Written by Lori Thiessen

It’s that time of year again, my friends and to help you with some creative gift-giving ideas for your cafe commuter.

From one of my favourite companies, Hammacher Schlemmer comes The Portable Handheld Scanner.  It can scan any type of paper up to a maximum of 8.5 inches high by 50 inches long. For the entrepreneur or remote worker who needs to keep track of things like receipts, business cards, etc. it’s a dandy little item. Price $119.95 USD

The Portable Handheld Scanner

According to Gizmodo, the best USB to  impress the heck out of your uber-geek cafe commuter is the Cosair Flash Voyager 128 GB. It’s bigger and faster than any other drive out there apparently. At $400 USD, it should be. If you really want to buy this for a special someone you can check out Amazon.com

Corsair Flash Voyager 128 GB

ThinkGeek has done it again! For the brave of heart, or simply Braveheart cafe commuter in your life, a Utilikilt is just the answer.  The Utilikilt is made of a polycotton blend (strong yet soft to the touch) and has lots of pockets for storing all of your cafe commuter necessities, like a cell phone plus your portable coffee mug. This might piece of multi-pocketed splendor is priced at $139.99USD.

The Utilikilt from ThinkGeek

Since all of these gifts are insanely expensive, I suggest that you just take your cafe commuter out for coffee, crack open your laptop or smartphone and show him/her all the wonderful things you would buy them if there wasn’t a recession on.

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


Written by Lori Thiessen

These days I sometimes wonder if I exist in the ‘real’ world because so much of my life and the lives of those with whom I am in contact take place online, in virtual reality. So it is a no-brainer to look seriously at personal branding in the online world.

Step 1 – Google Your Name

Sometimes your personal branding has already been done and maybe not by you. Check and see what’s out there about you. If there is anything that you are not entirely proud of, see about getting the info removed. If you’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo album and it’s not something you want a client to see, then untag yourself. There are software programs available to remove anything you don’t want online anymore.  Check out this Consumers Report on 5 of these programs.

Step 2 – Choose Your Social Media

With the oodles of different sites out there, it can be difficult to choose. I would urge you to be selective. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Time management – how many sites can you realistically update on a regular basis? There is a site called krunchd.com which will help you manage your online life, social media included.
  • Work vs. Personal – are you using the social media sites mostly for business or pleasure? Whatever the answer, err on the side of caution and keep all of your online communications g-rated and THINK before you hit that send button.
  • Specialization – the world of social media is so big now that it is important to choose your niche and stick to it. This is the best way to become an expert in your industry and to network well within your industry.
  • Security and Privacy – how secure is your information on any given site? This is a particularly thorny issue at the moment given the recent hacker attacks on Facebook, though given the low level of public response  most people seem to be largely unconcerned.

I would suggest that LinkedIn.com and Facebook are good ‘foundation’ sites for your online presence. Personally, I’m not that keen about Twitter, though I realize that many people feel that life without Twitter is akin to life without breathing. If you use Twitter, make sure that you keep your tweets professional and g-rated.  People are rapidly becoming re-acquainted with the phrase “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Just because you can say something to the entire world, doesn’t mean you should.

Step 3 – Words and Images

The key here is, you guessed it, professionalism. The photo you have up on any social media site should reflect the image you want to create. After all, clients or potential employers will likely be Googling you to get a first impression of you. Make it count.

Now I haven’t followed this advice for my own Facebook page. I rarely have a picture of myself up there. I use ‘masks’ of various sorts.  Frankly, I don’t like any photos of me taken in the last few years, and to be truthful, I have this paranoid notion that someone will download my image and steal my identity.  After having taking my paranoia in hand, I will have a decent photo of me taken and put up on my Facebook page in the near future.

As for words, well, I think your profile should reflect the best of who you are. You may want to put in your mission statement, your interests and perhaps even state what your values are. But most of all sound like yourself.

I’ve broken, oh, I don’t know how many blogging rules by using large words, using archaic words, writing longish posts and incorporating some esoteric references in them. BUT it is a reflection of who I am and my wide-ranging interests. If we all write alike, then we all sound alike.

