I’ve been working from coffee shops for 15 years at this point. I’m not sure if that makes me an expert, but there’s at least SOME street cred there. To date, I’ve seen 2 marriage proposals, 4 ACTUAL marriages services, fighting couples, and countless job interviews. Coffee shops can take on all kinds of personalities, which is part of the appeal in my opinion.
And while I love working from coffee shops, there are plenty of pitfalls that can come from this type of environment. To me, the pros outweigh the cons, but let’s look at both!
Gets You Out of the House
If you’re anything like me, you have to have a change of scenery. I go crazy if I’m just sitting at home trying to be productive. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on actual work stuff, or some of my own personal sites/projects. I go crazy.
Hopping over to a coffee shop for the day is a great way to get away from your living space, and to a work space. Sometimes that’s all it takes to be more productive: getting out of your house. Not everyone is like that, but for those of you that are, it can be a game-changer for productivity.
It’s a Different Environment
In the same vein, working from coffee shops can have the benefit of giving you different work environments. Meaning, no two coffee shops are the same. Some are very urban, some are bougie, some cater to students, some have a full kitchen and bar and stay open until the early morning.
This has a lot to do with the area of city that each one is in, as well as the culture of the owner(s). Coffee shops have a way of taking on the personality of the people running it.
If you get tired of the monotony that comes from working from the same location, a going to various coffee shops can help keep things fresh.
In the decade I ran my own marketing agency, I probably pulled in at least 10 clients from conversations started at a coffee shop. It’s a very entrepreneurial ecosystem, so there’s a lot of opportunity if you’re willing to get to know other people.
Can Get Expensive
If you go straight to your favorite coffee shop after waking up and getting ready, you’re going to be spending money on food as well as your beverage of choice. Even if you go the cheap route with a croissant and regular drip, you’re still going to be closing in on that $10 mark. And assuming you’re going to be there for a workday, you’re going to need lunch at some point…
Unexpected Productivity Killers
You’re not working from home, so you don’t have everything in your control. Factors like loud music, freezing cold temperatures, no plugs, way too crowded, and on and on… This is especially true when you’re trying out coffee shops that you haven’t been to before, but can still happen anywhere.
I remember being in NYC and taking the train to a new coffee shop to try for the morning. After getting off the train and walking a few blocks to the coffee shop, I realized it was super small compared to the pictures I saw online. “No big deal” I thought, I can still make it work for a couple hours. It wasn’t until after I ordered my drink that I saw a small sign on the community table that said “please no computers, talk to your neighbor.” [sigh] I get the sentiment, and mostly agree, but come on, you know people are going to come in there and want to work.
I left and found another spot, but that scenario probably cost me a good 45 minutes. Depending on how busy you are, that can hurt. Not to mention if you have a call/meeting you need to be on time for.
To avoid these situations as best as possible, I would suggest trying new spots only when: (1) You aren’t in a rush, (2) you have backup locations that are easy to get to, (3) or you know the location very well.
Bonus: Pro Tips
There are unique pitfalls that don’t fall neatly into these categories, and general stuff that you should probably know. These are the things I wish I knew when I first started working remotely.
Be careful when you schedule calls
Very few coffee shops will be “call-friendly” for you. Even if it’s quiet enough for you to be able to talk on the phone, it may not be appropriate for a video call. Don’t be that guy that’s loudly talking at the screen. Try and schedule calls when you’re at home, working from a location with a call booth, or can easy walk outside to take it.
I tend to be more productive during the morning between 6am – 1pm, then my productivity plummets. For this reason, I generally try to have all my calls in the afternoon. That way I can still get my “work” done in the morning, then do calls. Making for a full day.
Make sure there are plugs
It has become second nature to look for plugs when I walk into a new coffee shop or restaurant. Weird, I know, but after being remote for so long, it’s just habit now. Early on I made the mistake of working/sitting anywhere, only to have to move seats or entire locations after a couple hours just to charge my computer.
My suggestion: find a seat that has a flat surface, proximity to a plug, and if available-proximity to bathrooms. That way you won’t have to walk too far from your gear when you need to use the restroom.
Coffee Shop Etiquette
Yes, there is such a thing. Noise is the biggest culprit here. People taking loud phone/video calls/in-person meetings happen quite a bit. It’s less of a problem for people like me who wear headphones pretty much nonstop, but it can be extremely distracting for those that don’t. Do us all a favor and try to be considerate if you decide to take a call inside the coffee shop by keeping it down.
Other common issues I see are:
People taking up way too much space. I remember being in a coffee shop that had a small “conference room” in it. It wasn’t anything special, just a couple chairs and a table. But some asshole was in there for several hours just working, essentially squatting so that other people couldn’t use that space for short meetings or calls. Not cool.
People bringing their own food/drink. I mean…WTF? Why would you bring your own food to a place that sold food? Even if it was something simple like pastries?! Granted, I haven’t seen this at many indie shops (it’s usually at Starbucks and the like), but when I do I’m literally embarrassed. Don’t be that person. If you’re planning on eating at some point, plan on buying it from the coffee shop.
Pick a central location
This takes on a couple different meanings. Central could mean in actual proximity to other working locations (in case you need a backup or want to roam after a couple hours), or central by transportation. When I work on the east coast where public transportation is super convenient, I make sure that I’m working from a coffee shop that isn’t too far off of the bus/train line. This helps significantly with time.
Are Your Experiences Different?
Not everyone has the same experiences at coffee shops. If you see something here that looks out of place or would like to add your suggestions to this post, let me know in the comments below!
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.