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The 5 unwritten rules of working from coffee shops

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As an independent consultant for the last eight-plus years, I spend a fair amount of time in coffee shops. I meet people for coffee in coffee shops. I meet clients, occasionally, in coffee shops. And I do a fair amount of work in coffee shops.

Before you judge (because I know this is frowned upon by a decent amount of people), consider the circumstances of today’s solo consultant:

  • Solos have no office environment (no need for most solos to have an office since it adds little value)
  • Solos have few social interactions (increasingly, this is a big challenge; just being AROUND people makes me feel better!)
  • Solos need better coffee! (let’s face it, no one can make “coffee shop level” coffee at home)

As a result, you see many solo consultants working from coffee shops each day. I know because I am one, and because I work out of coffee shops on an almost daily basis.

In those eight years of working from coffee shops, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve observed behaviors. And, I’ve picked up some tips that I thought might be helpful to share with you today. I’m calling them the five unwritten rules of working from a coffee shop in 2018:

Rule #1: The coffee shop is not your actual office.

I see this all the time. People treating the coffee shop like their actual office. Their stuff is spread across three different table spots. They have a laptop, two notebooks, Post-It Notes and other office “stuff” out. Heck, I remember about 5-6 years ago, a guy had his freaking iMac desktop at the coffee shop (I had a pic of this, but somehow have lost them). I’m all for working at coffee shops, but the coffee shop is not an office. Don’t treat it like one. Be respectful of other people’s space.

Rule #2: Kindly step outside to use your phone

By far the unwritten rule that’s broken the most. Every day I visit my local coffee shop, someone is on their phone with a client, colleague or friend. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but have made a concerted effort to leave the coffee shop and take these calls outside or in my car. Here’s why: When you’re on a con call in a coffee shop, it’s not only rude to the people around you, it’s rude to the people on the con call! The coffeehouse background noise alone is enough to drive people insane. I know because I’ve got the question before: “Where are you? It’s really loud there.” Yeah, that’s code for “get the hell out of wherever you are and get to a quiet spot so I can hear you.” Don’t take calls in coffee shops. It’s rude no matter how you look at it.

Rule #3: Be very careful with your confidential info

Consider the situation: You’re on wi-fi that’s almost never fully secure. You’re in a public space where anyone can be looking over your shoulder at your laptop. It’s not exactly a safe environment to be opening and reviewing sensitive client documents. So, save that work for when you’re in your home office. Clients would most likely be horrified to learn how borderline reckless some consultants are with the information they are privy to and are working on in open coffee shop locations.

Rule #4: Headphones are OK, but be aware of your surroundings

I never go anywhere without my headphones. I use them as a way to tune out the ambient noise at coffee shops from time to time. But, be careful. You don’t want to tune out so much that you don’t hear that person behind you trying to squeeze into a spot at your table.

Rule #5: Always buy something. Even if you’re not thirsty or hungry.

The coffee shop is a business–and in many cases, the coffee shop is a SMALL business, just like you (there are so many small business coffee shops to support in the Twin Cities–here are my faves). So, support that small business. Never work from a coffee shop without purchasing SOMETHING. This is a rule that should virtually never be broken if you’re working in a coffee shop.

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The 5 unwritten rules of working from coffee shops

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