January 2009


Written by Lori Thiessen

Now that we are becoming normalized to people using coffee shops as their alternative offices, the next step is … well, anybody’s guess.

Here’s a guess from Changeboard, a UK based website that deals with all things HR. In a post on virtual working, the author forecasts that improvements in technology infrastructure will make WIFI hotspots a thing of the past. People will truly no longer be tied to any particular location.  The coffee shop office will give way to a truly virtual office; any time, anywhere.

The author also enthuses that this will mean less stress for everyone. I’m not so sure about that.

The 24/7 lifestyle is difficult to maintain especially since 24/7 means that work takes centre stage. When work was based mainly on office attendence, the work day was clearly defined. And there were some benefits to that. You knew when you left the building your life was your own again.

With improvements to technology infrastructure, it could mean that you never leave your office. Could this also mean that your life will never be your own? Is tech-slavery the next step beyond microserfdom?

My husband works for a company that specializes in large data storage systems. Their clients are all over the globe, but the customer service contract means that clients get to call whenever they are having an emergency. There have been times when my husband is the No. 1 call guy that we get calls at 3 am our time from Sweden, or while he’s taking a shower. Fortunately, he’s on a 2 week rota system so  this isn’t our life all the time. But being woken from a deep sleep because the Blackberry is tinkling away is not fun.

If remote working means that traditional working hours are done away with, then other clear time boundaries will need to be put in place.  Perhaps there will be a tech version of the old ‘back at’ sign, or people will be contracted to answer any email or voicemail within 2 hrs. I’ve noticed that some friends of mine are beginning to say things like, “After 6 pm, I shut off my work cell phone” or “I shut down my computer at 9 pm”. It’s just not possible or sustainable to be available 24/7.

There are many good things about remote working and being able to structure your work day that best suits you is one of them. But what starts out as a good thing can sometimes go wrong.

Being clear about your time boundaries is a great start to keeping a good thing good.

Q: How have you managed time in your cafe commuter life?

If you haven’t already filled out our survey, then Gregg and I invite you to share your cafe commuter experiences at

www.coffeeshopsurvey.com

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Gregg Taylor

So I’m driving along with a couple colleagues in my car when we pass through my neighbourhood. One of my colleagues suddenly exclaimed. “Hey there’s Gregg’s coffee shop office, where he works away from the office!”. “His what?” the other replied. “Well, Gregg lives nearby and on days he doesn’t need to come into the office, he sets himself up there, uses the free wifi, and works remotely”.

How’s that for a growing legitimization of our cafe commuting community?! Sure, I do have a blog and upcoming book under way on the topic, but my circle of family, friends, and work colleagues is increasingly making reference to my alternate workspace, with an enthusiastic, and perhaps even jealous, endorsement of the practice.

Here are a few examples of how people have recently recognized my cafe commuting lifestyle:

  • As a thank you for my help on a couple projects, two business associates have separately bought me coffee gift cards for my favourite local coffee shop
  • Both friends and family, when asking about my day or week’s schedule, now include “or will you be at your coffee shop office?” in the list of alternatives
  • I’ve had people who are seeking a particular business service ask me “have you met anyone at your coffee shop office that provides computer support or web design services?”
  • This Christmas I received fun gifts given specifically in support of my cafe commuting habits. My niece and her husband gave me a gadget that’s a combo coffee mug with warming base that also provides 4 additional usb ports in the base, and a friend gave me a cool little keyboard vacuum, powered via usb port, to help root out those nasty coffee shop muffin crumbs. (More on these in my next post)

So the cafe commuting work-style is definitely moving from fad and novelty to a socially normalized and integrated work alternative.

Q. What has your experience been? Do your friends, family or work colleagues support and acknowledge your cafe commuting habits, or are you subject to questioning looks and subtle (or not so subtle) judgements that you’re really not ‘working’. Let us know!

Written by Lori Thiessen

With apologies to Charles Dickens, I think his opening sentence to A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up where we are at right now.

The best of times, of course, comes from the inauguration of Barack Obama. This is the moment when Hope has made a visit to so many around the world for the first time in a long time.  Mr Obama’s election also gives us hope that true positive change is possible. The vision of a better world has become a little more focussed.

But I think this Hope that many of us feel must be tempered with a certain amount of realism. We are also facing an economic downturn. I heard on the news this am that the Bank of Canada is forecasting Canada’s economic growth in negative numbers for this year.

I live in the province of British Columbia and BC’s economy is somewhat insulated from the effects of the economic slump unlike Ontario whose economy rests heavily on the manufacturing industry.

