You're gripping a triple-shot Espresso Macchiato with your left hand and prepping a presentation on your laptop's screen with your right. You chat with your client from your smartphone, trusting that the whoosh of the milk steamer doesn't drown out the conversation. 'I sure hope the Wi-Fi holds', you think.
In short, you work from Starbucks. And you're not alone.
Thom Singer, a professional speaker and entrepreneur from Texas, understands you. Though he doesn't pay for office space, he jokingly remarks: "I like to say I have 'South Austin, North Austin, and downtown offices'." Those spots, however, are the locations of the coffee shops he frequents.
"I am the type of person who would go crazy without being around other people. Working from home or a rented office would get lonely fast," Singer says.
Thanks to their offer of free Wi-Fi, the promise of companionship, and a never-ending supply of tasty, caffeinated treats, coffee shops such as Starbucks have become an office away from home for many entrepreneurs and self-employed people.
Working out of your local coffee shop offers multiple conveniences and can save you plenty of cash, but it also poses various challenges. Staying productive and securing your gear (and the data it contains) can be tough - as can obeying the often-unwritten rules that govern a communal workspace.
Do coffee shops mind?
We asked Starbucks' corporate communications department if the company had an official policy on in-shop workplaces, but representatives declined to answer, saying instead that "Starbucks stores were designed to be community gathering places... We know that Wi-Fi continues to be a big draw in our store and our customers tell us they appreciate having access to this offering for work or personal use."
How Starbucks enforces that non-policy seems to vary from store to store. An informal poll of staff at various Starbucks revealed that most are happy for you to sit as long as you'd like as long as you're a paying customer, though some admitted that they may ask fixtures to vacate when a long queue of people are waiting for a seat.
Even if they don't directly ask you to leave, however, they may gently encourage your exit. "We are convinced the baristas try to freeze us out by jacking up the air conditioning at certain points of the day," says Tandaleya Wilder, a publicist and founder of She Got Game Media, who often works out of a Starbucks. Also, she notes that the baristas sometimes "purposely play the worse rotation of songs imaginable to get us out of there".
Bad music and freezing temperatures are not the only potential drawbacks of working in a public environment. Like any office, your local coffee shop has its own rules, office politics, and etiquette. And like any office, a Starbucks has prime workspaces - and not so prime locations. The only difference when it comes to working in a Starbucks is that you aren't guaranteed the same desk every day.
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