The Cafe as Workplace

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."

3 replies on “The Cafe as Workplace”

I wish there were more cafes in the Mississauga area. A whole bunch of us students used to go to Tim Horton’s to work. We’d buy stuff every hour or so, but they’d always kick us out, claiming that our laptops were causing their electricity bills to rise.

Anton Nguyen: Even the Tim Horton’s right by the University of Toronto will give you the boot after about a half-hour. I suppose their three-ring binder containing all the management directives follows the McDonald’s Doctrine: get in, eat, get out, no lingering.

Surely there’s a Second Cup, Starbucks or Williams Coffee Pub in the Mississauga area that would lend itself well to a Coffee and Code day! If any of you Mississauga-based techies have suggestions as to where to hold one, please let me know and I’ll set up a Coffee and Code day there!

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