Ups and downs of bringing your work to the coffee shop
'There is only one effect coffee shops have for sure: they are rough on your skeleton. The chairs are designed to be sat on for half an hour – not all day'
I’ve just Googled famous people who work in cafés, and at the top of every list is JK Rowling.
I am sitting with my laptop and a mug of coffee at a tiny table. An identical table is right behind mine and every time its occupant moves, I get jabbed in the back. The cash register opens and closes. The steam machine hisses. Welcome to my new office: Starbucks, Highbury Corner, north London.
Until now, I’ve never had the slightest desire to bring my work to a coffee shop. My children swear it’s where they do their best work. Luke Johnson recently wrote a column in the Financial Times saying they are perfect places to start a business. If the alternative is the kitchen table, then I suppose Starbucks has something going for it. But for those of us with free offices, I can’t see the big draw.
Last week, I read two articles that changed my mind. First, a blog post in Fast Company arguing that we should all periodically decamp to cafés as the break to routine makes us creative, and the absence of colleagues makes us productive. The second was a piece in the New York Times saying that the background sounds in coffee shops are so conducive to work that they are being piped into office buildings as white noise.
So this morning I set off for my new workplace. The commute was a dream – four minutes by bike. Some of the time saved was lost queueing for coffee, but when I got to the front and parted with £2.15 for a “tall” cup of beige milk, I felt pleased with the bargain: it comes with an unlimited side order of table, chair, WiFi and electricity.
“Do you mind people sitting here all day over one coffee?” I ask the woman at the till. “No!” she beams. “I like it. They keep me company.” It’s a rum business model. The argument goes that people with laptops look cool and give the place a buzzy atmosphere; I can’t imagine that I look any cooler hunched over my computer than my bald and paunchy neighbour looks hunched over his. In advance, I’ve been doing some homework on how best to work in a café. You might have thought it is easy: get coffee, sit down, open laptop, work. But no. There’s a whole page on WikiHow about the “coffee shop experience”, advising clothes that are “comfortable but elegant” and that you sit far from the door and the till.
I settle at the only free table and remove the previous occupant’s squalid litter. The background noise is quite nice - both upbeat and soothing. The foreground noise is less so. A mobile goes.