If, like me, you have a portfolio career or work for yourself, you may not have a regular office space or working environment. Or you may be starting out on your own, and might fear that plugging away on the old laptop at home could potentially be isolating. To combat this, shared or collaborative workspaces are a great idea to break the silence and to tone up social skills. However, these spaces do charge a fee. Whereas working in a coffee shop for a few hours once or twice a week is much less expensive. Coffee is one of my favourite escapes from the solitude, and I find a change of environment is often all it takes to get the right side of my brain fired up. Also I’m blessed to live in Brighton, which is full of quality, independent coffee houses. Look out on tlfw for a review of my favourite Brighton ones soon.
Working in coffee shops is great: buzzy environments stimulate creativity; they frequently offer free wifi; and caffeine administered in small doses sharpens focus. Although, I don’t need to say there has been plenty of research into how caffeine inhibits sleep, and of course tiredness reduces creativity. So know your caffeine limits! That said, don’t be the cheap-skate customer either who nurses one cappuccino for 4 hours (unless you’re working out of a big corporate chain. Who cares then?)
The relationship between the exchange of ideas, productive creativity and coffee shops is nothing new. In fact, coffee shops in the UK date back to the 17th Century, and their role as venues in the forming of the public sphere is well documented. Actually, it’s been a half ambition of mine to one day open a coffee shop and call it ‘The Public Sphere’, as a homage to Habermas’s great work of the same name, which I read as a set text when I was at university. In Habermas’s thesis he refers to the role of coffee shops as centres of sociability and arenas of public life that facilitated a new type of social communication in the 1700s – basically a place to have and discuss ideas. At my Habermas themed coffee shop, I’d do critical theory ‘Spark’ style notes on the menu and host salon debates, like an old school bohemian.
The list of greats who have worked out of coffee shops is long. Hemmingway was a huge fan of writing in them, especially during his time in Paris. Les Deux Magots is one of the many he frequented. It must be excellent coffee in there as the garcon purportedly regularly served the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, and Picasso whilst they chewed the fat, shared ideas and got on with a bit of work. The Elephant Café in Edinburgh is now fondly referred to as The Harry Potter Café; it was there, as a broke aspiring novelist, J.K Rowling wrote some of her drafts of ‘The Boy Who Lived’, when she wasn’t writing at Nicolson’s coffee shop, just off Princes Street.
Like the greats mentioned above I appreciate quality coffee. I’m in the ‘no fuss no muss’ camp when it comes to drinking out – that is I’m not a huge fan of the third wave coffee movement. I find it a bit preachy and I don’t want a barrista performing feng shui over my brew, then telling me to wait x amount of time before I can drink it, in order to truly discriminate the single blends (this has actually happened to me, I kid you not). Most of my favourite places to work out of or have a work meeting in are the friendly, unpretentious and independent little coffee shops in my local area. Who needs an actual office hey?
If you’re really pinching the pennies and want to skip the brew there is an alternative to working in coffee shops coffitivity.com a ‘café library’ of recordings of ambient noise from coffee shops which you can play in the background whilst you plug away at home. I tried it the other morning and it is strangely comforting, albeit a little depressing when one stops to think about what you’re actually doing. There’s also a link on the site to workfrom, a community that reviews coffee shops and co-working spaces. I think this is a fab concept and found a quick search provided lots of recommendations for when I’m working out of town.