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2488092622_55b522c1d6_m.jpgThere has long been a great debate among workshifters.  The magnitude of this debate has people from either camp bitterly divided, fiercely loyal, and ready to do battle to defend their side.  I speak, of course, of the great workshifting debate of coffee shop versus home office.

In order to take a stance on the topic, I’m going to make a good ol’ fashioned pros & cons list of the two options, and by the end, hopefully, you’ll be able to decide for yourself which of these two options makes the most sense for your workshifting lifestyle.

PROS

Home office

1. Quiet.  There is no question that when you work from a home office, you can generally get as much or as little quiet as you want.  Close the door, take a deep breath and start hammering away at your tasks.  If you need absolute peace to get anything done, there are few other settings that will provide this level of tranquility (unless of course you have kids at home… in which case, this point’s moot).

2. Uninterrupted privacy. 
Sometimes, workshifters work on sensitive projects.  If you’re working on design or copy for a big client who wants to make a big splash, you can’t afford to have someone catch a glimpse of your sketches.  In a home office, you can be sure that there is no corporate espionnage going on.  Unless your significant other works for the competition.  In which case, you may want to stay with friends until your assignment wraps up.

3. Work in your pajamas.  The holy grail of frustrated cubicle workers is to be able to work from home in their pajamas (or less, if that’s how you roll).  While most successful workshifters have long ago learned that the key to good performance is to treat every day as if they were going into the office, having the option of working on a quarterly report in your boxers is certainly a perk.

4. Minimal expenses.
  Sure, you have to get an internet connection, and you have to brew your own coffee, but chances are, even if you were working in an office, you’d still have those expenses.  What you can save on is expensive cafeteria lunches, the cost of a dozen grande lattes, and commuting costs.

5. Making phone calls is easy.  If you work with clients or colleagues, you need to make at least a handful of phone calls a day.  Being able to speak on the phone in a closed door office is a lot more comfortable than making that same call with chattery background noise, or loud colleagues having their own calls.

Coffee Shop

1. Action keeps you awake.  No matter how much you love what you do for a living, there are definitely times when you have to slog through tasks that put you to sleep.  Working in a coffee shop can perk you up not only through the caffeine, but also through the action going on around you.  For better or worse, being around people forces you to keep up certain appearances.  Passing out on your laptop in a Starbucks just wouldn’t do.

2. Benefit from someone else’s wifi connection.
  A lot of coffee houses offer free wifi connections, which make them the ideal place if you’re out of town, or if your own home internet connection is down, or if you haven’t gotten around to setting up your own home internet connection.

3. Serendipitous encounters.  Chances are, if you’re working from home, you’re not going to be having too many adventures.  There is no chance to be interrupted, but there is also no chance to have serendipitous encounters with possible business contacts (or other).  Part of the beauty of coffee shop workshifting is that you will run into other workshifters, and while most can offer only their camaraderie – not a terrible thing to have in and of itself – others may surprise you by turning out to be important business contacts.

4. Entertainment.  Sometimes, when working from a coffee shop, I like to point and laugh at all the people running away from the office for 10-15 minute coffee breaks, only to scurry back with their treats.  This behavior should be practiced discretely and only when you’re having a rough day.

5. Inspiration. 
If you do any kind of remotely creative work, chances are you’re always looking for inspiration.  In my experience, there’s little more inspirational than people watching, and coffee shops, after parks, are probably the best people watching spots in any city.

CONS

Home Office

1. Loneliness.  As much as it sometimes feels like a relief that you no longer have to hide from Bob from accounting when he stops by “for a quick chat,” it is easy to forget that we’re social creatures and sooner or later, the water cooler chatting will be missed.  When you work from home, there’s no one to chat with (except for maybe the cat).

2. Must have your own internet connection.  It stands to reason that if you’re going to workshift in the modern age, you need an internet connection.  For most people this isn’t an issue, but for a handful of people who have still been getting by without internet at home, working from home will force you to bite the bullet and shell out for a decent connection.

3. Risk of never changing scenery.  When you work from home, you enter a weird time warp where you lose track of the outside world, and it becomes all too easy to become a complete shut-in.  I’ve heard tales of workshifters who haven’t left their homes for three or more days at a time, because they’ve fallen into the trap of laziness.  This isn’t good for your mental well-being, or for your happiness.

4. Possibility of procrastination is huge.  Every office worker’s biggest enemy is procrastination.  Whether it’s wasting time surfing the web, checking facebook, twitter, or anything else.  This is easiest to do at home.  Not to mention you could also procrastinate with a myriad of other activities, like television, doing laundry, tidying up the den, re-arranging photo albums, building a birdhouse…  the possibilities are endless.

