The dreaded ‘coffee shop office'

We’ve had some lively discussions in the office recently about the trend of working in coffee shops and today  — marooned by London’s tube strikes — I find myself testing it out. After spending a productive morning at home making calls, writing and generally working through my to-do list, I found myself in need of a change of venue. Not least because the table where I generally work at home is not ergonomically sound and left me with a sore neck and shoulders.

So I braved the rain and blustery wind down to my local coffee establishment, complete with free wifi and a power outlet for my Dropbox-equipped laptop.  Two lattes and a sandwich in (my ‘rent’ for the past 3 hours), I’m really enjoying it. Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve worked in a coffee shop, but past sessions have generally been fleeting — an hour or less in between meetings or part of an afternoon where I focused on one specific task.

The buzz around me is a change from the quiet of my flat and is actually proving to be a good catalyst for writing and generally getting things done (rather than the nagging feeling I should be hoovering or tidying up)! Conversations are taking place around me, but it’s not rude to tune them out and focus on the task at hand (the open plan office dilemma that we know and love). And, despite the fact that I have access to my emails, I am less distracted by them. I find myself switching between tasks when I finish one, rather than halfway through several.

For the coffee shop converts and the naysayers amongst you, here are my tips and views, for what they are worth:

Make your phone calls at home. The aforementioned hustle and bustle of a coffee shop can be great ‘white noise’ to help you focus on a variety of tasks, but its disruptive (and annoying) for both parties on a phone call.  Save these for a quieter environment – frothing milk machines are not the same as office chatter!

Make sure you’re equipped. This sounds obvious, but some laptops are more fiddly than others in setting up a wifi connection and remote working. I know it’s much easier for me to work with the files I need at my fingertips, rather than having to email them to myself, which used to be the case. Not only was it cumbersome, but there was always that sinking feeling when I returned to the office and realised the updated file was saved on the hard drive of my other computer I’d left at home!

Pay your dues.  Remember you are in a place of business.  I figure an average of one purchase every one and an half or so is suitable – it gets  you out of your chair, keeps the staff happy and guests from passing judgement about sitting all day with one cup of coffee. Move to a new chair after a couple hours just for a change of perspective.

Have a plan. Any remote worker will admit that it’s easier to focus if you have a number of actions to work through and I would agree.  As per point one, plan your coffee shop session for a time when you’re not expecting or needing to make calls and you can focus on specific tasks.

Don’t forget your notes. You may be heading to the coffee shop, but for all intents and purposes, it’s your office for a few hours, the day or whatever – remember to bring the notes you need to write that article or compose that plan.  Leaving them at home or the office isn’t helpful (not that I would know anything about that!).

People will judge you. No matter what you do and how conscientious you are, some people will tut tut the idea that you could actually be working in a coffee shop.  Unless the situation demands it, don’t advertise the fact that you’re doing it. If you’re responding to clients and colleagues in a timely manner and getting things done, they don’t need to know that you’re mainlining caffeine and typing to a background mix of Motown classics and emo hits. If they don’t ask, you don’t tell.

Have an exit strategy. When background buzz becomes a noisy annoyance and you find the idea of pastries, packages snacks and hot beverages less of a treat and more of a burden, it’s time to go.  Finish what you’re working on, pack up and head out!

On that note, I will bid you adieu.  My coffee shop office has served me well this afternoon and I’ll certainly be back soon, but it’s time to head back to the solace of my flat for the rest of the working day.

The author

Xanthe is a co-founder and director of Fourth Day PR

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