Getting More Out of Coworking (and your local coffee shop)

by on 07/16/2010 • 28 Comments | Online Marketing

When I started this entrepreneur thing, I was lucky to have room to create my office. Setting side space that was “work” helped me establish important work/life boundaries. But even though I have the office, you’d been hard pressed to find me working there. I simply don’t like it. Like lots of other entrepreneurs and freelancers, I prefer working from coffee shops. Why? Because coffee shops have things that my apartment does not: Snacks, endless coffee, stable WiFi and people to watch or talk to. It’s like camp for nerds!

Over time, I’ve picked up some tricks of the trade when it comes to increasing my productivity as a remote worker. Here are some of my preferred habits. If you have any of your own, I’d love you forever if you’d share them. I’m always trying to find ways to do more.

Bring headphones

This is a no-brainer as I don’t know many people who don’t prefer to work to music. I 100 percent believe that my set list for the day determines my productivity so I choose it accordingly based on what I have to accomplish. That’s right; I just admitted that I match my playlist to my To Do list. [Please tell me you do this, too]. I also match my socks to my mood.

If you’re someone who DOESN’T like working to music, then you’ll definitely want to bring headphones to cancel out the music playing in the coffee shop. For this, I recommend using SimplyNoise. You can pick which kind of background noise you want, if you want it oscillating and set your own volume. It’s saved me on multiple occasions. The wonders of the Internet.

Curb chatterboxes

The best part of coworking/working from coffee shops is surrounding yourself with other people. Too much time alone and you start to forget you’re part of the human race. Or to, you know, shower and put on pants. Forcing yourself out and around others relieves this. However, just because you want to be around people doesn’t meant you want to talk to people. You are working, after all. For me, dealing with coworking chatterboxes depends on who they are:

  • A chatterbox you brought with you: Gently remind them that it’s “work time”. If they haven’t even taken their laptop out, remind them to do so. The good thing about chatterboxes you brought with you is that you can often tell them to shut it without someone getting too offended.
  • A chatterbox that works there: If the person who won’t stop talking to you actually WORKS at the place you are inhabiting you may have to make small talk for awhile. You are, in fact, on their turf and they’re being nice enough not to kick you out for hogging tables. Chat for a few, learn a bit about them, and then kindly remind them you better get back to work. You’ll chat again during your next refill.
  • A chatterbox at the next table: This is another time when those headphones come in handy. Put them in your ears and start bopping. It doesn’t matter if there’s music playing or not. Pretend there is. And that you are very, very consumed with it. Or stare at your computer and look stressed, like you’re trying to figure out a really complicated puzzle. Like, for instance, how Lindsay Lohan went from Disney to jail in record time.

Be selective about your space

I am very easily distracted. Like, horribly so. That means I have to be really picky about where I sit in a coffee shop. My rules look something like this:

  • Don’t sit near the door, or face it. [temperature chances, high traffic]
  • Don’t sit near the register [too noisy, high traffic]
  • Avoid power outlets [They get crowded. I have two 9 hour batteries so I don’t need the outlet. You might.]
  • No couches [carpal tunnel isn’t fun]
  • Windows are nice
  • So are corners

There’s more, but I think you get the point. Depending on how you work best (and availability), you’ll want to try and find a place that mimics your needs. My favorite place to work is on the stage area of the café two blocks from my apartment. It’s raised, away from all foot traffic, and there’s a big window to gaze out of. It’s one of my favorite places in the whole world.

Get around…but have a steady

I have a rotating list of coffee shops that I spend my time working at. Switching it up allows me to pretend I’m being social and getting out, but it also means that I’m not putting the full strain of my coworking on any one shop, which I feel is important. I know that laptoppers can sometimes be considered a burden, so I try to make it as light as I can for the places I inhabit. After all, I work there because I like them. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.

Though I rotate, there is one designated “home base” shop for me. This means people looking for me know where to find me and makes it easier to set up meetings when I have to. It gives me one public hole in the wall and others where I can hide out when I don’t want to be found.

