Opinion

In Reply To "Cafes Are For Talking, Not Typing"

— Australia


Preface
We respond to Sydney Morning Herald piece, "Cafes Are For Talking, Not Typing", which gets a little tight, we think, on the concept of cofficing.

Writer
Paul Goodsell

Photography
Paul Holmes

Location
Australia


"You must have seen them at your local cafe" writes Fairfax Media writer Mark Holden. "Young people armed with MacBook Airs...freeloading on the internet and the table space for the price of a flat white."

Holden is of course dissing on the sort of people Worcere aims to help. Freelancers, solopreneurs, digital nomads and remote workers; people who can work from anywhere provided there's an internet connection - people who escape to places like cafes to satisfy their daily human connection quota for the day, and a change of scenery. With the freedom of self-employment and location- independence why would anyone lock themselves in their home office?

Not only does Holden criticise these people for taking up valuable table space - and, presumably air, at his favourite cafes, but he's a bit snide about their occupations and locales too.

“These intellectual pieceworkers answer to job titles you won't recognise in occupations that have only existed since the dawn of the 2010s – content manager, brand strategist … Their concentration increases the closer you get to Collingwood or Alexandria …”

So much subtext.

Flinders Street Project - WiFi and Power Coffice in Adelaide

Flinder Street Project, a relatively new space, made sure to including charging equipment in their cafe design for their power-thirsty customers. 


He is right about one thing. He theorises: “[With] intellectual piecework precarious and poorly paid, you can hardly blame entrepreneurial youngsters for wanting a cheap desk that isn't in a share house bedroom.” Precisely. This is partially the reason why people resort to coffices. But only partially. Most don’t need to use a cafe’s WiFi connection, power points, and tabletops. They’re actually escaping another space that has all these things - be it the conventional office, co-working space, or home office - on a quest for some place inspiring, different, and with coffee and cake!

At the centre of Holden’s rant, is a phenomenon being spruiked by cafes near and far. They’re going from WiFi to NoWi in an attempt to rid their rustic timber communal benches of the laptop-using, one-coffee-an-hour-drinking freeloaders who are surely the culprits of all their woes.

Chapter Five Espresso in Redfern, Sydney, wants to make their place more social and bubbly. Like in little old Italy. Newsworthy was the placement of a sign at the front of the cafe that read: “We Do Not Have WiFi. Drink Coffee, Talk To Each Other”. This is nice and very much the owner’s prerogative. Hello Jupiter, a little Parisian inspired cafe in the East End of Adelaide, tries to push a similar ideal. “We just want people to talk to each other and not concentrate on their devices” is the roundabout explanation the owner gave me on a visit a year or two ago. Thing is, they do have a power point accessible to customers and AdelaideFree WiFi penetrates the darkest depths of the little coffee shop.

Dom Di Miscio with anti-WiFi sign out of the front of Chapter Five Espresso

It's Chapter Five Espresso's prerogative to offer WiFi or not.


Back to the freeloader point. Replace laptop with date, friend, book, magazine, newspaper, notepad, phone, or iPad, and freeloading can still occur. It’s got nothing to do with the medium with which you share your table, but rather the stinginess and values of the patron. Holden is right, if by freeloader he does mean someone that would justify a lengthy session for the price of a flat white. But, frankly, I haven’t met many people - especially not freelancers and entrepreneurs - that would do that. There’s a bit of an unspoken etiquette or rule amongst us cofficers. If a place is busy, don’t hog a table for too long. Under half-an-hour, a coffee or drink will do. More than an hour, order food too. Frankly, if this is the accepted order to time ratio that a place accepts, what does it matter whether I am on my Air or reading the paper? Most cafes have no problem with customers readings things, what with the spread of magazines and newspapers laid out as you enter.

To be sure, there are actually cafes and places across Australia that encourage people to come in and work. Places like DEW in Adelaide (it stands for Drink, Eat, Work) and VIVO in Sydney. Not to mention the old cafe-come-bookshop configuration. People poring over Bryson and Rowling while comfortably reclined in big leather chairs. This aesthetic is vital to these establishments. So why not the murmur of entrepreneurism happening before you. I have always thought that an interesting and innovative cafe will attract interesting and innovative people. Which, on reflection, is a bit odd seeing one of my favourites, La Moka, is a popular meeting spot for bureaucrats!

Holden ends his broadside on an awkward note; “I've tried cafe hot-desking [look at him with the cool lingo]. I felt like a prat, peering earnestly at the screen and pretending to be doing something important and income-generating, when I was really just checking emails, updating Facebook and posting photos of empty coffee cups to Instagram.”

Sigh. It seems Mr Holden may just lack self-discipline and work ethic. As I wrote in a recent post, “Why Work Out Of A Cafe?”, these workspaces can foster accountability. “[W]orking somewhere public encourages you to procrastinate less and get work done. According to digital consultant Monique Clark she watches less stupid YouTube videos if she's working in a cafe.” Me too. I want to cast the impression that I am working on something interesting and exciting - something meaningful. Not scrolling the comment section of an article on Facebook from some medium rate newspaper.

Cafes, or coffices, are a place to get stuff done. Cofficing encourages workers to support local business, to get up and stretch their legs, to put some food in their stomach, whilst adding a degree of vibrancy to venues. Remember, though, don’t be a jerk about it and pay your way. And do stop from time to time and have a chat to some people. Real people. Those before you.

Opinion

In Reply To "Cafes Are For Talking, Not Typing"

— Australia


Preface
We respond to Sydney Morning Herald piece, "Cafes Are For Talking, Not Typing", which gets a little tight, we think, on the concept of cofficing.

Writer
Paul Goodsell

Photography
Paul Holmes

Location
Australia