8 Tips for Working from a Coffee Shop


A few weekends ago, I spent an afternoon working from a coffee shop. I usually work co-located with other Atoms in Atomic Object’s Grand Rapids office, so this was a new experience for me. I learned a few things I could have done to use my time more effectively.

This is my new coffee shop-preparedness checklist:

1. Pack Headphones

I like to listen to music while I work, especially in a noisy environment where the conversations taking place around me are not relevant to my work. Pack headphones.

2. Cache Your Music

Internet service might be patchy, but even if it’s not, you’re sharing those tubes with all of the other coffee shop patrons. Be courteous with your bandwidth usage. If usually stream music from an online service like Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, or Beats, see if there’s an option to download some tracks to your computer ahead of your venture to the coffee shop. Cache your music.

3. Bring Cash

Speaking of cache—err, cash… most coffee shops probably take credit cards, and many even take newer electronic forms of payment like Square Google Wallet, but… credit card processing companies and other payment solutions almost always get a percentage of each payment. So if you want your local coffee shop to see more of your dollar, bring cash. (Cash is also a good fallback if the more advanced POS fails or fails to exist.)

4. Buy Something

This should be obvious, but the coffee shop is not some kind of charity co-working space. They are there to sell their products. Please don’t take up precious space in the coffee shop without financially supporting the establishment. If you don’t drink coffee, get tea, get a scone, get something(s). Buy something!

5. Use a Firewall and a VPN

As nice as the people sitting next to you seem to be, when you’re sharing a network with them, you’re also trusting their computers. Have they neglected their security updates lately? Have they fallen prey to a phishing attack that left them with a malware-infested computer? Oh, and remember Firesheep? The coffee shop network can be a scary place. Use a Firewall and a VPN.

6. Prepare to Tether

Sometimes, when those tubes get full…

The quality of the Internet connection you might get at the coffee shop might not be what you’re used to at the office. Maybe they’re still on dial-up. Maybe the wireless router is on its last legs. Maybe that businessperson across the room is trying to stream HD video for a web conference.

When you’re no longer able to access simple web pages, it’s good to have the option to fall back to tethering on your phone. Prepare to tether.

7. Prepare to Work Locally

Better for your wallet than tethering to a phone, though, is giving up on Internet access altogether. When the hyperlinks are all broken, it’s time to get hyperlocal. Try to think ahead about what you might be able to work on without Internet access. Download documentation and libraries ahead of time. Prepare to work locally.

8. Look for a Good Seat

Even if you can do without Internet, you probably still need power. Newer laptops and ultrabooks often have pretty good battery life and newer operating systems like OS X Mavericks include features to help conserve energy. Still, if you intend to work for longer than your battery can sustain you, you’ll need to find a way to recharge. Think ahead and scope out a seat next to power (and maybe by a window for better cell reception if your need to tether). Look for a good seat.


What are other ways to prepare for working from a coffee shop?

  • fubar says:

    Well, thanks for pointing out the obvious.

  • Mike says:

    Find a stable table. A bar is even better, if it isn’t too crowded or active. Otherwise, you risk spilling coffee on your laptop or paperwork when you bump the table.

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