First and foremost, personal branding is about self-awareness. Resist the temptation to brand yourself into a clone of someone else. I know a lot of secrets of success books would like us to think that success is simply a formula and if you follow that formula, ergo you will be successful. At the end of the day, you need to be fully and wholly yourself for success to have meaning.

Step 4 – Monitor Your Brand

Set up Google alerts with your name to keep track of how your name is being bandied about in cyberspace. If you don’t control your brand, someone else will.

So there you have it, folks; a quick look at the world of personal branding online. The main things to keep in mind are: keep it manageable, keep it professional and above all keep your brand yours.

Below are a few other resources to help you with managing your personal branding online.

  • plaxo.com – much like LinkedIn, it is a site geared towards career, work and networking.
  • zoominfo.com – a directory of people and businesses. Check your listing.
  • Google.com – a site to get a free email account and tools to help you manage your online life.

Q: What tools have you found useful in managing your online life?

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

Written by Lori Thiessen

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Outliers: The Story of Success pokes significant holes in the North American myth of the self-made man (or woman).

Gladwell argues that being wildly successful (oodles of money, living large, etc) has less to do with an individual being seemingly blessed by the gods and more to do with background, opportunity and encouragement.

In a time when quick fixes are demanded in all areas of life, Gladwell shows that mastery of a particular skill set takes about 10,000 hours of old-fashioned, unglamorous practice.  From Bill Gates to hockey star, Sydney Crosby, every successful person has put in hours and hours of hard work.

Gladwell also points out that there is such a thing as a gifted person but without role models, encouragement and opportunities that gift is likely to wither, undeveloped and unsung.  A gift doesn’t spring fully formed when the recipient of that gift is born.  Unmiraculous things like training and discipline must accompany a gift if it is to bloom.

Given these parameters, why would anybody want to develop their gift? The short answer is passion. Nothing is more encouraging than being passionate about something. It is passion which will drive you to spend 10,000 hours on your gift.

But there is more to it than just passion. The other part of the success formula for work is that it be meaningful.

Like me, you’ve probably read books on success and work. And also like me, you may have been baffled by the words passion and meaningful when applied to work.  The passion part is starting to make sense to me now because I’m spending more time on something that I do care deeply about namely, writing.

But the word meaningful when applied to work still causes me to scratch my head a bit.

Gladwell comes to the rescue by breaking down the connotative definition of this word. For work to be meaningful, it needs to have complexity, autonomy and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

As people have grown dissatisfied with the standard definition of success (e.g. oodles of money, living large), I think Gladwell indirectly offers us a more comfortable definition of success: meaningful work. While this definition may be more comfortable for many of us, meaningful work is, nevertheless, still about hard work, having people around us to encourage us and mentor us, and having opportunities to develop our particular gift into meaningful work.

I would like to share a story with you I heard some years ago about the French impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

A young painter who was taking lessons from Monet asked the great master’s  advice on a scene which was troubling him. Monet examined the painting then picked up his brush and swept a little colour onto the canvas. The painting was transformed into a wondrous piece of art. “It took you no time at all to do that!” exclaimed the young painter. “Ah, you are wrong. It took me forty years to do that,” replied Monet.

Q: Who do you consider to be a success and why? It doesn’t need to be someone ‘famous’, but someone whom you admire.

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

Hello, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for a digital information research group called (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/) UKOLN. I’ve been there for 9 years now and have worked on a variety of different ‘information management’ projects in the community and outreach team, there’s more about what I do on my staff page (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/m.guy/).

UKOLN is based at the University of Bath (http://www.bath.ac.uk/). For those of you who haven’t heard of Bath it’s a small but very beautiful city in the south west of England and a top tourist haunt because of its Roman connections. The most famous landmark is the Roman Baths but there is lots of other amazing architecture including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Weir and Pulteney Bridge. Being such a great city Bath is an expensive place to live and soon as we’d started a family it made sense to move out of the city to somewhere we could get more for our money. We now live about 40 minutes out of Bath in a small town called Melksham.

