March 2009

Written by Lori Thiessen

My new Coffee Shop Office is The Pen Cafe and Bistro in New Westminster, BC. It’s called The Pen because it is housed in the old Gatehouse of the BC Penitentiary. It’s quite a funky place and for a history buff like me, it’s fascinating to think about the thousands of people who passed through those doors over the last hundred years. The penitentiary was closed down in 1980 and most of the structures were demolished except for the Gatehouse and the oldest of the cell blocks which is now a medical centre.

The serving staff of The Pen Cafe are dressed in old-fashioned prison clothes (think black and white striped tops and pants).  It is open 8-5 pm, Tues-Sun. I found this out the hard way when discovering I didn’t have a good wifi connection at my home, I wandered down to the cafe this past Monday. Closed. Crap!

I was desperate to send a couple of emails though so I thanked the rain gods for holding off for an hour or more while I perched on the damp patio tables and tapped out my messages to the outside world. There is a decent if random wifi connection  near the cafe but I don’t think it actually hosts a wifi connection itself. Note to self — check this out.

The neighbourhood is mostly made up of older people so my fellow cafe commuters are mostly elderly ladies who have lunch together with each other or their children and grandchildren. No competition for electrical outlets — sweet! And the food is quite decent, if a little plain and well-priced to boot.

I’m quite pleased with my new office digs and I plan on getting back to a normal posting schedule again now that the major part of the move is overwith and I have a place to escape to when the chaos of unpacking becomes too much for me.

Q:  How many coffee shop offices do you have/use? And why?

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


Written by Lori Thiessen

Moving sucks. On the Hans Selye list of life stressors moving house probably rates a 90 on a 100 point scale. But you would think for a remote worker like myself, moving wouldn’t be an issue. Wrong.

It’s one thing to tote your portable office around with you, it’s quite another to pack up your entire house and take it somewhere else.

So I ask the question: How do you keep your business running smoothly while you are doing a move?

I think a possible solution maybe to pack up your office last of everything in your home. Keep your office running as long as you can before the move. Then unpack and organize your office in your new home asap. This is all theory, of course and we all know the huge divide between theory and practice, but it’s still a dang fine theory. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Take a couple of days off at least to do this.
  • Let your clients know about your move and the days you will be taking off well in advance.
  • Make up a priorities list and don’t lose it during the move.
  • Scope out possible coffee shop offices in your new ‘hood asap.

If you’ve got extra files, resource materials, etc., that you don’t normally lug around with you but are an important part of operating your business then make sure that you box them up and clearly label the box so it won’t get lost.

To help you organize and manage your move so that you can make the move as stress free as possible, Telus has provided a handy one-size-fits all moving priorities list. This list can, of course, be modified to suit your needs.

In the spirit of keeping your move on the low end of stress, pack a box with the following items:

  • paper towels
  • dishwashing soap
  • dish drying towel
  • dishcloth
  • garbage bags
  • cleaning supplies
  • hand towel
  • hand soap
  • and fixings for a meal (it can be just sandwiches) in its own container complete with a sharp knife, paper plates, plastic cups and utensils plus fruit juices or other beverages

This is a useful box to have when you have finished the major part of the move and it’s your first few hours in the new place.  Remember to keep yourself and your moving angels fed and watered.

Make your next move in the remote worker style: slim, trim and efficient.

Q: What moving tips would you like to share?

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

written by Lori Thiessen

I’ve been re-reading a book called The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg about a 16th century Friuli miller called Menocchio who was burned at the stake for his unorthodox cosmogony.  The preface to the book discusses “popular culture” and “dominate culture” at great length.

I’m interested in the many definitions of culture. For instance, many labour and business experts bang on about corporate culture quite a bit as well as general work culture.

I was thinking about how this applies to being a cafe commuter or remote worker. One of the nifty names given to remote workers is the “kinetic elite”.  Is there something about being a remote worker which is inherently elitist? Hmmm.

There is something of the “playing hooky” air about escaping from the office to the coffee shop. Are you really working or just finding an excuse to flirt with the super cute barista? If you are able to break free from “pod-land”, then you must be special, mustn’t you?

Generally speaking the kind of work that enables people to be remote workers is intellectually based. So the hoary old image of the ivory tower comes to the forefront again. Are remote workers really in touch with the work experience of the labouring masses? Perhaps they are too much in touch with the experience, hence the escape via the laptop.

If you are an entrepreneur in certain areas of business,  some people may express concern that you aren’t quite legit if you use a cafe as your office.  How good are you if you can’t even afford a proper office?

But for the hip, cutting edge techno crowd working out of a coffee shop or cafe is in keeping with being hip and cutting edge.  You are a neo-bedouin worker, possibly even coming up with something truly original in your line of work. Using a coffee shop as an office mirrors your unorthodox and unusual potentially great business.

Most remote workers I know work flipping hard. They are generally consultants of one stripe or another, and a consultant’s life isn’t an easy one, especially if you are new. Most of the time if you aren’t working flat out on one contract, you are doing negotiations to secure another and doing marketing to build your clientel base. It’s only when you have a posse of regular clients that work life becomes a easier.  Until a major economic crisis hits, then all bets are off.

I’m not going to hand you a pat answer to the question of: Is the cafe commuter an elitist worker position? because I haven’t got one. I just wanted to open the discussion because I think it is one worth exploring.  It is part of the larger discussion of current or popular work culture.

So feel free to share your thoughts.

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

(P.S. My apologies for the inconsistencies of the postings on this blog over the last while. Life has currently got me by the short and curlies, but I hope its iron grip will be loosened shortly. Thanks for your patience and continued support of this project! Cheers, Lori)

written by Lori Thiessen

Visiting in Cuba opened my eyes to things I had rarely thought about. I have mentioned in this blog before about my stationery addiction.  Because of the Embargo, good quality stationery is difficult to find. Sometimes even the poor quality stuff is hard to find.

Before leaving on the tour, the participants were encouraged to bring along such things as pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, thumb drives, batteries etc.  We went to many places among them an elementary school, an artists’ collective and several libraries. Everywhere we went, we dropped off stationery supplies and the recipients were grateful.

The upshot is: if you are planning on doing work from Cuba, then be sure to stock up on your necessary office supplies before you go.

We were told that Cubans were only allowed to buy and use cell phones just within the last couple of years.  And we did see relatively few cell phones around. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have your cell phone? While some of you may be sighing with delusions of peace and quiet, others, I’m sure are horror struck at the idea of being without a phone. How would you service your clients properly if they couldn’t get in touch with you easily? Being without a cell phone these days, especially as a consultant, is madness.

It made me realize just what amazing choices we have in North America. We can choose to work remotely. We can choose what kind of stationery supplies we like. We can choose between the different brands of computer and other technology related products.

It’s all available for us to peruse and purchase at our leisure (and within our budgets, of course).

So before you start moaning about the downturn of the economy, take a moment to reflect on how much you do have: a computer (or access to one), maybe a PDA, a MP3 player, thumb drives, unlimited access to the internet, a digital camera and a hundred other gizmos and gadgets that you take for granted in your daily round as a remote worker.

And let’s not forget about the best thing to be grateful for: to make life enjoyable for yourself and your family through the opportunity and ability to work. My father always said that people need to work to feel good about themselves  as much or more than the paycheque.

Well, I should dismount from my soapbox for the moment, but…

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

Q: What the one technological gizmo or gadget that really makes your life, better or easier?