Guidelines for working in a coffee shop. Or how to not be a douche.

As a “digital nomad” I’ve got the freedom to work from anywhere, so long as there’s decent internet and a comfortable chair I’m all set. That’s where the humble coffee shop comes in. And working in a coffee shop is awesome.

The change of scenery boosts my productivity, or it could also be that there’s no television to watch. The buzz of people all around helps me to tune out and focus, which is ideal for sparking a new idea, getting inspired, or simply cranking out a metric ton of work. Oh and the coffee is amazing.

Plus, most coffee shops provide free WiFi for their customers, so you can connect and work for hours in a coffee shop.

But this is where the problem lies. When you start working in a coffee shop regularly you can forget your manners. You may not even realize you’re doing it. Maybe you’re rude to the barista who took too long with your order, or you’re unnecessarily loud speaking to client after client on your phone.

Or maybe you’re just freeloading on their facilities for far too long.

These behaviors make you a douche. Other customers are going to be annoyed, and you’re not going to get on a first name basis with the owner. Unless it’s to kick you out. The bottom line is that a coffee shop isn’t your home office, and you shouldn’t treat it that way. You’ve got to be considerate, and let everyone enjoy their time there too.

After working freelance since 2013, I’ve worked in my fair share of coffee shops, libraries, coworking spaces, temporary offices, and pretty much anywhere else I’ve been able to find when I need to get some work done. Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts which are really just basic rules of etiquette you need to follow when working from a communal space.

Pay attention, because no one likes a jerk. And no one want’s to be known as the digital nomad douche.

Think ahead a little bit

If you’re planning to spend a couple hours working in a coffee shop, make sure you come prepared with the right gear. Bring headphones so no one else has to listen in to your music or your conference calls, and charge your laptop beforehand. You don’t want to be searching around for power outlets or worse, have your charger stretched out across the floor. It’s a hazard, and worse, it’ll send your laptop flying if someone trips on it.

Keep the noise down

I mean, it’s not a library so you don’t need to be completely quiet, but just think about the other people around you. Having a conversation with your friends or being on the phone is fine, but if you’re listening to music or watching videos on your laptop plug your headphones in. People didn’t come to the coffee shop to listen to whatever it is you’re watching so don’t play it out loud.

Take long calls outside

If you’re going to need more than five minutes on a call, it’s good practice to step outside. Everyone hates that guy who is constantly on his phone, chatting away as loud as he possibly can. No one else wants to hear about your cats the latest antics of Aunt Mildred, or that client you never got to pay their bill. Don’t be that person. Stepping outside for your calls is also a good practice to get into as it’ll give your legs a stretch and let you take a break from your computer.

Don’t be a cheapskate

No one likes a freeloader, especially the owners of a coffee shop. If you plan to spend a long period of time working at one of their tables, make sure you’re buying something. A good rule of thumb is to buy something every hour or two, and if you’re there over lunch or dinner get something to eat. You’re taking up space other paying customers could be using, so make sure you’re giving back when you’re working in a coffee shop.

Keep your things together

This goes double if it’s a particularly crowded coffee shop. Only take up as much space as you need. Instead of spreading your belongings out over a table that could seat 4 or 6 people, pick a smaller one that’s big enough for your laptop and a drink. That’s all you need. Oh and put your bag on the floor. It doesn’t need its own seat, so let someone else who needs it use it.

Don’t hog the WiFi

Most coffee shops connect every customer in to the same WiFi, so it should go without saying that you should try to limit your usage. Streaming HQ video, playing online games or even downloading large data files can clog up the network and ruin everyone else’s experience. Don’t do this. Stick with basics like Facebook and Instagram, and normal websites. If you need high-speed internet, go to a proper coworking space.

Remember it’s not an office

I try to limit myself to about 3 or 4 hours when I’m working in a coffee shop. Of course, if the place is dead quiet you may get a little more leeway to stay longer, especially if you’re regularly buying more drinks and food. A coffee shop isn’t meant to replace your normal office, it’s simply a change of atmosphere where you can relax and get some light work done.

Be friendly to everyone

From the baristas to the other customers, a smile and a hello goes a long way. I like to ask if they mind I power up my laptop and get a little work done, and no one’s ever said no. One waitress even helped me to connect to her own hotspot when the coffee shops one went down, because she knew I was there to work and wanted to help me out. Being friendly goes a long way.

Now all of these are good points, but they all boil down to a single concept. Don’t be a jerk. You’re working from a communal space, and you’ve got to be considerate of everyone else there.


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