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Remote Working – Coffee Shop Etiquette

25 January 2024

If you’ve ever been sitting in a coffee shop next to an obnoxious remote worker who feels the entire establishment will be enriched by listening to their fascinating conversation you will understand the need for some basic cafe working etiquette.

At The Sidings we are fortunate to have some of the best coffee shops in London from names you’ll know and love, to those that might be new but are creating a real buzz. We often ask their opinion on all things coffee but the other day got into a conversation about an entirely different subject – cafe working etiquette.

If you have been stuck in London for a couple of hours between meetings and didn’t want to book a hot desk or are commuting into the city more and looking for a couple of hours away from the office, then chances are you’ll have settled down in one of the capitals many coffee shops to work for a while.

We decided to ask those working in the coffee shops what they saw as the main rules to stick by. Is it really ok to rock up, plug in and start having video chats with colleagues around the globe? This is what we learned, starting with the question – do you need to ask permission before setting up your remote office in a coffee shop for a couple of hours?

General opinion is no, but that’s under the proviso that you follow the guidelines we’ve listed below. For these shops, this sort of activity should result in additional and regular revenue, so it’s a positive and those that don’t want you using them, normally say so – the guidance is to look for notices when you walk in.

Be Respectful Of The Space

You should go prepared whenever you head to somewhere other than your office but be sensible. Don’t bring a monitor, computer tower or even a giant iMac with you – stick to a reasonable laptop and your phone. Also, pictures of your kids and a couple of pot plants spread across the table is maybe a step too far…

You might need to share a table with people, please don’t be one of those who sits on one chair and places a bag or coat over another one to avoid anyone else using that space.

Even if you are not intentionally trying to put others off, don’t spread out like this. It is not your office and it certainly is not cool to use up multiple seating areas with your equipment, notebooks, a newspaper or anything else you’ve brought along.

If you want a table for yourself, then pick the smallest one you can find. Don’t lock up a table for four as that will very quickly draw attention to you sitting there for hours, plus it’s just rude!

Let’s talk about charging. It’s perfectly ok to plug in your phone or laptop if it needs a charge. If there are sockets around the coffee shop, they have likely been added to allow for this behaviour.

However, it is not ok to stretch your cable across multiple tables or over someone’s lap. If you need to charge, find a seat that’s close to a socket. Also, don’t hog the socket. If you are in place for 4 hours, you don’t need the laptop on charge that whole time, use it appropriately and allow others to share it.

Utilising the wifi is pretty standard practice. Many coffee shops put decent wifi in place as it encourages remote workers to use them and make regular purchases. However, don’t start streaming the latest episode of Love Island and use up massive amounts of bandwidth, a little common sense and courtesy go a long way.

Silence Is Golden

The rest of the coffee shop does not need to listen to your music or any other noises that might emanate from your laptop. Headphones are a vital piece of remote working equipment, for both their phone and computer – one pair that flicks between the two would be our recommendation.

Speaking about noise, let’s get onto the touchy subject of calls, starting with your phone. It is perfectly ok to have a quick call, many others just passing through the shop will be doing the same, but a couple of rules should be applied.

  1. Control the volume. Simple but often ignored. You are not in your office, so be respectful and speak in a slightly lower tone than you would normally
  2. Don’t spend all day on the phone. Having a couple of short calls is ok but spending 20 minutes chatting with a colleague is not a good idea
  3. If you do get a call that you know is going to take a little while, you may need to pack up and head outside. We don’t recommend leaving your entire remote office on a table unguarded
  4. Finally, avoid calls that could get heated. You’ll find it harder to control your volume and you might use inappropriate language, which is a big no-no

Zoom calls (or whatever platform you prefer) are a different thing. Sometimes it cannot be avoided and the odd short chat is ok. Holding a 2-hour board meeting (we’ve seen it done) is not acceptable.

Support Those Local Businesses

The question that always comes up is how much should I be ordering and how often. Our response to this is always dependent on the place you are in. The big chains account for the remote worker, they have more space and Starbucks even has a policy that allows people to work without purchasing anything, called the Third Place Policy.

Your local coffee house is set up differently. They need to maximise that space and cannot afford to have someone using seats without spending money and forcing other potential clients away. So you need to ensure you are purchasing something.

What you buy and how often is partly down to your judgement and values but you came here for some guidance, so that’s what we will deliver. Firstly, as a guide, purchase something once an hour. It’s a reasonable timeframe and much cheaper than hiring an office for a few hours!

If you plan to be in place for more than 3 hours, then consider buying something else, for example, a muffin or maybe even your lunch.

Leave On A High

No one expects you to tip after each coffee purchase, but if you do hang around for several hours then as you leave, an overall tip for the staff would be a nice touch. It is also good practice to clear away whatever rubbish and crockery you’ve accumulated over your time.

Ultimately, for most people, the use of the coffee shop will become a regular thing, so building a relationship with the staff and being seen as one of the good guys always helps. Follow all rules above and you’ll start to see when you arrive that they help you find the better spots in the shop and maybe replenish that coffee more frequently.

Talking of being nice to the coffee shop, one final thought is about reviews. You want this place to thrive so you can continue to use it, particularly if you’ve selected a small, local establishment. So a quick online review is a perfect way to give a little something back and help the coffee shop to grow or maybe tag them in on a post on Instagram – share the love.

Work At The Sidings

Now you’ve learned all about the right way to work in a coffee shop, we are more than happy to recommend you come to some of the fine establishments we have in The Sidings. Black Street Coffee can be found as you enter The Sidings, so it’s perfect for a couple of hours after you get off the train. Or maybe head into the world’s largest BrewDog, where you’ll find the excellent Grind, serving great coffee and a rather good brunch menu

We hope to see you politely working away soon.

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