A few norms for the coffee shop workforce

While full-time telecommuters still only constitute a small percentage of the workforce, up to 20% of people work from home at least occasionally. As technology and broadband speeds improve, more and more people will be working from home. Up to half of jobs are compatible with telecommuting, and hiring remotely across state lines is becoming easier thanks to professional services organizations. We could soon see a shift from workers clogging up highways to clogging up the line at Starbucks (to the extent that that hasn’t already happened).

Look, I understand: Home is boring. It’s where you waste all your time. If you work from home, you’ll naturally start wasting all your time at work, too. So you go to a coffee shop when you really need to focus. This wouldn’t be a problem, except everyone has the same idea. Coffee shops weren’t built to be part-time offices!

While coworking spaces are seen as the solution to this problem, they each offer woefully limited pricing options. You still pay for all the time you’re not there. While certain companies like Cove has a pay-per-hour model, that’s not the norm for most coworking spaces.

Like it or not, coffee shops will remain indispensable locations for at-home workers to get stuff done. To accommodate this shift, I have written up some norms that everyone should adopt immediately.

For workers:

  1. If a coffee shop is remotely crowded, only stay there for three hours maximum. Every barista knows that guy who buys a small coffee at 7am, claims a table, and stays there for 12 hours. Don’t be this guy. If the joint is pretty busy, but not packed, you can stay for up to three hours. If the place is absolutely packed (i.e. absolutely no open seats), you can stay there for one hour maximum.
  2. Learn to share the table. If you sit down at a big table, that’s fine. But if someone politely asks to share the table with you, kindly oblige. I’ve had some of my most productive sessions while sharing a table with a stranger. Learn to enjoy it!
  3. Talking is okay, but use your inside voice. Part of the appeal of going to a coffee shop is the ambiance of people talking. (Ambient-mixer.com just doesn’t cut it.) But other people shouldn’t be able to hear your conversation from across the room.
  4. You should be using one device, maximum. There’s limited space, limited bandwidth, and limited patience for your bullshit.
  5. Don’t watch Netflix. I’ve seen people do this before. Watch Netflix at home. You’re taking up all the internet!!

For Coffee Shops:

  • Invest in a faster internet connection. I cannot stress this enough. Not everything qualifies as a “high-speed internet” connection. 1mbps is the bare minimum. 5 mbps is acceptable. Anything above 10 mbps is exceptional. I know you want to give people some reason to leave, but Starbucks is beating the hell out of you in terms of its wifi speeds.
  • Invest in more outlets. I know this has the potential for abuse, but just get a couple of extension cords to let people charge their devices.
  • Get some “feel free to share this table” signs. I’ve seen this at some college dining halls. Basically they’re signs that you can choose to put on your tables to let people know that you’re open to sitting with them. It cuts down on the awkwardness factor of sharing a table.
  • Give people wifi passes with a limited duration. I am currently writing this post at a coffee shop that has this policy. At checkout, the barista asks you if you’d like a wifi pass. On it, there’s an alphanumeric code with a limited validation. It helps keep people cycling in and out.

Have a social norm that I missed? Leave it in the comments section.

Photo: Kevin Harber via Flickr

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