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'Coffice' Etiquette: How to Politely Work From a Coffee Shop

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Last week, alarms were set off by a story that ran in MSN Money about some coffee shops giving the boot to professionals who use their premises to conduct their business.

True, there are coffee shop customers who feel it's in their right to take advantage of a business' value added services; Just because they've spent $2.50 on one cup of coffee they feel they can "camp out for hours" and use a table, the wifi and a power outlet.

Regardless of what you may have read about these seemingly drastic coffee shop measures -- whether it was about aesthetics, safety concerns or store culture -- these measures were business decisions. They were instituted for the good of the bottom line.

And that's okay -- sort of.

Before any more coffee shops take drastic measures in the name of business decisions, let's all get back to our respective corners, grab a fresh cuppa joe, take a breath and look at this with cooler, calmer heads.

For anyone reading this and scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss is about, you'll know if you've ever bought coffee from any number of local coffee shops that the people you see behind their laptops are the ones at the centre of this issue.

They are a rapidly growing segment of professionals who prefer to work from locations other than an office cubicle. They are called teleworkers, telecommuters, mobile workers, "cofficers".

Love it, or hate it, the coffee-shop-as-office phenomenon -- the "coffice" -- isn't going away. In fact, in all likelihood, unless there's a worldwide, permanent power outage, it's only going to grow.

Here are some facts and stats to consider:

  1. More people are discovering and utilizing telecommuting for their work. And 75 per cent are from the for-profit sector, with other sectors realizing the benefits.
  2. Mobile traffic is rising 1.5 times per year. Smartphone subscription growth globally is 31 per cent with a 21 per cent penetration rate. This means the work many of us do is becoming increasingly mobile.
  3. Employers can save more than $10,000 per year for each two-day-a-week telecommuter. These dollars add up and present a compelling reason for companies to encourage telework practices in order to cut costs. For many it can mean the difference of being able to stay in business and keep employees on when times are tough.
  4. Over the past four decades, global coffee consumption has nearly doubled. It's expected to reach 9.09 million tons by 2019.

If you put these facts together, it's fairly simple to conclude that the number of people choosing to get their work done in nearby coffee shops is only going to rise.

In reality, coffices are only a sliver of the mobile workstyle pie. The other slices are home offices, co-working spaces, short-term office rentals, park benches, city street corners and companies with flexible work arrangements. (No, Yahoo! didn't ruin that one for everyone else.)

While the argument gets made that cofficers are taking up space other customers could use, the fact is there are many loyal, laptop-free customers who spend the better part of a day in coffee shops talking to their friends, holding long meetings, feeding their babies, reading books and newspapers, doing crosswords and Sudoku, knitting and crocheting, drawing, writing in their notebooks, or simply exercising their corporate-granted liberty to watch the ice melt in their cups. So how do you limit their stay? Take away chairs? Charge for empty cups? Lock the bathrooms?

If pulling the plug is where it starts, where does it end? When it comes down to it, if a coffee shop chooses to hang a "seating time limited" sign, they'll lose customers to other coffee establishments who will see this as an opportunity to attract a new customer base.

So with the growth of cofficers, it makes good business sense to figure out how to service the need AND ensure that the bottom line is addressed. But it's a two-way street.

Spending extended periods of time in a coffee shop is not an inalienable right -- no matter how unlimited the supplies and services. As someone who uses a coffee shop as a regular coffice, I believe there's a better solution than cutting off valued services because of those abusing them.

There's a specialized brand of etiquette cofficers need to maintain, and coffee shops may want to adopt that etiquette as policy moving into the age of the growing mobile workforce. Having this "code of ethics" will not only serve to build positive relationships between business and customer; but to build it among all customers as well.

Cofficer etiquette:

  1. Share your space with other customers. Or go away at peak times when traffic is highest.
  2. Use wifi and power responsibly. Don't hog bandwidth and share power outlets.
  3. Buy something once an hour at a minimum.
  4. Treat coffee shops, owners and staff with the same respect you would hope to receive in return. Clean up after yourself, tip well and be nice.
  5. Repeat tomorrow.

The coffee shop is a business first and foremost. Owners have bills to pay, mouths to feed, revenue goals to meet and bosses to please. They have every right to adjust their business accordingly -- even if it means alienating a segment of their customer base.

Cofficers who want to continue utilizing these spaces and moreover, to see them thrive and grow must understand that the wifi and the power, not to mention the napkins, table space, bathrooms and water, are not free. Only by practicing business -- supportive behaviours will cofficers be part of the solution -- ensuring coffee shop owners never have to make up rules to change negative customer behavior.

There's a fine line between helping a business and hurting it; between customer and loiterer. And by being a good customer first and foremost, the ability to be a welcome cofficer will follow.

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