Coffee Shop

1. Intimidation.  While many coffee shops have gotten used to the idea of workshifters buying an overpriced caffeinated beverage and installing themselves at a small table for a few hours, some still aren’t particularly fond of the practice.  Getting dirty stares from a frustrated barrista who is waiting for you to order another $6 cappuccino to replace the one you finished 20 minutes ago is not conducive to productivity.

2. Risk of crappy connections.  In a coffee shop, you have no control over the quality of the internet connection.  You will eventually get to know which shops have good internet service, and which are flaky, but at the beginning, you may find yourself getting your cup of joe, setting yourself up for a day of work, only to be frustrated by constantly dropping wifi signals.

3. The unexpected run-in.  Unless you drive to a coffee shop 100 miles outside of your hometown (maybe more), there is always the risk that you will have an unexpected run-in with acquaintances.  These run-ins are made awkward by the fact that most people you run into don’t realize that you’re actually working.  It’s ofte
n difficult to back away from these conversations.  Especially when you’re in the middle of a real creative flow, these run-ins can be a serious deflater.

Conclusion

In the end, there is no right answer. Some people will prefer the calm of working from home, while others will prefer the hustle and bustle of working from crowded cafes.  For most people, however, switching between the two common modes of workshifting from time to time is a good idea.  It keeps things interesting.  After all, workshifting is about increasing freedom, so might as well take advantage of that freedom and explore all the possibilities.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Earl G

  • Lisangela

    I think the real debate is between home office and coworker locations. Even as a workshifter myself, I tend to frown upon people that plant themselves in coffee shops all day and “work”. They are essentially stealing resources from the business owner since they seldom buy enough goods to cover the time they spend there.

  • http://EricWalkermarketing.com/ Eric Walker

    The library! Don’t overlook the library. The library is my first choice over both the home office and the coffee shop. At the library, I can cozy myself in the most remote corner and literally be a fly on the wall. If I need to take calls, or if I have a (goto) meeting, I can reserve the study room. Not only that, but it doesn’t even cost the price of a coffee. Generally the internet connection is reliable and strong. If you have kids like I do, getting out of the house is a must.

    • Bcotier

      I was going to recommend this. I work from home and when repairs were making it IMPOSSIBLE. I went to the library. I had a proper desk to sit at or a comfortable chair to read in. People respect that you are working.

    • http://woodworking-books.org woodworkingbooks

      The coffee shop can be difficult if your job involves attending conference calls

  • http://www.BillHibbler.com Bill Hibbler

    Thanks, Adam. For me, having the iPod is essential when I’m working in a coffee shop and really need to focus. Although I usually love the atmosphere, loud espresso machines, background music and people on cell phones can be pretty distracting. If you’re going to take a call while working in the coffee shop, be courteous to others and step outside.

  • http://twitter.com/mpaluchowski Michał Paluchowski

    Very thoroughly discussed :) There really isn’t a right answer here, because the right one is different for everyone. I myself prefer working in cafes just because I’m a huge procrastinator when at home. I do know quite a few people though, who have the discipline to work at home and prefer to do so.

  • http://www.internetbusinessgeneration.com/ Tim

    This is a great discussion. I find myself spending around 80% at home and 20% in coffee shops. It’s not a all or nothing thing for me.

    I do miss my split screen setup in the coffee shop and if you don’t find a comfy chair, you have had it.

    Great article!

    Tim

  • http://www.jphellemons.nl/ JP Hellemons

    Thanks Adam for this great article. I think that the choice also depends on the culture. I am from the Netherlands (Holland) and Starbucks is opening a few stores (3 locations in our country). There is this ‘bagle and beans’ store near which is great (awesome coffee) but small and we have ‘douwe egberts’ stores. So we have really little choice (two options in my town, actually just one 2 months ago) and it’s not common in our culture to work all day in a coffee shop. I think that dutch people think that we can’t occupy a seat at a store for a day. I hope that it will change in the future. Really looking forward to work a day with awesome coffee!

  • David Seruyange

    +1 for Eric Walker.

    In my younger days I liked the atmosphere of a coffee shop but now I enjoy the quiet room of the library. There’s still enough secondary activity to keep me awake (and concentrated while I block it all out) but I can have a reasonable connection speed and don’t have to spend money.

    I think also there’s a significant waste of time involved in going to a coffee shop. If it takes even 15 minutes to get there, 5 to order and 5 to set up, 5 to shoot the breeze with the barrista, 5 to clean up when leaving – you get the drift – a home office gives you the ability to have a very effecient 30 minutes in contrast.

