For many of us, when we hear the term ‘working remotely’, two images are contoured up: a home office and a laptop in a coffee shop.
The reason might be because these are the examples most used in online articles and as accompanying illustrations.
But how much does working for any length of time in a coffee shop reflect real life and what the the benefits and pitfalls of setting up your office in such an establishment?
Here’s my findings and recommendations. First, the potential pitfalls;
It can get very expensive
Sitting in any kind of shop for the day will inadvertently lead to the temptation to spend money. Working in a coffee shop for the day, with an abundant supply of not only coffee and tea, but also all manner of cake, cookies, muffins and snacks can be too difficult to resist!
At around £2.50 for a medium coffee it’s not difficult to spend £15 a day on coffee, that’s £75 per week! Couple this with the cost of snacks and you’re looking at a significant amount of money on something totally unnecessary.
Beware the coffee overdose
Coffee shops serve coffee. Working from a coffee shop you’ll obviously get through more coffee than you might do in the office or at home (especially if there’s table service!).
Some of the detrimental effects of drinking coffee include:
- Increased Heartbeat
If you are working for prolonged periods in a coffee shop (or anywhere really) then, other than coffee, you should be drinking water or juice as well.
You’ll be distracted from all angles
Setting up camp in a busy coffee shop, in a busy town or city, will increase the likelihood of distractions if you’re not prepared.
People watching, sounds from the coffee machines, chatter, children running around and the road or pedestrian zone outside the window will all contribute to your mind wandering and your productivity suffering.
Sit in a quiet corner and listen to music in order to reduce the visual and audible events that could draw your attention away from work.
If it has one, sit upstairs in the shop as this is often a far less bustling space.
You’ll only have one main screen!
Most of us are probably now used to using multiple screens for work. The ability to quickly and easily switch from writing an email to researching a topic on Google is taken for granted.
Just as using a touch-pad instead of a mouse seems like a burden so too does not having all the information required displayed simultaneously in front of us.
Simple tasks such as copying text from one application to another or monitoring social media become more of a chore and time consuming than we’re used to, or have tolerance for.
Utilising a mobile device in conjunction with your laptop is one way to save time and reduce constant application switching.
You could get in a tangle
Your office is probably set up for multiple devices, peripherals and optimal performance. A table in a coffee shop just isn’t.
Wires to charge your phone or laptop, your headphones cable and mouse lead are all trailing wires that get in the way, could be a hazard to others and are generally cumbersome and annoying.
If you know you’re going to be working remotely, make sure your devices are charged and invest in Bluetooth peripherals where possible.
You won’t have as much space
Unless you sit alone at a table for four or more (which won’t make you the most popular customer) you’ll not have much room to maneuver. With a laptop, phone or tablet, documents, bag etc to store around you while you work you’ll soon run out of room.
“…each employee must have 11 cubic metres of space each by law”
Using a Chromebook, Surface or similar will save space and often have better battery consumption too.
You may become the distraction!
Constantly talking on the phone, typing on a keyboard and other normal office actions can be an annoyance in a public environment.
Taking a call in a busy coffee shop will mean raising your own voice in order to be clearly heard by the other member of the conversation.
We’ve all encountered the person speaking loudly to colleagues in a public place, annoying right?!
Your laptop might not even be welcome!
Some establishments don’t cater for wireless for laptops, it’s only supplied to devices with a phone number. Before choosing to spend the day in a particular shop or chain ensure that you can use your laptop and get online.
You may not be secure
Public wireless networks aren’t as secure as your company offering and, as such, security should be a consideration and concern.
Sending sensitive documents or messages over insecure networks may well be against company policy and should therefore be avoided.
Make sure you’re aware of what the rules are before joining public wifi on a company device.
“The same features that make free Wi-Fi hotspots desirable for consumers make them desirable for hackers; namely, that it requires no authentication to establish a network connection. This creates an amazing opportunity for the hacker to get unfettered access to unsecured devices on the same network.”
It may also be the case that restriction have been put in place on your device that mean certain apps aren’t available on insecure wireless.
Check with your internal policies and IT department about any such restrictions prior to working from such locations.
Some public wifi safety tips include:
- If you’re using free wifi then check the connection terms and conditions as these should include details of how your data is going to be used.
- Stick to secure sites that have the green padlock in the address field.
