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Why You Should Work From A Coffee Shop, Even When You Have An Office

Editor's Note: This is one of the most-read leadership articles of 2013. Click here to see the full list.

While team Family Records was in between offices in early 2012, we had 6 weeks to bridge until our new space was ready. During that time we were fortunate enough to be taken in as guests by awesome companies for stretches of time, and for the remainder we took over corners of coffee shops all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. The experience of working out of coffee shops was so positive that even after we moved into our new home, I made sure to get in a few "coffee shop days" each month. For carpal tunnel related reasons alone, I would not recommend working out of coffee shops every day, but here are some reasons why it might be great to try it for one or two days every month.

A change of environment stimulates creativity. Even in the most awesome of offices we can fall into a routine, and a routine is the enemy of creativity. Changing your environment, even just for a day, brings new types of input and stimulation, which in turn stimulates creativity and inspiration.

Fewer distractions. It sounds counter-intuitive, but working from a bustling coffee shop can be less distracting than working from a quiet office. Being surrounded by awesome team- and officemates means being interrupted for water cooler chats and work questions. Being interrupted kills productivity. The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of exciting activity. Unlike working at home, with the ever-present black hole of solitude and procrastination, a coffee shop provides the opportunity of human interaction, on your terms.

Community and meeting new people. Meeting new people always provides me with new ideas, a different perspective at existing problems, or an interesting connection to a new person doing something awesome that inspires me. Today alone I met a top Skillshare teacher whose class I will now take, a sleep consultant, a publicist who offered to help with a project, and a wine consultant who recommended some bars.

To make the best out of your coffee shop days, keep a few things in mind:

Rotate coffee shops. Rather than going to the same coffee shop every time, switch it up, and avoid the stifling feeling of routine you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Buy something. Don't be a cheapskate nursing that one coffee throughout the day. Buy some stuff throughout the day, and tip well. Coffee shop workers are awesome, and they'll be awesome to you if you are a good customer. That hidden power plug will be revealed, an extra free refill will be given, an introduction will be made.

Placement. Don't sit near the door or the register, if you can avoid it. Temperature differences and high traffic don't help you to focus.

Power up. Come with a full charge. I like to not bring a power cord, unlike most folks, because I get 6 hours out of my laptop battery, and it forces me to take a break and work with focus because I will run out eventually.

There you have it, a few reasons why I recommend taking a break from the office at least once a month, and some tips on how to get the most out of it. For those of you located in, or traveling to, the New York City area, I have put together a special Foursquare list with 15 of my favorite local coffee shops to work from. Let us know how it goes!

—Wesley Verhoeve is the founder of Family Records and He writes about the intersection of music, tech, and innovation, as well as modern marketing, product strategy, and great customer experiences across different industries.

[Image: Flickr user Kyle Hale]

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  • I've never met anyone new in a coffee shop. I've never heard of anyone meeting new people in a coffee shop. I've never seen anyone do it. Maybe thats an American thing?

  • abrenycz

    I've spent a lot of time in coffee shops (almost done with college) and have almost never seen or experienced people actually meeting strangers there out of the blue. Three in one day is hard to imagine. And I think I'm very open to it and approachable.

    I have to wonder if that's sort of a myth, particularly when it's a commonly recommended avenue of meeting people. No more likely to strike up a conversation than waiting for a bus.

  • smkeel1987

    I have actually met a lot of people at coffee shops, but it has to do with how much time you spend there and what you are doing. The more people see you, the more likely they are to stop and talk, and the chances increase if you are doing something interesting. If you are just browsing the internet, rarely anybody will talk to you, but in my case, I do computer programming and design, so they often become curious in what I'm doing and a conversation develops. I have met quite a few people there, and I think it's part of the cafe culture. But getting back to the point of the article, coffee shops certainly do break up the monotony of the office routine while not being stuck at home.

  • CStobbs

    Insomnia Coffee! The best and I completely agree with this article. What may seem like noise and clutter to some can be energizing and creative for others.

  • Focused2Finish

    Everything you are saying is absolutely true and I have told my friends that for years.  For those who tried it, totally agree as well.  Sometimes if you don't want to go to the coffee because of weather conditions, etc..change where you work at home - move to the kitchen or to the patio.  If you work in a physical office location, and space permits, change offices, go work in an empty conference room.  You will be surprised at what it will do for your creativity, motivation and your focus!

