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The Death of Coffee Shop Working


by Matt Ide

A group of people gathered round a laptop and looking at a notebook

For most people looking for somewhere to go to break up the boredom and isolation of working from home, a coffee shop is usually our first port of call. High streets today are inundated with the purveyors of black gold, offering a cosy, welcoming roof from which to escape the drudgery of our self-imposed house arrest. But what is it about this habitual practice that is increasingly no longer satisfying our needs, and what might be the potential solution?

We’ve all been there. You’re working from home, finding it hard to concentrate. The silence is deafening and the lack of human contact is making you jumpy. What can I do to escape this impending sense of madness, you think to yourself. I know, I’ll go to a coffee shop and be released!

Coffee shop pros and cons

The question is, how long can you make one cup of coffee last. You buy the largest coffee on offer, then try to find somewhere out of the way where you can blend into the background so as not to draw attention to the fact that you’re intending on nursing that one cup of coffee for hours…or at least until the Wi-Fi becomes unreliable (which in some coffee shops is almost immediately).

Choosing your seat is a strategic nightmare, particularly as there is only ever one table not being used, and that’s because it’s covered in the remnants of what looks like a mini world war between drink and food. A throng of questions begin to pulsate in your head…is there a plug socket, why is the air conditioning on in winter, why hasn’t someone wiped down the only remaining table, and why are all the comfy seats always taken. The list is endless.

You finally find a seat and begin to absorb the busy vociferous atmosphere as it envelops you in a warm blanket of congregation. This lasts for approximately 5 minutes before the blanket is ripped away and the coffee shop curse envelops you. A new kind of reasoning begins to emerge - why is it so noisy in here, I can’t hear myself think, this Wi-Fi is worse than dial up, I’ll starve before I give up my seat…..and the rather inevitable, my coffee is cold and I don’t think they’ll be kind to me if I ask to borrow their microwave.

Don’t get me wrong, for a lot of people needing a safe haven away from home, coffee shops are a blessing; a place to go and coagulate with other human beings; like a local library, only with food and drink. But hang on a minute, what if there was an alternative to this perpetual coffee-laden torment. Somewhere where the warmth comes not just from the radiators, but from the people. Somewhere where the Wi-Fi is superfast and always reliable. Somewhere where the tea (hey, we live in a democracy) and coffee are free. Somewhere where you have your own chosen spot that no one else can take away from you no matter how long you spend choosing a sandwich from the supermarket at lunchtime. Sounds very much like ... erm ... coworking I believe they call it.

Coworking just makes sense

Coworking isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for over twenty years. It first started in Berlin in 1995, later spreading to New York, where the term “coworking” was first used to describe the concept of shared office space. In recent years, the number of coworking spaces emerging has grown exponentially, partly due to the increasing flexibility of our working lives, and partly due to the inflexibility and cost of the traditional office rental sector. Coworking has filled a niche and fulfilled a demand that increasingly exists to provide a flexible and affordable place to work that isn’t your own house. After all, why should freelancers and small businesses be punished for their size? It sticks two fingers up to the principle of economies of scale, which states than only big business can afford the luxury of having a nice office.

Coworking isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for over twenty years.

As someone who has been a coffee shop stooge, and is now a co-worker, I find that my work life is so enjoyable (aside from the actual work that is) that quite often I don’t want to go home. I have even considered moving out of my flat and into my office I like it so much. The only thing stopping me is the lack of facilities to wash myself. OK, so that might be a step too far, but my point is that coworking has not only improved my work life immeasurably by being in a warm, safe space with other like-minded people, interesting people who I converse with and learn new things from. People who I collaborate with and who share their lives with me. It has also improved my personal life too, not just through making new friends, but by allowing me to have a home to return to that I’m not sick of the sight of or feel resentful toward. It almost sounds trivial, but anyone who has spent any time working from home will know the feeling.

Why not spend a few quid more and go grab yourself a coworking desk?

The only thing I find frustrating as a coworking convert is that those people who go still to coffee shops looking to "get out of the house", don’t actually look around to see if their local environs actually has a coworking space. If you’re going to spend £3.50 a time on cold coffee and a dubious internet connection, why not spend a few quid more and go grab yourself a coworking desk? If you can’t find one or one doesn’t exist in your locale, why not set one up? I used to help co-run a space and now I’ve actually set one up of my own, all while I’m running my own business. It does take some hard work, but it is possible, and the benefits far outweigh the obstacles. You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, I’d recommend joining up with others who have similar needs, to pool your skills and experiences into creating a space that meets your own requirements.

The fifth floor of an office block, a fancy glass ‘Googleplex’, a log cabin at the bottom of your garden, or a tin shed, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the ‘space’ is, you can make it work, and when you do, it could change your life forever. If you’re interested, here's a great article on things to think about when planning to set up a coworking space

…. Or if you are near Horsham, why not try working at Horsham Coworking? Get in touch to find out more.

Matt Ide is a Director of Horsham Coworking and Managing Director of Giving Insight, a fundraising research consultancy based in Horsham.