But wherever you live, I think it is important to cling onto the Hope presented to us by this day, keep working hard and we will get through this economy slump.  I think we can comfort ourselves by knowing that our parents and grandparents have gone through much worse and survived.

My mother describes her memories of living through the Depression in a small farming community in Saskatchewan. If someone fell ill, the women would come out with food and look after the home and children while the men would take care of the farm and livestock. If your neighbour didn’t have enough food and you did, you shared what you had with them because it might be you next time who wouldn’t have enough.  Everyone one helped each other because if they didn’t the community wouldn’t make it.

So now is the time to polish up your vision of a better world. Take a moment to realize that everyone is going through something. Help others with their struggle, if it only means giving them a warm smile and a bit of slack.

It’s time to examine your view of community: what is means,  how it works and how you want to fit into it.

Here’s an invitation to join the community of cafe commuters. Share your experiences and views by filling out the Coffee Shop Office Survey and be entered into the prize draw. You can find the survey at http://www.coffeeshopsurvey.com. Encourage your friends and family to share their cafe commuting experiences, too!

Q: What do you think of the concept “community”?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat for next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

I just came across an article in the Telegraph entitled, “Remote Working ‘Far Off'” which, as you may have guessed from the title, argues that the remote working phenomenon is not as widespread as you might imagine.

Writer Ben Bland cites a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers which shows that only 5% of international graduates polled  felt that they would be working remotely.

Further in the article, Bland reports that British grads don’t expect to be working from home but a sizeable portion of American and Chinese grads expect to have more flexible hours.

Apparently, the British are a bit more wary of remote working than other nations. It is interesting thought that Cambridgeshire’s local goverment website offers tips on how to make remote working work. The initiative of teleworking has also been adopted by the councils of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Durham, just to name a few.

Interviewing the Head of HR at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bland quotes Michael Rendell saying there just isn’t a substitute for the social environment of an office and the creativity output generated in a face-to-face meeting.

And that’s quite true but I believe that companies are really interested in saving money on bricks and mortar as well as the costs of running an office.  What I think is keeping companies and even people who want to freelance for a living from embracing remote working is a fall in productivity which affects the bottom line. If you don’t have direct supervision over the worker or a boss looking over your shoulder, it is really easy to see your productivity fall.

There are other concerns about making remote working a reality but I think that is the major consideration — making remote working or freelancing pay in real dollars. For the truly self-motivated, self-starter, this isn’t a dilemma, but for the rest of us the stable or increasing productivity hurdle can be a tough one to overcome.

Q: What tips and strategies do you use to keep your productivity flowing?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Dear Readers, Sorry about the delay in getting this post out. Computer glitches. Thanks for your patience. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog. Cheers, Lori

Written by Lori Thiessen

When Gregg Taylor and I first started talking about the phenomenon of people working out of their local coffee shops, we were thinking more local than global.

But as I’ve been researching and writing on the topic of cafe commuting, I’ve found that more and more people are trying to find their coffee shop offices on another continent.

Case in point is Andy Howard of Freelance Switch. Here’s a man who really puts the remote in ‘remote working’.  Andy proves that you can make geographical ADD actually pay.  He admits that he gets bored pretty easily so being on the move is a true benefit for him.  He’s been to a lot of different places, the last one being Costa Rica.

To help make this work fantasy come true, Andy recommends a few things.

  • laptop (no-brainer)
  • iPhone or other phone/PDA from which you can receive and send email
  • UBS key with FireFox Portable installed on it so that you can step into an internet cafe
  • And a line-up of professionals who will look after the stuff you don’t want to do or can’t do from where you are at like taxes
  • Plus enough contacts and contracts to keep the money rolling in

So it is possible to make the ‘surfing while at work’ happen and with relatively low start-up costs. I know Gregg Taylor has found a great little coffee shop office in Puerto Vallarta. My friends, Brent and DeNel, winter and work in Mexico.

With some prep, patience and perseverance, you too can be a cafe commuter on a global scale.

Q: What advice would you offer someone who is planning on being a world-wide worker?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!


Written by Lori Thiessen

In mid-December, I attended a great all-day workshop at Small Business BC. The workshop was called Protecting, Planning and Prospering in 2009.

Since the media is proclaiming economic doom and gloom for 2009, the notion of prospering in 2009 was quite a refreshing one.

