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How Coffee Shops Can Make the Best Substitute Offices

By 14th May 2012 No Comments


Imagine a quiet office space. There are only a few people around – not enough to distract you, but enough to ensure that you don’t feel isolated from the world. Mostly they are freelancers, typing away at their computers.

You like the music playing in the background because it is almost like someone copied your own playlist. The coffee is delicious, there’s plenty of food to choose from, the view is not bad at all…And the best part? The rent you pay is the price of the things you eat and drink.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve just described at least three of my favorite coffee shops. You might think that working in coffee shops is an obvious choice, albeit not a very convenient one. After all, several other FreelanceSwitch writers made pretty good cases about why libraries make better offices than coffee shops or why co-working spaces are the best office alternatives. But what if there aren’t any co-working spaces near where you live? And most libraries don’t really allow you to eat or drink something around their computers.

So what’s a freelancer to do? Sure, most freelancers, including me, run home offices. But working in one place for a long time decreases productivity, creativity and frankly, it gets boring and lonely.

So every time I need a change of scenery, I take my stuff and go to one of my favorite coffee shops. And if you choose correctly, they can make the most fun and positive office substitutes. Whether you don’t feel comfortable in libraries or you don’t live near co-working spaces (or just don’t want to pay $25 or more for them), here is a guide to what to look for in coffee shops so that they provide a satisfactory office experience: 

  • The quiet hours. I know many people who work more effectively with noise in the background. While I appreciate a little noise, I can’t concentrate with children running around screaming. But many coffee shops have their quiet hours.


    If you can detect them, it will feel like the whole place is yours. It will feel peaceful yet social. After all, there will always be a fellow freelancer who is taking advantage of these times, or a ferocious reader who just enjoys his book more with his favorite coffee.

  • Comfortable chairs and tables. Sofas are lovely, but I personally work more effectively with armchairs and high tables. They are comfy while still providing the feeling of professionalism. Then there is the perk of not getting neck or back pains from sitting for so long.
  • Friendly staff. Some places are self-service, but you might have found your work haven in a place with waiters. Whatever the case, it is important that they are friendly and don’t give you weird looks because you are spending so much time there or aren’t ordering something new every 30 minutes. Yes, you will be ordering things, but they shouldn’t expect you to spend a hundred bucks every time you are there.


    It also helps that there is someone nice to chat to. Just as you like a friendly attitude, most employees also appreciate the friendly customer they can complain to about their nightmare customers.

  • Taste and price of coffee (and food). I love my coffee, and like many freelancers agree, coffee is also good for productivity and a must-have. I can’t work without good coffee, and it raises my spirits more when the cost doesn’t put dents in my wallet. And I have to admit, I can never make the killer mochas my favorite places do. It’s just not the same.
  • Fast and free internet. As much as turning off the internet for the sake of concentration and flow is recommended, we still need it for a lot of things. A coffee shop without a good and free internet connection, in the long run, is a no-no.
  • Vicinity. It really helps if it is a walking distance from your house or at least takes only a short ride. It’s nice to take breaks, but you don’t want to get exhausted and lose a lot of time trying to get there. Time is cash after all.
  • Other freelancers. If the coffee shop has several of the characteristics I listed above, there will be other freelancers. I actually made a couple of close friends just by saying hi, or answering a question they might have about the place or about anything.


    We even started a Facebook group to connect and arrange get-togethers. Recently, both my freelancer friend’s schedule changed, as well as my own. But even though we can no longer work together, we still meet there for the occasional coffee and brainstorming.

  • Lots of sockets. You will need to charge your laptop from time to time, a it’s frustrating when you need to fight for one of the few sockets with the other freelancers.

So there you have it. Coffee shops don’t need to be avoided by freelancers. With new ones opening every day, it might make sense to try out the independent ones. Unfortunately, franchised coffee shops like Starbucks usually get to be more crowded. And even if you have an office, it doesn’t hurt to get away from it every once in a while.

How about you? What’s your favorite substitute office?


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