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Saturday, June 22, 2024

How to Cowork Remotely With Friends—or Strangers

For reasons that we’re all aware of, working remotely from home is now far more common than it used to be. That brings with it plenty of advantages, but also a few challenges, such as the need to stay motivated and on task when there are no colleagues around and so many distractions just a click away.

To try and tackle this problem, some people are turning to strangers on the internet—strangers who will sit with them, connected over a video call, while both parties study or work or do whatever needs to be done.

It may sound like a bizarre solution at first, but it works better than you might think. It adds a low level of accountability without much additional effort. If you’re sharing your focus session with someone else, albeit silently and simply, you’re far less likely to be tempted by an afternoon nap or an hour of binge watching.


Focusmate is one of the leading services in this particular field, connecting you with another user on the same service so you can get stuff done. You can get up to three free 25-minute or 50-minute sessions per week by registering an account on Focusmate, and unlimited sessions are yours for $5 a month.

All you need to do is tell Focusmate when there are free slots in your schedule, and it’ll match you with a partner plucked at random. There’s no small talk and no collaboration involved: Once you’re connected with each other, all you have to do is share the task you’re working on and then get to it.

According to internal user surveys carried out by Focusmate, 93 percent of people who’ve used the service say that it helped their productivity. Even if those users are somewhat biased, that’s still a high figure—it’s at least worth trying out for free to see whether it helps with your particular way of working.

As long as you’ve got a camera and a microphone on your device, you can use Focusmate. It works with Chrome on the desktop and on Android, and with Safari on the iPhone and the iPad. 

Life At Spaces

Life At Spaces takes a slightly different approach, and the coworking video session that works in a similar way to Focusmate is just one part of what Life At Spaces does. There are other aids to productivity included here, such as desktop spaces to manage your mood, ambient music to keep you focused, and a to-do list tool as well.

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As far as remote working goes, there’s a way of inviting other users into your digital working space to further concentrate your mind. You don’t get any of the advanced scheduling tools or partnering technology that Focusmate offers—you need to invite someone you know—but it may work better for you.

You need a mic and camera to use the feature, and you’ll be given an email link that you can pass on to one or more coworkers as needed. It’s really up to you how you use Life At Spaces—in terms of how long the sessions are and how you use them—and there’s plenty of flexibility built into the platform.

As we’ve said, there’s lots more to explore here as well, whether that’s putting a soothing background on your laptop while you work, or using a Pomodoro timer to schedule your working sessions and your breaks. You get certain features (including 15 minutes per day of coworking video chat) for free, with a premium account costing $9 a month.


You don’t necessarily need to sign up for a whole new service to work with other people in this way: You just need some video calling software like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet, and someone to work with, and you can set up the connection and the work session yourself.

Of course you miss out on the automatic scheduling features of something like Focusmate, but if you’re organizing everything yourself, then you’ve got full control over how everything runs—whether that’s the person signing up with you or how long the session lasts.

We would recommend agreeing ahead of time how much time you’re going to spend working together, and how much interaction there’s going to be—find something that works for you. Focusmate advises people to keep the small talk down to a minimum, but then again, they are putting strangers together, and you might prefer a different set of rules.

One benefit of self-organized coworking video sessions is that you won’t have to pay anything extra for them. One-to-one video calls and even group video calls are usually free for an unlimited time on most video platforms.

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