Fiona Walsh of Ghost CEO was the last speaker and in her opinion, there’s a bit of overkill on the whole ‘our economy is collasping’ thing. The economy is slowing down, but the fatalistic attitude about it isn’t really warranted. Here are a few tips Fiona offered to help you  prosper in this economic climate:

  • Attitude determines the dollars — what are you prepared to do to make your business grow
  • Protect your key customer accounts — thank your customers, spend extra time on them
  • Plan your marketing strategy carefully — use cost effective marketing tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Focus your marketing efforts — What are your niche markets? How will you reach them?
  • If you don’t have a business plan, then write one. Revisit your business plan once a month.

As Fiona is fond of saying: “It doesn’t count unless it’s written down.”

If you are flummoxed by the prospect of writing a business plan, here are a couple of links to some basic business plans.  There are many more sources of business plan templates both online and through your library or small business support centre.

Business Development Bank of Canada

http://www.bdc.ca/en/business_tools/business_plan/default.htm

TD Canada Trust

http://www.tdcanadatrust.com/smallbusiness/windocs.jsp

Just remember that the economy rises and falls on a regular basis. Now is just a time to pull out your A-game.

Q: What advice have you heard about surviving and thriving in this slow economy?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

A reader commented on the post “Music Helps to Increase Your Productivity?”, that she was interested in pyschoacoustics and engineered harmonics. I had no idea what these things were. Being a curious person, I checked them out. In this post, I’ll just look at psychoacoustics. Engineered harmonics will have to wait for another post.

In very simple terms, pyschoacoustics is the scientific study of how the brain processes sound. Hearing is a mechanical as well as mental process. The ear acts like an instrument for catching sound and funnelling it to the brain. Then neurotransmitters in the brain ‘translate’ the sound into some sort of meaning for the individual’s ‘mind’. For those that know a great deal more about how all this works, please forgive my crude and likely inaccurate description. Or better yet, write in and straighten me out.

What is interesting to me is how we can use sounds (e.g. birds, ocean waves, whale calls etc.) and music to help us to think better, be more efficient, even be more creative.

Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis was the one to discover what has become known as the “Mozart Effect”.  He used music as a way to alleviate the symptoms of and the improve the lives of those afflicted with everything from depression to ADD to autism. You can check out the official website for this work at http://www.tomatis-group.com.

In an article on pyschoacoustics by Tom Kenyon, he cites a medical study which showed that people have increased their IQ by 8-9 points by listening to a certain kind of classical music. Another study revealed that pre-mature babies were more likely to develop more quickly if they listened to Brahms Lullaby.

He also writes that:

“At the Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, California, noted geneticist Dr. Ohno has ascribed musical notes to each of the 6 amino acids that make up the DNA code. Dr.Ohno has been able to transcribe the “music” made by the DNA helixes in living things. These sound patterns are not random, but actually make melodies. In one of his experiments, he transcribed the melody of a particular type of cancer. The melody had an uncanny similarity to a piece of music written in the 17th century [sic]  – Chopin’s Funeral March.”

The skeptics among you might be saying, “Flap-doodle! That’s a load of piffle!” And I must confess that I’m a little sceptical myself. I don’t know if any of these cited studies are credible, but a quick google on Dr. Ohno’s name shows that he did indeed exist and that he was a member of some prestigious and reputable scientific associations. So I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader.

But I’ve seen the effect of music in action. At the church I attend, there is a prayer team that is available during communion. When the music during service is upbeat, like gospel, then the line-up for the prayer team is quite small. Conversely, when the music is downbeat then the line-up is very long.

The beat, tones and harmonies of the music appear to switch on certain parts of the brain while suppressing other parts which in turn can either help you think better, run faster, or be more creative.

The trick is finding out which music flicks which switch in your brain.

Here what one reader said in response to the post “Music Helps to Increase Your Productivity?”:

“Depends on the type of work I’m doing. If I’m writing, then definitely jazz. Artists like Dave Brubeck, Charlie Parker, Art Farmer, Miles Davis, etc. If I’m coding, (especially ColdFusion) it has to be rock. Green Day, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, The Doors, Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, doesn’t matter, any will do. When I’m running in the morning, I’m either listening to metal or Army cadence. Both increase output and give me more of a workout.”

So this reader knows what music to use to get the results or affect he needs from himself.

As a person who deals with depression, I’m wondering if in addition to taking my “happy” pills if listening to some toe-tapping standards of the ’30’s and ’40’s perhaps I’ll lessen the effects of the depression and become more productive. Hmmmm.

Q: What do you think about psychoacoustics?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!


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