  • http://twitter.com/DiannaKersey Dianna Kersey

    I enjoy both, but find the coffee house a huge distraction. Plus if my regular seat is gone and I end up in one of those soft cushy couches… I’m doomed for an unscheduled snooze ;)

  • http://bit.ly/9Rm508 shoes times

    This is a great discussion.Now i’d like to tell you about my online store http://www.shoestimes.com, There are so many individual shoes, dresses and accessories, it has plenty of different styles and different outfits, and It is sure that at least one of those must be to your taste.

  • http://twitter.com/SummerH Summer Huggins

    One of the pros of working from home for me is the dogs. Silly, I know, but true.

    They serve as a good reminder to get up from my computer every once in a while, step outside with them for some fresh air, and to eat regularly.

    • Bcotier

      I came late to this… My dog is my built in break. When I lived in DC I was a “daytimer” in my Upper Northwest neighborhood of folks who left for the day. Getting out with the dog to do errands or just take a break was a perfect way to split up the day.

      I am always meeting the most interesting people while walking my dog who turn into valuable work and social contacts.

      Still where you are the most productive is where you should be working. Thankfully I have that choice.

      I cannot emphasis how important it is that your chair, desk, keyboard, and monitor be positioned to optimize and promote good posture and not cause undue strain. It is a critical to your long term health. Many businesses do not bother certainly coffee shops do not. An hour here or there is nothing. It is the accumulation of hours spent in a chair to short, a desk too high or a monitor too close. Your health will appreciate you for spending the time and money to fit your office fixtures to your body.

  • Guest

    I use coffee shops a couple of times per week for an hour or two just for some change from my home office. I do find I need my headphones and put on some non-lyrics based music or a little app called ChatterBlocker.

    What I don’t like about coffee shops is having to use the washroom. I can’t leave me laptop on the table by itself.

  • http://achievingextraordinarysuccess.com Robert Hickman

    Another downside that was missed is security, any data that you send unencrypted across a WiFi network can be viewed by anyone else on the network. A lot of outdated and insecure protocols are still in common use, for example FTP, POP and plain HTTP (https is secure). If you log into a FTP server or check your email with POP, anyone on the network could view the connection and steal your user name/password and also any data that was transferred.

    The best answer is to set up an encrypted VPN tunnel back to a known secure end point, like a home network.

    • Kmccabe

      Thank you for mentioning security. I don’t work from coffee shops very much because of this! Plus when I really feel like I need a break – its late! I work for a company 8 hours behind! I really do like the experience of working from home because to be successful you really need to be disciplined! I don’t understand why people argue over which is the best place. That’s clearly a personal decision. When I lived in California I liked working from cafes particularly when it was really hot at home (no air con). In London, I find that my place is usually quiet and so far during the summer it stays pretty cool inside. But every day I stop at Starbucks and think “I should camp out here more often!” :)

  • http://TheAnywhereOffice.com/ Phil Montero

    Great overview Adam,

    I work primarily out of a home office and while I love it – I definitely feel the need to work from a different location. For me sometimes that means simply moving to the yard. I love working from coffee shops but unfortunately in my area there are only “chain” coffee shops like Starbucks or a Panera Bread.

    I much prefer what I call “real” or local indie coffee shops – when I lived and worked in Boston they were everywhere – but now in Port Saint Lucie Florida – none to be had. There was one but it closed about 6 months ago. I love the atmosphere of a small coffee shop and find I am often more productive there than working from my home office – maybe it’s just the change of location.

    My preference is to work from both (and everywhere my anywhere office takes me!)

  • bruceeric

    Ah, the library, that had completely slipped my mind! I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for the great post. And amen to Summer’s comment about her dog. My boxer is a very social creature and lays next to me most days.

  • Jonathan B

    Both – sometimes it’s nice to pop into town with the netbook and get a coffee or two. Sometimes I feel the need to stay at home in the peace and quiet and attack a task that requires several hours work. Using programs like Dropbox on all my computers means I can open up and edit and ‘dropboxed’ document or file :-)

  • http://shelleygable.wordpress.com/ Shelley Gable

    Fun debate! The coffee shop can be difficult if your job involves attending conference calls (which mine does). Why not take advantage of both worlds? Start the day at home…head to the coffee shop for a couple hours and a change of scenery when an early afternoon slump starts to creep in…then finish strong at home.

  • http://www.brightcube.ca/ Dave Gallant

    Quite often I work at coffee shops. I actually find it an excellent way to meet others, and ironically my concentration is better than in an office.