Since 1991, the number of people working from coffee shops has increased seven-fold (Economist 6/4/2003). Today’s workforce is becoming more mobile or at least more people are opting to work part of the time from their local coffee shop. Sounds like a hip new trend, right?

Well, not quite. Coffeehouses were a fixture of 18th century England, and within those badly built establishments people were doing all kinds of things: discussing scientific concepts, founding new businesses, starting what would later be known as the Fifth Estate or journalism, selling books and art, discussing politics, and even holding musical recitals. The activities within these establishments were as numerous as the number of coffeehouses operating in London in 1734 which was 551 legally licensed ones, in case you were wondering. Each coffeehouse played host to a particular niche or industry. If you wanted to find out about insuring cargo on a ship bound from India or China, you popped over to Edward Lloyd’s Coffeehouse down by the docks and talked to the men drinking coffee there. Edwards Lloyd’s Coffeehouse eventually became Lloyd’s of London, one of the biggest insurance companies in the world.

Closer to our time, coffee houses were the breeding ground for many Silicon Valley start-ups.

The coffee shop as office alternative is not really a new idea but an old idea that has been recycled for the new millennium.

Q: Which businesses do you think are best suited for using coffee houses as alternative offices and why?

Thanks for dropping by and come again soon for another virtual cup and conversation!

Lori Thiessen