Every remote worker has days when it seems impossible to focus. Maybe there is too much stomping and scraping overhead, or your floor is vibrating from the pulse of your downstairs neighbor’s bass, or a jackhammer has just begun to tear up the sidewalk in front of your building. Or maybe you just need a change of scenery to restore your creativity.
It’s time to pack up your gear and head for your alternative workspace. Every cafe, coffeehouse or coworking space has an ambience that can fill a specific need — some may even improve your productivity depending on the type of task you’re working on. For instance, a cozy, dimly lit space with jazzy background tunes might be just the place for creative writing or organizing your ideas. A bright, modern cafe with an upbeat tempo might energize you to make great headway on that report you’re working on. A bookstore cafe might provide the mood and inspiration to draft an article or ebook. An open-area coworking space can provide you with a collaborative atmosphere and a connection to like-minded professionals on days when you feel too isolated.
It’s a good idea to keep on hand an updated shortlist of nearby places that you’ve vetted for different types of work tasks. If you’re under the gun, you don’t want to waste time running from site to site trying to find a space to suit your need.
TIP: Searching for alternative workspace options can provide a welcome refreshing break during the week. Set aside some time each week to spend an hour in each location to see if the vibe, clientele and noise level suits your work style.
Besides finding the right fit for the type of task you’re working on, cost will likely be a top consideration when choosing a place to work. How much are you willing to spend on food, drink or rent to use the space? Following are some options.
When You’re on a Tight Budget…
The library. Budget-conscious remote workers may want to check out workstation setups at their local library branch. Besides being free, the library offers many benefits for remote workers: public computers, printers & copiers, Wi-Fi access, some have meeting and study rooms — and of course access to books, newspapers, DVDs and other reference materials should you need them. In addition, there are rules enforced about the noise level, so you can be relatively assured that there won’t be loud conversations or phone calls to disrupt your train of thought.
City parks. Weather permitting, and depending on the type of work you’re doing, a public park could be another free option. Some urban parks are highly accommodating with outdoor cafes, seating and Wi-Fi access. A word of caution: Keep a close eye on your belongings. Public outdoor spaces tend to draw pickpockets and laptop thieves. Spreading out your devices and gear bag in the open can make you a target for a grab-and-dash robbery.
In a Pinch…
Convention centers. A convention center can provide a nice spatial contrast to a tiny apartment. Most have retail shops and restaurants with general seating areas outside of restaurants and meeting rooms. Other visitor services typically include ATMs, business centers and free Wi-Fi, although access may be restricted to exhibitors and event attendees. The noise level at convention centers can be distracting — the high ceilings and wide-open space gives off an echoey sound, and it can get quite loud if there are large or multiple events taking place.
Business Hotels. Like convention centers, hotels that cater to business professionals typically have meeting space with seating nearby. If you look like you belong (i.e., dressed appropriately), you can get away with an hour or so of work time. Just don’t expect to set up shop for the afternoon — if you use this option for too long or too frequently, hotel staff may start to catch on. Purchasing a cup of coffee or a sandwich from the hotel cafe can help to validate your presence.
Speaking of Coffee and Sandwiches…
The price of a caffè latte can get you an hour at a local cafe or coffeehouse, depending on the time of day and how busy the location is, but don’t expect to hold a table for long unless you’re willing to buy more food and drink. Many people find the background noise in cafes and coffeehouses helps them to concentrate — so much so, that there’s an app that replicates the sound, which you can download to your smartphone or listen to online.
If you go with this option, be aware of coffeehouse etiquette: take your phone calls outside, only occupy one chair (don’t put your bags or other belongings on extra chairs), don’t hog the power outlets, and tip well.
If a cafe has wait staff with assigned stations, don’t hold a table during busy times (i.e., lunch or dinner hour) and don’t spread out on a four-top if there is a table for one available. The server’s livelihood depends on his or her ability to quickly turn over the bar space or tables in her or her assigned area, so if there are others waiting, either order something or give up the table. And again, tip well and the staff will welcome you back.
When You Need a Dedicated Space to Work…
If you need a space that has been designed for working, consider a coworking space. The benefits are many, including high-speed Internet, printers, private offices, dedicated desks, storage, booths for cellphone calls, conference rooms, bike storage and the company of other remote workers.
Many coworking spaces offer daily rates as low as $20/day, and the amenities may well be worth the cost. And if you find one that you like, you may even want to opt for a monthly plan.
A bonus for freelancers and self-employed workers: The fee for renting a coworking space is a tax-deductible business expense, while that cup of coffee you bought to sit in a cafe is not.