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Half-caffs and hotspots: How to work productively from cafes and public spaces

Tony Bradley | Oct. 24, 2013
Whether you're just getting out of the office or the sidewalk cafe is your office, working in a public space has some special challenges. These tips will help you stay safe and productive.

Caffeine and free Wi-Fi are a potent recipe for productivity. It's what lures you and many other telecommuters to spend serious work time in convenient coffee shops. But whether you're just getting out of the office or the sidewalk café is your office, working in a public space has some special challenges. These tips will help you stay safe and productive.

1. Stake out your turf
Before you put down your coffee, consider the location of your temporary office. Is it too close to the door? Too far from the restroom? Right under a vent that pumps out freezing-cold air? Discomfort and distractions will hamper your productivity. Don't be shy about asking to share a table. Other telecommuters, in particular, understand that it's part of the social contract of working in a public place. And be sure to bring a jacket or sweater that you can drape over your chair to hold your spot.

2. Power up
Whether your device is a laptop, a hybrid, or a tablet, its battery must be able to keep up with you. If you plan to work remotely a lot, consider investing in a laptop that carries one of Intel's new Haswell processors—which offer significantly better battery life than their Ivy Bridge predecessors—or using a power-efficient tablet instead of a traditional laptop.

If you plan to settle in for more than a few hours, bring a power cord. Most retail establishments that provide free Wi-Fi allow customers to plug into the outlets, too. Of course, that means finding a seat near an outlet. If the outlets are all taken, and you have a power emergency, ask a better-situated patron if you can take a turn with the outlet.

3. Be wary of free Wi-Fi
One of the main attractions of Starbucks and similar retailers is their free Wi-Fi. Starbucks is in the midst of switching from AT&T to Google as its service provider. The new Google service is 10 times faster (or more, in areas served by Google Fiber gigabit broadband). If your neighborhood Starbucks has already made the switch, you'll have even more incentive to work from that location.

In most cases, though, the adage "you get what you pay for" applies—so you shouldn't rely on free Wi-Fi to support a business-critical videoconference. At the very least, make sure that you have a reliable Plan B—such as using a 4G/LTE smartphone, tablet, or hotspot—for network connectivity in a pinch. Most mobile devices can allow other devices to connect over Wi-Fi and share the cellular data connection, and the wireless providers offer dedicated mobile hotspots that do the same thing. Bear in mind, though, that using your smartphone or tablet as a Wi-Fi hotspot will consume data from your cellular data plan.

 

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