The Cafe as Workplace

by Joey deVilla on February 22, 2009

This article originally appeared in the Coffee and Code blog.


The USA Today article titled Working Out of a “Third Place” may date from October 2006, but it’s still relevant today, and especially in the context of Coffee and Code. Some points from the article:

  • About 30 million Americans, roughly one-fifth of the nation’s workforce, spend significant hours each month working outside of a traditional office. Even the U.S. federal government is pushing to give one-quarter of their workforce the option to occasionally work remotely.
  • The number of these mobile/flexible workers is growing 10% annually because corporations are increasingly supportive of teleworking for various reasons, from cost savings to redundancy in case of a disaster.
  • The rise of the office-less worker has fueled the rise of places like Panera, which has grown to 1,000 locations by catering to them with living room-like surroundings and free wifi.
  • Although the people interviewed had home office setups, many found that working in a cafe or other “third place” at least some of the time kept them from feeling isolated.

The article is accompanied by a sidebar piece that lists some of the unwritten rules of etiquette for working at a cafe, which include:

  • Pay the rent. Buy a coffee or food reasonably often if you don’t want the owners and staff to think of you as a squatter.
  • Watch your stuff. Take your laptop and other valuable gear and documents with you if you’re going away from the table for anything other than a quick run to the sugar-and-napkin station.
  • Respect the invisible office walls. Don’t walk into another remote worker’s “office space” unless you’re invited, and no “shoulder surfing”!
  • Learn to live with other people’s power cords.All electrical outlets are fair game, so expect to accommodate the odd power chord as it snakes past your dominion.”
  • Don’t be a squatter. “It’s fine to keep your things piled on a table when you step out for a breath of fresh air, but not if you plan to be away a while.”

The article also features bits from interviews with a number of people who either do their work in cafes or study the phenomenon. One of the interviewees, who works at the Pew Internet & American Life Project observes that "It remains to be seen if this is a cultural breakthrough or a generational artifact."

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