Make friends with the owners/workers

As a coworker, you want to take time to befriend the people who work at the places you inhabit. You’re on their turf and it’s a sign of respect and good manners for you to get to know them. As horribly introverted as I am, I make a strong effort to establish a rapport with the owners of the places I visit most. Everyone benefits from friendliness and it just may help them to view you as less of a burden. It’s also means they’ll check up on you every so often to see if you need anything. Nothing’s better than a coffee refill you didn’t have to get up to ask for.

Eat & drink often

Ordering a coffee and then sitting at a table for six hours without eating or drinking anything else signals that you’re a jerk. I do my best to refill drinks or snacks every two hours, even I don’t intend to actually consume it. Arguably not the best decision for my bank account, but I want to show my support for businesses I like, frequent and raid WIFI from. It also gives me an excuse to get up and go make small talk with employees, which helps build that rapport thing again.

Also, don’t forget to tip.

Know when to go

Most coffee shops have a certain time of day when they start to get busy. For some it’s the morning, others the afternoon. Know this schedule ahead of time and avoid going during peak hours. It’s a sign of respect to not hog tables and WIFI when “real” customers are there and it also ensures you won’t punch someone in the face when they make a snide comment calling you a “squatter” or growl that you’re taking up too much room. I’m really lucky that my favorite coffee shop (where I’m currently writing this) is always empty during work hours. I get to work there as long as I want without the guilt trip, feeling like I’m helping the business bring in some extra dollars.

Don’t be “that guy”

Just a few things:

  • If your coffee shop turns of WIFI during certain hours of the day to prevent coworkers from hogging tables, don’t show up with your MIFI card and think it’s going to be okay.
  • Don’t hold large meetings in someone else’s space.
  • Don’t use the establishment as your own personal daycare center, for your kids or your animals.
  • Don’t take phone calls inside.
  • Don’t have Skype conferences inside.
  • Don’t take the biggest table possible and then scatter all your stuff

Your mother taught you basic etiquette and how to be a respectful person, keep it in mind.

Those are some of my rules and tips for working out of local coffee shops or other establishments. What rules do you live by?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

28 thoughts on “Getting More Out of Coworking (and your local coffee shop)

  1. It helps when you are a high successful web guru and make references to the coffee shop you frequent. Great PR for them and certainly increases their business.

    On the other hand, it gives your stalkers something to work with. :D

    • Heh. Okay, so I happen to mention Flavour Cafe a lot on Twitter. :) However, I don’t think the owner realizes that I tell everyone I know about it. I just do it because I love it and am really bad about not tweeting where I am and what I’m seeing. :)

      • Don’t get me wrong, I think the mentions are a good thing. For everyone. Except you when it comes to the stalkers.

        Just kidding, just kidding. Stalkers usually stay in cities bigger than Troy, NY.

        :-)

  2. Great tips… if you can get your pants on. Three ways I get my pants on in the morning:

    1) Limit your morning coffee to one cup – second one must be from the coffee shop x number of days a week. As I can’t drink just one cup in the morning without a raging head-ache later, this is great motivation.

    2) Limit your social network catch up to one or two networks, or just email. Once you drink that first cup and get through email, the pants go on. This is less effective for me, because if I find Old Spice guy, one social network could get me stuck for hours.

    3) Make a start time. This one is impossible for me to do, but in theory, I would say leave by x:30am, and just not count the time it takes to get to whichever coffee shop I’m working at that day.

    • The hardest part of working out of my house is definitely having to get dressed. Because it “delays” when I can get started and that bothers me for some reason. :) The coffee rule is a good one. I typically try to get one post written from home and then get out, simply because any morning crowd that was at the coffee shop is gone by then and I still have the whole day left.

  3. I guess it is just a part of the new economy to spend time remotely working. I read this and am commenting from my favorite coffee shop on the eastside of Seattle (zoka). I agree with the comment on making nice with the staff. In the 3 shops I frequent in seattle and the 2 the bay area that you can find me at I know almost all the barista’s on a first name basis and regularly talk with them about the coffee (I am a coffee geek at heart.) I can tell you how many free coffees and even beans I have been given to try.

    I think the biggest thing is respecting the space. I believe that you should try and leave a place better than when you came. I pick up after myself and if I have too of the less considerate members of the population.

