7 tips for working out of coffee shops

I realize I don’t have a normal work schedule. My “typical” day consists of working out of a combination of my car, coffee shops, co-working spaces (I’m a member at CoCo in Minneapolis), my home and client offices. But, since I spend a decent amount of time (by choice–more on that in a different post) in coffee shops, I’ve noticed that more and more corporate and agency people are spending time there lately, too–working, not socializing.

As the workplace continues to “shift” (follow the #workshifting hash tag for more), we’ll most likely see more of this–not less–in the years ahead. In fact, some agencies (look at the Fast Horse model locally here in Minneapolis) are already there.

So, since more people are using coffee shops as workplaces, and I spend a bit of time there, I thought I’d share a few tips for what’s worked for me in the last few years and how you can make sure you’re as productive as possible when you’re “out of the office.”

Tip #1: Find the outlets

You know the guy who walks into the coffee shop and is immediately looking at spots along the floor boards, quietly roaming the room? Yeah, that’s me. Don’t be that guy. But, you need to be sure the coffee house you’re working in has ample outlets. So, make sure to note which coffee shops have more than one outlet. After all, no outlet means, no power cord. And no power cord means a dead laptop. Don’t get caught with a dead laptop. Quick productivity killer.

Tip #2: Make friends with the baristas

If you plan to spend a decent amount of time at one particular coffee house, start talking with the baristas. You can only benefit by befriending these folks. They can and will: 1) Offer you special deals from time to time, 2) Give you free coffee, if you’re remotely nice, 3) Help you with other ad-hoc questions and issues as they pop up. For advanced coffee shop workers: Reach out to and make friends with the manager. Make sure he/she knows you on a first-name basis.

Tip #3: Invest in some killer headphones

I used to think this was a age-specific tip. But recently, I’ve noticed more 40-plus-year-olds wearing phones in coffee shops. Which is good, because I turn 40 in August and I don’t want to be the only 40-year-old wearing Klipsch phones in my coffee shop. Good phones tune out all ambient noise around you. And believe me, there’s a lot of ambient noise in a coffee shop. You need good phones. Once you have those, make Pandora your new BFF.

Tip #4: Never leave your stuff unattended

Seems like an obvious tip, but believe me, I’ve seen a number of people leave Mac laptops unattended for 5-10 minutes at a time. Sure, you’d probably be fine. But, why risk it with employee/client data likely just a few keystrokes away? My rule: Take your bag with you EVERYWHERE. To the bathroom. To the car. To the other side of the store, in some cases. I take zero risks here. And I’m sure my clients like it that way.

Tip #5: Know where the bathrooms are located

If you’re going to spend an hour or two in a coffee house, chances are you may have to use the restroom. Make sure you know where they’re located. And, in some cases (Caribou Coffees in Lunds/Bylerly’s) they can be tough to find, so this isn’t as obvious as it might sound.

Tip #6: Don’t rely on the free wi-fi

Even though many coffee shops offer free wi-fi, I’ve learned (the hard way) not to count on it. For many reasons. They forget to “turn it on.” It goes in and out. Or, in some cases, some shops just don’t offer it (for free, at least). Not to mention, it’s not always safe. So, always go in having a “plan B.” My-Fi devices are a good idea–but, they’re spendy, and unnecessary for most folks who only work remotely a day or two a week. I’d recommend using your phone as a hot spot (that is, if you have an iPhone 4). I just upgraded my iPhone package to add a personal hotspot last year–problem solved! It’s an extra $20 a month, but SO worth the extra dough. It’s come in handy on MANY occasions to date.

Tip #7: Don’t take con calls at the coffee shop

Believe me, I’ve tried. But taking conference calls in the coffee shop just isn’t a good idea. Number one, it’s fairly rude to those around you (just my opinion). It’s also rude to those on the phone, as coffee shops are very loud and I know that comes through on the other end of the line. You can try bluetooth devices. Headphones. Whatever. It’s still loud. And you’ll always have a tough time hearing the folks on the line. And, worse yet, they’ll have a tough time hearing you. Don’t do it. Save your calls for the office (or, the car).

What about you? Do you work out of coffee shops from time to time? Any good insider tips to share?

Note: Image courtesy of Moyan Brenn via Flickr Creative Commons.

17 comments
flem
flem

Thanks! it's been very useful.

AHalbers
AHalbers

@jacqsays I totally read that as "working out IN coffee shops" - like, tricep dips at the counter or something. Haha.

sunayna
sunayna

Enjoying your post at a coffee shop! Another thing that's worked for me is to check the 'Tips' under that location's foursquare profile. Often people will comment on best place to sit, how many and where to find the outlets, any issues with wifi and most importantly state of their bathrooms. Cheers

martyjthomas
martyjthomas

Haha.. Ya. I'm that guy immediately looking for outlets. In Chicago I might have to go to 2 or 3 coffee shops before finding an available one.

Given the increasing popularity of coffee shop workers.. I have always thought it would be a good idea to create a "private" or "urban country club" typo of coffee shop. Something in-between a public coffee shop (with no outlets), and a co-working space.

bvincent
bvincent

Arik--great tips. Question for you. Are you running personal hotspot on VZW or ATT?

aribadler
aribadler

Nice post, Arik. Thanks for sharing these tips that, really, seem kind of obvious but too many of us often forget the obvious. One suggestion I would add is to consider carrying a small power strip with you. I do this when I travel and I know I'll have downtime at an airport. That way, I don't end up hogging a power outlet when others really could use one. Or if someone else is hogging an outlet, I can offer to let them tap in via my power strip if they give me access to the wall plug.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

HA! Love this post. My first job in high school was a Starbucks Barista. Of course my Dad really advocated this because was (and still is) addicted to Starbucks. Luckily he not only had me but now a bunch of Barista connections at Starbucks all over our city. I love your "get to know the Barista" point. It's true, if you get to know them it will definitely pay off. I was close with many regulars and even received graduation gifts. I will never forget the one customer (she knew I was from Hawaii) who grew a Plumeria tree (which is hard in Virginia) made me a real lei and brought it to work...I was pumped.

But to speak to your point about not taking calls...there's nothing more annoying then someone talking on their phone or blue tooth, especially as you're ordering. So I definitely agree on this!

More coffee shops need to revamp to make their space more "work" friendly, I think this is one aspect that really hasn't been tapped into enough.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@sunayna Another great tip. I've gotten punked by a few friends that way, interestingly enough (ahem @greg swan )

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@martyjthomas Great idea. Even if shops just offered a private room, I think that would be a big win (and I know some do).

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@aribadler That's a great idea, Ari. I'm using that one on my next work trip.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@rachaelseda I know the three morning baristas (including the manager) at my regular Caribou very well. They've met my kids. They know my drinks. I know what's going on with them (one is getting married in June). It's like they're my "work friends", in a way. I just love that walking into that Caribou feels a lot like Norm when he would walk into Cheers each day. Small town feel in a big city.

tjjb
tjjb

@arikhanson@aribadler Great ideas here! Two quick additions. I never know when I'll get an important call, so I try to find a spot near an entrance where I can pace around outside while talking and still watch the security of my things. As for power strips, I found them a little bulky so I was pleased to find a small "octopus" plug from Micro Center. It's only about a foot long with two (or more) plugs on separate wires. Stores flat and out of way.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

@arikhanson Yes, it's the small town feel and caring about and for your regulars. They are kind of like your co-workers, very neat!