How long can I sit in a coffee shop using their wi-fi? Etiquette for freelancers and digital nomads

Working from a coffee shop has benefits for freelancers, but they are businesses too. Follow these eight top tips and ensure some mutual respect, says Claire Mason

You’ve dreamed about it for ages. Working for yourself, from the comfort of your own home. No more commuting or putting up with stale air in offices.

So you take the leap and discover it is every bit as wonderful as you imagined it to be. Your boss is great, which is good news since it’s you, and the extra time in your day saved from no longer commuting is put to excellent use as you build your business.  

It’s a delight to work from your spare bedroom and take calls in your pyjamas, and you wouldn’t swap it for the world. Every so often, though, you get a hankering for other people and you wouldn’t mind a bit of office banter.

These are the universal feelings of freelancers and has no doubt given rise to the trend of working from the “coffice”, i.e. turning your local coffee shop into an outpost of your office. It’s an attractive proposition to spend some time in a place with other people after working on your own for a while.

The fact that food and coffee will be served to you and other people will clean up after you only makes it more attractive. It’s also a way to still keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening ‘on the street’, so to speak. You won’t usually be able to spot the next trend bubbling up from your home office that easily.

For the most part, coffee shops welcome freelance workers to their premises and to avail themselves of their free wi-fi. However, there are some rules to follow so that you don’t end up being that freelancer, the one who causes all the staff to groan as soon as you walk through the doors.

1. Keep your cables out of the way

By being considerate of the coffee shop’s needs, you’re more likely to be welcomed back. Don’t take up more space than you need, and keep the cords for your devices tidy and out of the way of others.

If your cables are capable of tripping someone up, that’s a safety hazard for the coffee shop, and they won’t appreciate that responsibility being added to their plate. It’s also a hazard for your devices since they will go flying if someone trips over your cords.

2. Order food, not just coffee

Visit over lunchtime so that you have reason to order a meal. Drinking just one coffee and a whole lot of tap water while working for four hours will not put you in the proprietor’s or staff’s good books.

Remember, you are using their electricity and wi-fi while you’re working from the coffee shop. Be kind and tip your waitron well. That will go a long way to establishing a good rapport and the kind of relationship you want when you’re looking for some company while you work.

3. Keep your phone calls private

Other customers might be in the coffee shop to have a well-deserved break, to celebrate a birthday, or catch up with friends. In other words, they don’t need to hear your phone call or Skype conversation.

4. Keep your papers to yourself

Don’t hog communal tables either. Freelancers are notorious for spreading their papers all over the place. It’s off-putting to others and is not the best way to treat your business’ information either.

5. Smile and be friendly  

Most likely you won’t be the only freelancer in the room. Since the whole point of working from a coffee shop is to enjoy some other people around you, being friendly is par for the course.

It’s always good to have a buddy to watch your stuff when you need a toilet break or to have a chat with when you lift your head from your screen. You might pick up a valuable contact or client, or new friend, by being friendly and you never know what networks your new coffee shop buddy might introduce you too.

Being polite and friendly to the restaurant staff too could go a long way as you never know when they will need a freelancer’s help, or know of another business who does.

6. Take headphones with you, and focus

There is no problem to let it be known when you need to knuckle down and work, and the universal sign that you need some alone time is headphones. Keep a pair with you, not only to help you disengage from conversations when you need to focus on your marketing plan, but also to set up a quiet environment or sound cocoon for you to work.

7. Remember your charger

It’s almost a rite of a passage for independent workers. You excitedly get ready for your first period of working from the coffee shop, keen to get stuck into a piece of work that you’ve deliberately allocated to being completed while you’re drinking some of world’s best java.

You get down to the coffee shop, order your coffee, and get right into your work. Only to realise within minutes that your battery is about to run flat and you don’t have a spare charger. Many freelancers have a coffee shop bag the way new parents have a nappy bag always on standby.

8. Have a specific task to complete

The world of work is changing rapidly, and whole tribes of freelancers are setting up offices wherever they can lay their laptop. While no one is suggesting that you run your freelance business from nine to five, seven days a week, at your local coffee shop, getting a change of scenery from your usual work-from-home routine will help your creativity.

Finally, fathom out which work you do best while surrounded by other patrons and their noise levels. Maybe it is prospecting for leads on the internet, or writing up a report.

That way you’ll know how best to use your time away from your own home office, and you’ll feel refreshed and productive for the time you spend working from your coffice.