    Couple of tips that I would offer. When you pick up headphones look at the box to figure out the noise isolating number. The set I am using right now isolate up to 26db without music on and 36db with music on and that is passive. Makes a huge difference. Secondly carry a technology dopp kit with you. I have a small bag that has a number of miscellaneous cables and tools. I can’t tell you how many times I have been the hero of the day when someone needs a cable to charge a phone or move data.

    Also outside of coffee shops there are great coworking offices that you can work in that have all the benefits of the coffeeshop with out the mommy and me groups to ruin your day. Check out Office Nomads next time you are in seattle. The drop-in rates are great and the atmosphere is wonderful.

    • I definitely gotten free goodies by being in with the staff. The owner of my favorite cafe will often use me as his guinea pig when trying out new cupcakes flavors, ice cream or anything else. It’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it. I’ve also helped him with some Web site issues he’s had so it’s a two-way relationship.

      That’s good advice about carrying around extra stuff. It’s easy enough to throw things into a laptop bag and just have them on you at all times.

      I wish the Troy/Albany area had more official coworking groups, but I haven’t come across any. As a result, we typically make our own. There’s a bunch of us that work from home so we take up different coffee shops, which is great, until the chatterboxes come out to join us.

      Also outside of coffee shops there are great coworking offices that you can work in that have all the benefits of the coffeeshop with out the mommy and me groups to ruin your day.

      I love you. <3

  4. I’ve been freelancing full-time for about 6 months now, and I can’t get into the coworking / coffee shop working vibe. I like my home office. I like my quad-monitor setup (http://twitpic.com/15d2kn), the phone, the privacy, etc. I Simply want my own space, and somewhere else doesn’t give me that. Hell, even working in private on my laptop is a bother at times. But to each his own.

    • Interesting. I can work from my home office a max of 3 days a week and then I just start going stir crazy. I need other people to talk to and to trick myself into thinking I’m at a real job. Thanks for the other side. :)

      • I am actually concerned that I could never work at another office again. I don’t like the cube or office environment and I think the integrated office makes people schedule unnecessary meetings. I want to maximize my work day not have meetings all day long.

        • I don’t miss the office and the meetings, but I do miss the social interaction and feeling like This Is Work and This Is Home. Sometimes getting out stresses the Work part of my day and keeps me more productive and on task. I mean, until I open up Twitter.

  5. After 2 years of not having a coffee shop conducive to working from, one finally opened up a few months ago. (I live in a small town that runs seasonally.)

    My first order of business was to pay a visit to the establishment and get a feel for the site and the owners. I recommended a few things to help their business, like free wi-fi.

    My second order of business was to write a positive review of their business for the local food blog site and post a link on their Facebook page and mine.

    Third order of business was to patronize them regularly before laying claim to my corner table.

    I tweet about them and check in on Foursquare often, i introduce local freelancers to the establishment. I also get free cookies for my 4 year old because I am such an awesome customer. I think it’s only right that we do what we can to support those who support us.

    • I totally agree, which is why I’ll order things I have no interest in eating or leave a big tip for their allowing me to hang out with them for a day. I think it’s important that you show your respect to the places you hang out at and work from. Even on the days I work from home, I’ll walk to the local coffee shop and buy lunch from them. I try to give back as much as I take.

  6. I make it a point to learn everyone’s name, get to learn one or two facts about them – like if they have kids, how old, their names – and every few visits, ask “How are Jacinda and Little Louie doing?” type questions, show I genuinely care…

    When we take the time to really show respect at the human level, it goes a long way. Like nowadays, when I walk in, even if it’s been a month since my last visit, not only do they have my Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte already waiting by the time I get to the counter, every once in a while, that 1st one is no charge. :-)

    By the way – thanks for the SimplyNoise suggestion. I just started using it while reading this and it’s awesome! The Pink noise with oscillation makes it sound like I’m at the beach. :-)

  7. I usually work from home 1 day a week. That day is usually my most productive day. Depending on the work I’m doing that day, typically design, my laptop screen is too small. I find my focus is often better when I’m working in a coffee shop or bar though.

    Thanks for the heads up on Simply Noise. I downloaded the iphone app. I really like listening to Low Mercury, a Groovera stream, when I work.

  8. Good job Lisa! Some great tips! I spend a lot of time in various Seattle coffee shops and cafes. This post solidifies and jives with my experiences. ahhh reinforcement :) I’d say my steady is Uptown Espresso in belltown, but i definitely enjoy changing things up a bit, going to different locations. That was part of the inspiration behind why i created CafeWorkr.com.

