It's a popular meme we've all shared over a social network -- a photo or video of a guy set up in a coffee shop with his entire desktop computer rig, circa 1998. A full-sized monitor, CPU tower, full QWERTY keyboard, sometimes a printer, all plugged into his own humongous powerbar. Welcome to a coffice.
Despite the ensuing hilarity (it is pretty funny), and despite the perception, that image is not the Coffice workstyle reality. While Cofficers may still witness the odd sideways glance or barely audible "tsk" from other customers, doubts about Coffice viability in today's working world are going the way of the rotary phone.
In fact, modern day remote working isn't a new concept; it's just that recent technology has finally enabled its reality. In 1965 -- when rotary phones were still being used -- University of Toronto professor Marshall McLuhan steadfastly declared the filing cabinet as the reason why more people weren't telecommuting: "An obsession with the contents of the file...all of these materials actually could be just as available on closed circuit at home."
Now, almost 50 years later, it's McLuhan's idea of "closed circuitry" that allows more professionals of many vocations and geographies to stay home or telework while remaining just as productive, as if they were standing in front of a bank of filing cabinets in a downtown high-rise. That same technology has also presented professionals with the option to choose the Coffice workstyle.
Once the primary domain of creatives, coders and poets, the Coffice is becoming a more common choice among professionals who choose to telework. The quiet of a home office or the expense of a co-working space may not be the right answer when deciding where to remotely plug in a laptop.
While every Coffice differs depending on many factors -- location, ownership/management, size, menu, etc., -- you'll want to first make sure the Coffice fits with your own values and work style, as you might do with any career choice.
So how do you know if the bustle of the Coffice is for you? Here are three things to consider:
1. Prerequisites to the Coffice workstyle
Ask yourself, "Are my work habits/professional needs conducive to the Coffice workstyle?"
While you may immediately think your situation is Coffice friendly, the opposite may be the case.
The Coffice is not your home office, and it is definitely not a downtown cubicle. If you're more productive behind closed doors or in guaranteed library silence, keep looking. At peak hours, between the questionable music that may be blaring, screeching toddlers, and droves of boisterous students, you should expect your Coffice to almost always be noisy at some point during the day. And every Coffice will have different peak times.
Here's a productivity test you can try at home prior to joining the Coffice workstyle:
1. Boot up your laptop and put on your earbuds. Set the volume higher than usual.
2. Open and play Coffitivity.
3. Open, play and try not to sing to this catchy tune.
4. Open and play this crying baby track.
5. Open and play this coffee grinder sound.
If you can work productively with all of that going on in stereo, you may be able to work during peak hours in a Coffice.
2. Cost(s) of being a Cofficer
It's fantastic that you may have found the ideal Coffice. It has great coffee/food, high-speed and consistent wifi and it's so close to home, you can't believe how much you'll save just by avoiding the weekly commute!
Or will you?
Expenses incurred from the Coffice workstyle do exist. If you're being a responsible Cofficer then you'll be supporting the business in which you're working with purchases throughout your time there. That means you may be spending more on coffee and food than you were when you had leftovers from your employer's boardroom lunch meetings or home cooked dinners.
The savings from any number of commute-free work days can really add up; but you might need to allocate those funds for a few items to better prepare for your newfound Coffice-based work -- a new bag, software, hardware, better earbuds, personal supply of anti-bacterial cleaner, and many other things.
Before you decide on your next move to a Coffice, pay careful attention to how it might affect your finances - positively or not-so-positively.
3. Privacy Shmivacy
Is there such thing as privacy or security at a Coffice? The answer is no.
Cash isn't the only loss or gain you need to stay on top of as a Cofficer. As an independent consultant, part-time teleworking commuter, or budding entrepreneur -- whatever you're working on at the Coffice -- privacy and security will almost always be riskier than with other more traditional work environments.
A Coffice wifi network will always give your company's IT department the willies. You might be 1000 per cent convinced of a Coffice wifi connection's security, while the 19-year-old hacker in the apartment upstairs is happily siphoning your personal information to buy passes to the next DEF CON or SXSW.
Moreover, even if your Coffice boasts Pentagon-level network security, you'll always have someone peering over your shoulder stealing glances at your confidential business plan or client lawsuit documents. A firewall won't help you there...
Your first line of defense in maintaining your privacy and security in a Coffice is to stay out of the Coffice - even with the slightest chance of a security breach, which could ultimately lead to a breach in confidence - by clients, employers and co-Cofficers. Talk to your I.T. pro about security options, or if you're solo, cull from the many good online resources for tips on public network safety and privacy.
The Coffice workstyle can have many benefits - but only if it's a fit for both you and your profession. Take the time to think about it, do your homework and if all signs point you towards your nearest coffee shop, don't be afraid to take the plunge and take your place in the ongoing evolution of work.
Sam Title is CEO of The Coffice, a soon-to-re-launch online community dedicated to professionals who (respectfully) work from coffee shops. Visit www.TheCoffice.biz to get early access to the only online community for Cofficers. @TheCoffice