- Use a reputable VPN to re-route your traffic through dedicated, encrypted servers (check with your IT department about this).
- Don’t download or install anything over public wifi
- Turn off ‘network discovery’ and ‘printer & file sharing’ when on public wifi (check with your IT department about this).
- Make sure your firewall is activated.
That may seem like a lot of negatives, however, none of them should really be of any surprise, more a consideration. There are benefits to working in such an environment too. These include:
Ambient noise isn’t always a bad thing
Background noise isn’t always a bad thing. When working on something creative, brainstorming for instance, low levels of noise can actually help.
“In a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, participants were asked to work on a creative challenge while listening to one of several levels of noise loudness. They were told to come up with as many unique uses for a brick as they could imagine (doorstop, hammer, table centerpiece, and so on). When they had to brainstorm while listening to low noise (at 50 decibels—about the noise of a typical large office), they tended to be less creative than when they worked on the challenge while listening to moderate noise (at 70 decibels—a little quieter than the sound of a vacuum cleaner 10 feet away).”
A paper from the Journal of Consumer Research found that 70 dB is the perfect level of ambient noise for maximum creativity and an innovation boost.
Sitting in your office you can probably hear a plethora of different noises, ranging from almost inaudible, such as colleagues chatting in another room, to quite loud, like the paper shredder.
Our minds are programmed to live with these noises and we find it a bit weird if we can’t hear anything at all.
Research published by the Oxford University Press, entitled ‘Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition‘, reported that employees who were exposed to a moderate level of ambient noise outperformed those working in silence or very loud conditions both creatively and productively.
Finding the right balance is often tricky as you usually have little or no control over your environment (other than to move).
You can focus
Not being surrounded by familiar people in the office you spend most days in can allow you to zone out and focus on the tasks at hand. Office banter, questions from colleagues, ad hoc meetings and general office distractions are all eradicated by removing yourself from that environment, allowing you to concentrate on being productive.
“A third of employees are distracted at work for up to three hours a day, blaming their lack of concentration on chatty colleagues, social media and even the weather.”
Turning off unnecessary notifications on your phone lets you eliminate social media distractions while staying contactable if someone really needs to get in touch. You may miss that cat video or baby photo shared on Facebook but you’ll probably survive!
Even when away from the office it’s important to maintain good time management. Make a schedule for the day and stick to it.
Change is as good as a holiday
Just be spending time in a different environment can refresh you and break the monotony of daily office life.
Commuting to an alternate location, the ability to change hours for the day and even different coloured surroundings can all have a positive effect on your morale and motivation.
Unfamiliar sights and sounds can spur the imagination and enable you to see challenges in a new light.
Coffee can be good in moderation
Too much coffee isn’t good for you but, consumed in moderation, there are benefits. These include:
- It keeps you alert
- Coffee breaks improve productivity by segmenting your working ‘chunks’
- It can reduce the pain caused by sitting at a table all day
- Plain coffee is rich in antioxidants and may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Caffeine increases your brain’s energy levels. More energy equates to enhanced memory, your ability to focus, solve problems and generally improved cognitive function, according to a Nutritionstudy.
“According to University of North Carolina researchers, sleep deprived people are more susceptible to social influences, like a boss who wants you to step over ethical lines. Caffeine can serve to give you backbone, “strengthening your self-control and willpower when you’re exhausted,” according to co-author Michael Christian.”
Knowing when to drink coffee is also important. Aim for the first coffee between 9:30 and 11:30am and have another cup between 1:30 to 3:30.
Location location location
Unless you live next door to your office it’s likely that there’s a coffee shop closer. This reduces the distance of your commute, the time it takes to get to ‘work’ and home again and probably removes a certain level of the stress associated with travelling to and from the office.
“Commuters are spending an average of 43 minutes – travelling 22 miles each way – and the total lost time is worth a staggering £148bn a year.”
Most coffee shops will also be in close proximity to other outlets, enabling you to quickly and easily leave the working environment to grab lunch.
Although there are obvious upsides to working from a coffee shop or similar venue it’s not something I would recommend on a regular basis. A purpose made office is a far better choice if you want to maintain productivity and focus.
- Charge all of your devices and peripherals prior to the day
- Make sure you have the right tools to enable you to work remotely
- Have headphones at the ready
- Choose where to sit wisely
- Restrict your coffee intake
- Be contactable
- Check with IT about public wifi options