Coffee shop work etiquette

More people seem to be working in coffee shops than ever, and a few rules go a long way to make it a productive environment for all.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Mobile technology has come a long way to make it possible for many workers to get things done almost anywhere. The neighborhood coffee shop is a popular spot for many, but just one person can ruin the productive environment for everyone. If every remote worker follows a few simple rules everyone can have a nice work session in any coffee shop.

I work in coffee shops part of the day at least four or five times a week and I see people committing one or two of the offenses listed below almost every day. A good work session can be derailed by those with little regard for fellow patrons in the coffee shop.

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Take phone calls outside

Work sessions sometimes mean handling important phone calls. The one rule that should never be broken is to take all phone calls outside. This applies equally to both incoming and outgoing calls. The people around you have no desire to hear your side of the conversation, and you shouldn't want them to hear it either.

If you have to step outside to take that call, tell someone close by what you're doing and ask if they will watch your stuff. They will usually agree to do it as they appreciate your taking the conversation outside. Keep the call as short as possible so you can quickly relieve your good samaritan.

Don't ever participate in a phone call using the speaker phone in the shop. Few things distract everybody than hearing both sides of a loud phone call. Those who do this should be banned from the coffee shop for life.

Always use headphones

Loud phone calls are not the only distraction involving sound in coffee shops. You've most likely been working in a place and been disturbed by someone listening to music or watching a video with the audio playing for everyone to hear. 

This is very poor etiquette as it disturbs everyone nearby. It's not the same for your neighbors to just hear that funny YouTube video. Pull your earphones out of your bag and plug them in; you'll be a hero to everyone if you do.

Don't be an outlet addict

If you work in coffee shops much at all you've seen your share of outlet addicts, the folks with a laptop who can't bring themselves to work without plugging it in. Many of them are just topping off the battery of the laptop "just in case". 

Unfortunately, few coffee shops have an abundance of outlets and what they have seem to be located in the worst places possible. This causes outlet addicts to string laptop power cords dangerously between their table and the outlet. It's one of the most discourteous things a worker can do in a public venue.

On the other hand, those using the laptop without a power cord can do their part to be a good workmate. If you don't need the outlet, sit away from them if you can. Leave the closest spots to the outlets for those who may really need to charge a laptop battery. 

Befriend the baristas

If you work in particular coffee shops regularly, make friends with the staff. Many workers in shops I frequent tell me they love repeat customers who chat them up in passing. They look forward to friendly customers and enjoy having them hang out for a while. This offsets the fact that customers who work a while are occupying tables.

Always buy drinks and food when possible to help the shop make money. This ensures they stay in business so your work place stays around for you. Don't forget to tip the workers, and tip them well. They probably don't make much money as it is so treat them as well as you can.

Do not conduct interviews in public places

Apparently lots of managers need to have training when it comes to interviewing prospective employees as I see them conducting such interviews in public far too often. Job interviews expose a lot of personal information and it is never appropriate to make those applying for jobs to share such information in public. This is a very demeaning thing to put people through.

Job interviews are not the only type of meeting that shouldn't happen in the coffee shop. I've heard a number of client/attorney meetings taking place at adjacent tablets while I was trying to work. I heard one attorney meeting with a client accusing another local attorney of sexual harrassment. Everyone at adjacent tables were extremely uncomfortable with this meeting taking place in a crowded coffee shop.

Keep meetings small and quiet

If you work in coffee shops regularly you've problably seen meetings held that disrupt the entire shop. To be a good remote worker if you must meet in a coffee shop try to keep the meeting to two or three people. Bigger groups take up too much space and no matter how hard everyone tries to keep quiet it's almost impossible when too many people are involved.

The rule for taking phone calls outside often comes into play with large meetings. I've heard speaker phone calls held by group meetings disrupt otherwise productive work sessions in the coffee shop.

Introduce yourself to other regulars

When you patronize coffee shops often, you end up seeing a fair number of other regulars. Don't overlook the opportunity to make new friends and introduce yourself to them. It's interesting to hear what they do and what leads them to the coffee shop to work frequently and they will likely feel the same.

Since I started working in coffee shops a lot I've met interesting people, some of whom have become close friends.

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