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

July 16, 2010
By Lisa Barone in 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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