Coffee shops have been the birthplace of political revolutions, artistic movements and Harry Potter. Moshi Monsters were created in them, Barack Obama wrote his first presidential speech in one and websites including Craigslist and Foursquare.com were built in them. These days, millions of British employees spend much of their working week in coffee shops and look like they are having far more fun than their desk-bound colleagues.
So how do you join them and escape the relative gloom of office-based employment?
Question long-held beliefs
You need a different attitude to thrive outside the safe confines of the traditional work environment. There are four beliefs that keep most people trapped in the rat race. Question these and you can begin to hatch your escape plan.
● Do you really need to sit at the same desk for 40 hours every week to achieve your best work and progress in your career? Could you work at different times and in different locations that would enable you to do other things in life?
● Do you really need to keep earning more and more to buy more and more “stuff” or could working away from an office buy you the greater asset of time?
● Are you living too far inside your comfort zone? If you think there might be more to life, you will have to go and get it because it will not come to you.
● What would you do if you had enough time to do what you really wanted? For inspiration, think back to dreams you had when you were growing up. That should provide ideas for leisure pursuits to fill your extra time.
Get your boss on board
Once you have persuaded yourself, you need to persuade your boss. To do so, arm yourself with success stories, such as Mind Candy, Foursquare, Instagram and Craigslist, and with plenty of data.
In the UK, says the OECD, 60 per cent of new companies start up without an office and collectively turn over £284bn. Britain alone has 3.6m flexible mobile workers, according to Vodafone; that is four times the 0.9m people working outside a traditional office in 1997.
People who are ‘in the flow’ are focused and absorbed in their activities
Instead of your request setting a bad example, argue that to allow remote working shows employees a greater degree of trust, which is a good way to achieve loyalty and higher productivity. And having people work from anywhere would enable the organisation to recruit beyond commutable distance.
If you get some traction, but still face a degree of resistance, suggest a trial period and together set measurable targets with a shorter timeframe for hitting them than if you were to work from your office (more on why this is possible below).
Finally, promise that you will not disappear and become just a name at the end of an email. Reassure your boss that you will phone fellow workers, answer their calls and get together with them periodically so they can hear you talk, laugh and explain your crazy requests and ideas.
Make the most of it
Now that you have managed to break free from your desk job, there are ways you can get great work done in that short timeframe you promised.
When you are working well, feeling vibrant, having good ideas, producing a great piece of work without interruptions and in less time than usual, you are “in the flow”. People who are in the flow are focused and absorbed in their activities. Some people experience this for minutes, some for hours, some for days at a time.
People working while in a state of flow, says a BT report on remote working, can finish tasks in about half the time needed in the office.
The trick is to stop working as soon as you realise you are not in the flow any more. Clear your mind and do something quite different: pick up the children from school and have fun.
It’s the summer and the UK has just passed a law to support flexible working, so there is no better time to give it a go. What are you waiting for?
Café society: Choice of locations to suit the mood of workers on the move
Working from coffee shops allows you to wander to wherever the mood takes you.
On a sunny day, you can cycle to an out of town coffee shop and make the most of the day. Harris & Hoole in Twickenham (and other locations on edges of London) is a good target – great coffee and WiFi guaranteed in all its shops.
Have a demanding deadline? Go to a big place where you work away for hours while still feeling more than welcome. Timberyard in Covent Garden and on Old Street is the first coffee shop designed specifically for people who want to spend the day beavering away. They not only have great coffee and food, but support it with iPads, WiFi and enough plug points for everyone.
Need inspiration? Go where your customers hang out and work alongside them. I wrote this piece at The Wren, recently voted London’s best new coffee shop. Just across the river from the FT’s offices and home to many of its readers. It is based inside The Wren church 100m from St. Paul’s.
Got to get the boring stuff done and want to feel like you’re still in your pyjamas? Then go local and dress down. There are now hundreds of independent coffee shops around the commuter areas of London. My local is Artisan in Stamford Brook on the border of Hammersmith and Chiswick.
Need to host a meeting and want to impress your guest? Caravan at King's Cross is an amazing space in the old granary building, sat alongside St Martin’s College. You can host over coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Want to feel innovative? Then there’s nothing better than Ozone Coffee, just off Old Street. Over two floors of an old printing press with the roaster on site, you are surrounded by the best coffee, food and silicon roundabout creatives.
If you are a keen cyclist and want to be able to work in your Lycra, then Giro in Esher gets you near Box Hill. With an iPad and a slice of cake you can complete a document and a climb up the hill in the same afternoon.
Chris Ward is the author of ‘Out Of Office’