  9. I’m with Norcross. I much prefer working at home away from other people. It’s quiet, comfortable, and I control the environment. Sure, there are distractions, but I think that’s true of any workplace, actually. I’ll also echo Jeremiah’s sentiment about “the mommy and me crowd.” The less exposure I have to that, the better it is for all involved.
    But there are also good distractions, like my dog coming over and giving me “The Look” until I set the laptop aside and take him out for a walk. He’s also my fuzzy therapy when I’m having a stressful day. One hug and I immediately feel better. If any of the local places would let me bring my dog with me, I’d think about giving them some business. :-)

  10. Great article.

    I like to work somewhere the staff can see you and/or relatively close the the restroom. It helps me feel safer leaving my stuff for a bathroom break.

    The guys that crack me up at cafes are the ones that come with printers, external monitors and keyboards. Believe me, I’ve seen it. I’ve even seen a guy with a printer while sitting at a table outside a cafe (they had outdoor outlets). Such ridiculous scenes.

  11. Great common sense tips, Lisa. I have tried to work in a coffee shop, but I just can’t filter out all the distractions. I work at home, ’cause my wife and daughter give me the space I need.
    Like Michelle’s, though, my dog has his own priorities.

  12. Hi Lisa

    Your article *almost* makes me feel guilty for NOT working in a coffee shop when I can but I adore my little office at home, and the nearest coffee shop is 4 miles away and…and…

    I must admit that I don’t really miss the buzz of having people around me in the day – I have a lot of contacts that I can discuss things with, bounce ideas off or generally let off steam to via the internet and Twitter keeps me in touch with current, and hopefully future, friends and colleagues so I never feel that I miss out on interaction.

    Thanks for the tip about SimplyNoise – I absolutely cannot work in silence but sometimes the radio or music seems too intrusive when I need to concentrate. White noise may be the answer.

    Carla

  13. Thanks, great article, really good, real-world tips.

    I have a friend who owns a coffee shop and she had a guy that would use her shop to work and meet clients. He’d be there for hours taking up a table (she has four tables) but WOULD NEVER BUY ANYTHING, and neither would his clients. One day one of the baristas just began asking him and his client “are you ready to order yet?” every few minutes until they went away. He was “one of Those guys” (where I come from they’re called “clueless jerks”)

    I would recommend using a locally-owned shop instead of one of the chains and developing a relationship with the owner where you introduce new customers to their business and they maybe put out promotional materials for your business. Don’t just “not use the biggest table”, but make an effort to use the smallest table possible, and if you entertain clients there INSIST that they let you buy them something (small price to pay for keeping the owner happy) and maybe even give them a gift card to the shop to get them to come back.

    If the owner and workers know that your’re going to be a profitable (and tipping) customer, they’ll do all they can for you to keep you coming back.

  14. I’ve learned the Skype lesson the hard way. In NYC, it can take as much as a 1/2 hour to an hour to get anywhere. I didn’t leave enough time in between appointments, so what did I do? Found a coffee shop that was quiet one minute and then crowded within 10. I had to mute myself and used the chat feature to communicate when needed.

  15. Great article, Lisa!

    I am a coffee addict and entrepreneur. Meetings are always held in coffee shops and just to keep things fair, I have 3 specific cafe’s as my choice picks. Each cafe is at a different end of my county – west, north and south. Also, each one is a different coffee company. This allows my clients to choose not only a location that works best for them but also the type of coffee they prefer.

    Of course, my local coffee shop is my base of operations when I am away from the home office. They have a great space and the people are very friendly. Plus, I like to support my local area. It is a win-win situation.

    Your article did have me think a little more though about the “ethics” with using cafes as a base of operations. Normally I don’t stay for more than a few hours and also purchase items throughout my stay to not look like a squatter. As always, you never want to overstay your welcome and I think your post highlights that beautifully!

  16. I’m doing the opposite LOL! I’m getting out of the house to “network” and get to know people, as I have spent 10 years working from my home. It’s awesome to have the flexibility, but getting out and talking to real human beings is very important. At least for me now :)

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