you a fair amount of money. So don’t do one on a whim. On the positive side once you have it you are are a qualified language teacher and can teach TEFL not only in the Czech Republic but in many other countries. A teaching certificate though does not make you a fully rounded teacher, this is something that comes with time and practice. Each teacher develops their own personal style and approach to teaching.

Some useful websites

www.tefl.com

www.cactustefl.com

Guiri Guest: Arian Alexander Danilovic

I moved to Prague four years ago after an exciting string of job assignments taking me to Russia, S. Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan and the USA. Having grown up in a number of cities across North America, I was looking forward to settling down in a city, getting to know it and become a part of it. It’s become clear that Prague was the right choice for me and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

***

Office in Koněvova street (Responsible for Prague 1,3,6,7,8,9)

If you have read my previous post about the Non-EU citizen process for obtaining a visa, you will know that it’s not a walk in the park. Luckily, for citizens of the 27 countries within the EU, the process is very straightforward and relatively painless.  As an EU citizen, you are allowed to reside and work in the Czech Republic on an indefinite basis, with or without employment. Quite simply, your primary responsibility is to go to the Foreigner’s Police Department (Newly the Ministry of Interior) and register yourself in the Czech Republic.  To do that, you will need an address in the Czech Republic (Signed and notarized by your landlord / owner of the flat) and proof of Health Insurance from your home country. 

As of January 2011, there were many changes concerning the legislation and overall organization. In general, it has become much harder for non-EU citizens to reside and live in the Czech Republic;  The process of issuing foreigners resident visas has been taken over by the Ministry of the Interior and the Police Department only has a supporting role; Offices / locations have been re-organized and assigned based on your residence in Prague.  However, the process itself and supporting documentation itself has not changed fundamentally.  

The location I visited is located at Koněvova 188/32 in Prague 3, Žižkov (Responsible for Prague 1,3,6,7,8,9).  The trick here is that there are two entrances, one for EU citizens and permanent residents and one for first time applicants from non-EU countries. As you approach the building, you will likely see an unimaginably long line of people outside who are waiting under the supervision of some police. Luckily, if you are an EU citizen or permanent resident, this line is not for you. Be very happy.

Interestingly, the entrance is titled ‘Služební Vchod’ which translates into English as ‘Official Entrance.’ Don’t worry about that, trust the little EU flags and follow the signs. Once you enter the main room there is a ticket dispensing machine that will provide you a number. Lines here are always reasonable and the staff is polite and helpful (so long as you are also polite). You should be able to complete your registration within one hour.

Please remember that anytime you have a status change – marriage, change of address, etc., be sure to let the ministry know ASAP.

The following two links are both official and very helpful in terms of getting the latest information:

Information for Non-EU citizens here.

Guiri Guest: Arian Alexander Danilovic

I moved to Prague four years ago after an exciting string of job assignments taking me to Russia, S. Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan and the USA. Having grown up in a number of cities across North America, I was looking forward to settling down in a city, getting to know it and become a part of it. It’s become clear that Prague was the right choice for me and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

****

Koněvova Office Building - Žižkov

Paperwork, bureaucracy, long-lines and early mornings… I’m obviously not writing about a day out with the family! However, this subject is of critical importance for all of you who wish to reside and work LEGALLY in the Czech Republic. I’ll take you briefly through my experiences from the 2007 – 2008 period but please note that the rules are complicated and do change often. Make sure to check out the sites provided below to ensure that you are working with the latest information.

Key recent changes I would highlight are:

(i) annual temporary resident visas are no longer issued. Looks like six months is the maximum.
(ii) most responsibilities have been transferred to the Interior Ministry and are no longer with the Foreign Police.
(iii) degreed professionals should have an easier time with the “blue card” system.
(iv) the requesting party must appear in person (no more Power of Attorneys via agencies)

For those of you (like me) who do not have an EU passport, the process is slow and confusing. Mentally prepare yourself for a lot of stamping, signing, queuing and general frustration. When applying for your first resident visa you will need to make the application outside of the Czech Republic. This will likely be at the Czech Embassy in your home country but there are some cases when you can make the application at the embassy in a neighbouring country. Before making your application, you will need at least the following documents:

(i) Work Permit (Your future employer must obtain in on your behalf. Plan on roughly six weeks.)
(ii) passport
(iii) completed application form (you can get it at the embassy)
(iv) clean criminal clearance from your home country and last country of residence. 

Koněvova Office Building: Entrance for Non-EU Citizens
In general, my experience at the Czech Embassy in Austria was very positive and far better than the subsequent visits to the (then) Foreign Police Department in Prague. After taking up residence in the Czech Republic your future contact centre will be the location of the Interior Ministry that corresponds to your address. For most Prague residents this will be Konevova 188/32 (Prague 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9). There are separate entrances here for EU & Permanent Residents or Non-EU temporary residents (refer to pics). The key note here is that you need to start the visa renewal process about 90 days before it expires otherwise you will run out of time.

As a general note, remember that any changes to your status (marital, children, new passport, address etc) while resident in the Czech Republic need to be duly reported to the authorities.

The following two links are both official and very helpful in terms of getting the latest information:

Information for EU Citizens and permanent residents here

Good Luck!

Stravenky for lunch in Prague

March 21st, 2011 | Posted by admin in Food and Restaurants | Guiri Guest | Work and Employment - (Comments Off)

Since graduating in July 2008, Guiri Guest Nikki, has not stayed still for more than 5 months; travelling to China, Gambia and South America. She decided that it was about time she ‘settled’ and took up a 10 month teaching post. Why Prague? Nikki needed to be close to home to help run a project from the UK but still wanted to experience a different culture. Czech culture isn’t that dissimilar from British culture but its bustling beautiful streets give her the sense of adventure she’s always trying to achieve from life. Nikki a person that needs a constant change of scenery and even though you can see the main sights of Prague in a weekend, she’s still discovering hidden gems having lived in the city for 6 months.

****

The Czech Republic has come a long way since the days of communism. However there are traces of its influence left in their attitudes and in the work environment. One of these give away signs is Stravenky: instead of giving workers an extra allowance, some companies choose to pay employees their meal allowance in lunch vouchers. By using these they don’t have to pay tax or health insurance on them.

Here are a few pointers that will help you on your merry way when you’re flustered at the till in your local potraviny or supermarket:

  1. Only some places accept them; look for the stickers ‘Ticket Restaurant’ in the window/at the till to prevent, as my friend put it, looking poor unnecessarily.
  2. You’re not supposed to buy alcohol with them. It’s certainly possible, but be prepared to meet the same look you’d get from paying with a 1000 Kc note for some gum.
  3. If using them at Billa you can only use five at a time. My friend considered it a moment of victory when he convinced the shop assistant to accept 6. I don’t consider it worth the hassle in the already flustered state that Czech supermarkets always seem to put me in.
  4. Getting change back is intermittent, it’s normal to get 10Kc or so back but more than that is pushing it.

This is the logo you will see displayed everywhere Stravenky are accepted. Click here for more information and alist of places that accept them in the Czech Republic.

Don’t forget you can also use these in pharmacies and some restaurants. If all else fails claim ignorance as some Czechs don’t know when/where to use them either.

UA-21678522-1