I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for the greater part of a decade. About half the week, I work from home – often in my pajamas, ungroomed, living the long-fabled stereotypical life of a freelancer. But a few days a week, I’ll end up venturing out to a coffee shop and working from there.
Years of working from cafes has taught me there’s a wide range of behavior, and a great deal of it is completely abhorrent. I don’t claim to be the best human ever, but there’s some basic human decencies I employ while living my life and doing my work.
Perhaps you are so engrossed in your work you don’t realize how much you suck? Or worse, maybe even you don’t care. Either way, I have some advice for all of you out there in your own cafes, doing your thing.
1. Share power outlets politely
How many times have you been in Starbucks and seen an otherwise-kindly old lady sitting in front of the ONLY power outlet, not using it, but blocking it so that you can’t use it either?
She’s evil. Also evil is anyone of any age doing same. My laptop is in its twilight years, it has maybe 2.5 hours of battery life. If I’m working for longer than the lifespan of my latte, that battery is going to wane, and I’m going to HATE you if I have to relocate entirely because you won’t move your ass from the outlet you aren’t even using.
If you are the only one there and no one else wants the outlet, feel free to have a party. But if you see people waiting, share. Share if you aren’t using it. Also share if you have been using it and your device is now fully charged. Just don’t be an asshole. (This is a recurring theme. Get ready.)
I’m no Mother Teresa, but if my computer is at greater than 70% and I see people with furrowed brows staring at blank screens, I will offer to share my outlet. It’s just the right thing to do. People pay forward kindness. It’ll come back to you. Much as being a terrible human will.
2. Get off the freaking phone
Whether you have a mobile office or just really love chatting, it’s just not cool to be shouting into your iPhone while I’m sitting next to you with four windows open trying to meet a deadline. I get that we’re in public space, but I also know that my mother taught me the difference between an inside voice and an outside voice. If I get a phone call, I step away.
Many of us have business calls as part of our day, whether we work from home or not. Many of us have non-business calls from our friend about to meet us for after work drinks. Whatever. Keep the noise down. A part of being a decent human is to respect those other decent humans who are physically around you. Walk away and find a quieter spot, walk outside, or JUST DON’T SHOUT. If you can’t do it, then stay home and work from there. Obviously you can’t play well with others.
I usually listen to music as I work from coffee shops. (The Sensitive Men of the ‘90s station on Songza if you were wondering.) However, I always bring ear buds and I listen at a volume such that my Chris Isaak doesn’t make it into your workspace. It’s called manners.
3. Don’t be an asshole
Related to not screaming into your phone or Skype or related telecommunicating device, display normal human manners. These manners are much like the ones you may have if you were, say, sitting next to me on an airplane.
Do not crack your gum – it’s disgusting. Do not slurp, chew loudly, crunch on your ice, or talk with your mouth full, it’s also disgusting. Preferably, don’t talk at all, but I’m not trying to be completely unreasonable here. Just don’t be rude, profane, or act in a way you wouldn’t act in an office with a colleague at an adjoining cubicle. Please also: Do not crack your knuckles. I don’t even get why that’s a thing for anyone, but it’s nasty.
4. Please don’t talk to me
If we see each other from time to time – or you are hot – I may smile and say hello when I see you. We may possibly start up a conversation and it may be awesome. But if you see me staring stony eyed into a computer filled with open windows, feverishly typing, please don’t talk to me. Please take a hint when I don’t respond to you, and don’t continue to try to talk to me even as I ignore you and silently beg the heavens for you to disappear. SHARING A TABLE DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE FRIENDS OR THAT I HAVE ANY DESIRE TO SPEAK TO YOU.
Related: Sometimes you will have a friend who will know you go to cafes to work and offer to come “hang out” with you. They may possibly say they have “stuff” to do too and can co-work. If this is a friend who can do their own thing, co-exist with you and not interrupt your own work schedule, that is fine. However, if it’s a friend who comes and immediately starts talking to you, doesn’t stop, and suggests “breaks” every hour – clearly they either don’t respect that you have to work, that your work is work and you are currently doing said work, or they don’t work very hard themselves. Don’t invite them again.
5. Use only as much space as you need
This is sort of along the same lines as the people who hog the power outlet. If you are in a crowded café where people are walking around holding their coffee and computer looking for somewhere to sit, you are an awful human if you have one seat for your ass and another for your bag/coat/various shopping bags. (This would make you a jerk on the subway as well, FYI.)
Observe the laws of personal space, and allow a comfortable amount of space for everyone around you whenever it’s possible, and never use more than one chair per person unless there are empty chairs to spare.
6. Don’t be a stereotype
There’s an old belief of freelancers and telecommuters being drifters, barely working and living off the land. This isn’t true. You are just as much of a productive, useful member of society as anyone else. This means contributing. If you are in a café for hours upon hours, using their space, electricity, and Wi-Fi, support their business. Buy more than the bottomless $2 coffee. Buy food. Your local Starbucks is not meant to be your personal picnic area, so refrain from bringing your packed lunch to a place that sells lunch. It’s rude.
Extra rudeness points if it smells. Keep your space clean. Don’t make them hate you so much they make it harder for the responsible people among us to return to do our work in the future.