  • Find a Coffice

    We couldn't agree more. It certainly is not for everyone, but what is! We are are actually working on a platform that allows people to find, rate and share their favorite "coffices" with others. Stay tuned!

  • Tina Q.

    That's very similar to my idea. Or at least a very different spin off that I will shortly be utilizing. I'm a small business Financial Adviser and my first challenge is getting clients. My approach? pick up a part time employment as a chauffeur. Aside from the obvious short term supply of money needed to keep myself self-employed it's opened my eyes to new marketing & networking opportunities. To add the benefit of mixing things up, being in a new location everyday, getting new ideas from the backseat driver and even reminding myself of why I'm looking to be my own boss is all the icing. Thanks!

  • Danl68

    This article reminds me of my "Get out of the box" meetings I held during my Plant GM days. We had staff meetings at our plant shelter house on the river during warm weather. We used the houseboat (with jet skiing in the afternoons). We rented cottages on Salt Fork Lake for strategy/planning sessions and even used a conference room at a nearby golf course that offered hiking or other entertainment for non-golfers after the meetings! The shelter house was used extensively by all of our plant teams, not just staff. It was easily accessible and free! Lunches were potluck and no one minded bringing something to share! The meetings were fun and creative.

    My motto was, "You are expected to think out of the box, so you need to get out of the box!"

  • Bobby Lee Caudill

    I'm a huge fan of 'working in public'. Coffee shops, restuarants, a common area in a mall and even occasionally, a bar! However, for me, my level of productivity is task dependant. :-) The secret for me it is understand what kind of environment I need to best accomplish a given task. For instance, I love covering email at the coffee shop, but, I rarely answer the phone in such a setting. Personally, I find that to be rude, to my caller and to all those around me in the coffee shop.

    Regardless of my personal work environment habits, great article! I enjoyed reading your perspectives.

  • iamnoskcaj

    This is so true. I found myself working at a restaurant the other day, but it was in their tiny bar seating area. The bartenders were all gathered talking with a wine rep, and customers were coming in and out, but I was able to remain laser focused, and motivated, and basically it was a great afternoon of work.  I stopped for a much needed lunch break and found myself there many hours later.  The staff were friendly, and I ordered plenty... and tipped very well.  Overall, I can't wait to do it again (somewhere else... now that I've read this article.  The idea of switching up locations is a great idea).

  • Alexandre Kopelevitc

    Perfect tip...I do it sometimes, but plan to do more often. I can produce more in a coffee shop within 4 hours versus 8 hours in the office.

  • jx10

    I didn't understand why people would go to coffee shops and sit there quietly working while everyone else is talking.  At least that is the way it used to be. I go to a coffee shop to  GET AWAY, from the work environment.  I go to a coffee shop to indulge in conversation which has shrunk to almost zero in the last 20 years. 

    A friend of mine, ,who owned a small coffee shop, said it killed her business to have a few people come in with their laptops and headphones, totally disengaged from the exciting ambiance she worked hard to create.

    These "workers" take up precious floor space while groups of two and three conversationalist would come in and could not find a seat together.  Sometimes the conversationalist suffering the glare of the workers if they were to loud.  I know, how about going to a library?   
    I absolutely hate going into a quiet coffee shop.  You look at the tables and you see a repeating pattern of little white apples...What is this?

    Coffee shops used to have lunchtime entertainment.  Remember the folk decade and the importance of coffee shops?  Don't think one cup of coffee entitles you to three hours of a table and chair.  You people are literally stinking up the place with your boring drone like presence...

  • Jill Koenig

    I like to mix it up and work from coffee shops from time to time. I always experience a certain creative focus once I settle in to one that I like. I would do it more often, but the coffee shops near my house don't have healthy food and the carb filled pastries make my brain and creativity crash. Now if I could find a juice bar nearby with a good vibe, I would probably double my productivity :)

  • TheeDesign Studio

    Completely agree that a change of environment stimulates creativity! I always head over the coffee shop near the office when I feel like I am in a creative rut. 

  • Gundog

    I got some of my best writing done in local coffee shops, when I was drafting my Master's thesis.  I had a home office and a "real" office available, but the concurrent isolation from normal distractions and steady drone of background activity found at the coffee shops really encouraged my focus and clarity.  Big fan!