Photography: 2 Dogs
They’ve been called “new Nomadics,” “new Bedouin,” “mobile merchants,” and for the top earners, “the kinetic elite.” But to waitresses and baristas everywhere they — or we, because yes, at Geekpreneur we’re part of the zeitgeist — are simply customers. And not very good ones at that.
We sit in front of our laptops in cafes, chatting on our cell phones, surfing the Web and doing the sort of work that would once have required a fully equipped office. And we do it all for no more than the price of a cup of coffee every couple of hours.
It’s a whole new way of working and one that’s becoming increasingly popular. According to the London Times, Britain alone now has 2.4 million telecommuters, more than double the 0.9 million people who were working on the hoof in 1997.
The benefits of working in cafes are clear for people who need no more than a laptop and an Internet connection to get a job done: they don’t have to stare at the same four walls at home; they can find some of the sociability that’s lost when they wave goodbye to the watercooler; productivity can rise when they’re surrounded by other people focused on their work. And the coffee’s pretty good too.
But they have to do it right. These are the rules we’ve discovered for getting the most out of café-working.
1. Find the Right Café
Cafes work when they have the right atmosphere, and even though every Starbucks might look the same, each outlet has a unique feel. It’s important to find a branch that matches the style of your work.
There’s a difference, for example, between a café near a college filled with students leafing through books, and a coffee bar in an office building packed with lawyers writing briefs or executives holding informal meetings. The latter always makes your own work feel more serious.
And despite the convenience, Starbucks is best for the times when the Web is a distraction. Unless you can hop onto a neighbor’s line, you’ll have to pay for the connection.
2. No Chatting
One of the benefits of leaving the house to do some work is that you’ll see other regulars and maybe even exchange a few words with them. But one of the first things you discover when you work for yourself is just how much time employees waste when their hours aren’t their own.
That’s a trap that café nomads want to avoid. A nod “good morning” is fine. A quick exchange of pleasantries is polite and interesting. But a long conversation about last night’s telly is employee-talk. When you’re your own boss, it’s a no-no.
3. Keep your Privacy
When you sit in the same place every day, there’s a danger that it can feel like home. It isn’t. Even though peeking at other people’s screens is considered bad form, we all do it. A café then isn’t the place to check your bank account online, log in to Paypal or pull up confidential information. Some work is best done on your sofa.
4. Watch the Bandwidth
For the most part, the sort of Internet connection you can find in a café will let you do anything you want, even while dozens of other people are also checking the Web and downloading emails. But if you’re planning to upload your latest feature film to a video site or swap files that weight more than an elephant with a high body mass index then you might want to wait until you get home — especially if you’re using the connection in the office building next door.
If what you do makes it hard for others to do what they want to do, then that’s something best not done in public.
5. Order Regularly or Head Back to the Road
If modern nomadism has a downside, it’s the price. A daily brew might not be as expensive as office rental but it has to be paid and it has to be ordered regularly. On the whole, a cup every couple of hours is a fair rate, although you might be able to string it out longer if the place is empty and your presence makes the café look more inviting. For really crowded times though, hogging a seat for half a day and leaving a couple of bucks won’t win you friends among the workers. It’s why Starbucks don’t provide free Internet.
But watch the gold outflow (when you’re doing this daily, those coffees add up) and the caffeine intake too. The jitters aren’t great for productivity and leaving your laptop on the table while you run to the bathroom is just bad for your nerves.
6. Tip Well
The best way to be sure of a warm welcome is to tip generously. You want people to be happy to see you. In a café, that means paying them.
A good tip won’t just win you a nice smile though. It also means you won’t be bothered if you stick around just a little longer than a couple of hours. It means no one will mind when you ask them to turn down the music or lower the blinds. And best of all, you’ll always get your coffee exactly the way you want it.
[tags] work at cafes [/tags]