After I started back to work following my third lot of maternity leave (poor old UKOLN!) commuting to work no longer made sense. Getting to Bath usually involves sitting in a long traffic jam twiddling your thumbs, and doing the school run now meant that I was permanently late. UKOLN has a great attitude towards flexible working and was happy to let me work from home. As time moved on and I got into the swing of things (the technologies to use, keeping yourself motivated, how to work on the move, what to eat for lunch!) I was given the role of ‘Remote Worker Champion’ and became the main representative for the remote workers (there are currently 7 UKOLN remote workers). I really wanted to take a proactive approach to remote worker support so have written a number of articles on related issues and set up a blog (Ramblings of a Remote Worker http://remoteworker.wordpress.com ) to share my thoughts.

My experiences of remote working have been highly positive but it’s not quite the same story everywhere else…

The Lows and Highs

In the UK the right to request flexible working was recently extended to include parents of children under the age of 17 (previously it was only children under the age of 5). This now means that most parents can ‘ask’ if they can work from home (or somewhere outside of their office) and achieve a better work/life balance. This sounds like a great opportunity for many people but the reality is that there is no pressure on organisations to agree to any requests. Recent statistics from the National Centre for Social Research Omnibus Survey and the National Travel Survey show that in 2008 around 3 per cent of workers always worked from home, 7 per cent did so at least once a week and 5 per cent at least once a month. The report also found that the extent of home working has remained relatively stable since 2002 despite an increasing number of people saying they could do some of their work at home (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221513/438774/homeinternetreport.pdf).

It seems people do want to work from home but there are often cultural and occasionally technological reasons why they can’t. Management attitudes to home/remote workers remain outdated and issues like blurred boundaries, corporate identity, poor broadband, lack of communication with colleagues and low morale don’t help. The recession has had a negative effect too. In the UK, as is I’m sure the case in North America, people are clinging onto their jobs and now doesn’t seem to be a good time to complain about working practices. Even for those who are lucky enough to been given home working rights there are worries that as employees they will end up at the back of the queue when it comes to many things (promotion, work opportunities) and at the front when it comes to others (redundancy). My own personal research into the matter has shown me that at the moment the public sector (e.g. Universities and some government institutions) and forward-thinking commercial companies (especially those working in technology areas) lead the way. The rest of the working country is really dragging its heels.

That said the benefits of home/remote working are becoming clearer. Remote workers are often more productive, more loyal, absent from work less and given the rise in office space have lower overheads to account for. There are also environmental benefits to add to the mix. I know the Coffee Shop Office has posted at length about the many advantages home/remote/teleworking offers.

It’s proving to be a slow journey and the coffee shop culture that Lori and Gregg blog about is still but a pipe dream here in the UK, but we are making some progress. The recent National Work from Home Day, which encourages people to work from home, instead of commuting to their usual place of work, organised by Workwise UK (http://www.workwiseuk.org/index.html) got quite a lot of media coverage, especially the Twitter/Google mash up that it generated (http://www.speedcommunications.com/NWFHD/). People could Tweet in their postcode (zipcode) and any comments about how their home working day was going. Also recent events like the heavy UK snow fall in February and the Swine Flu threat have made employers realise that remote working solutions need to be in place.

So we are lagging a little bit behind you North American folk. As Mark Twain famously said “An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Maybe there is a small fear of the unknown, but working practices will change, primarily because people want them to.



Marieke Guy

Marieke Guy

Written by Lori Thiessen

Some of the best known pitfalls of working from home are: social isolation (potentially leading to depression), weight gain, and overwork.

Making Social Isolation Go Away

Get out of the house everyday! I mean it. Cabin fever doesn’t only happen to goldminers in the far north. Get out and join the real reality.

Part of the social isolation problem can be solved by finding your coffee shop office. If you work out of a coffee shop, you will be among people, the hubbub of everyday life. Humans are social animals and we need social contact to maintain our well-being.

You may want to invite friends or clients for coffee at your coffee shop office on a regular basis. This will get you out to your office on days when you may not feel like going.

Make sure that you keep up with your networks of people. I’ve taken to writing into my daytimer to call or email my friends, family and clients so that I don’t come to the end of the month only to realize that I’ve not really communicated with anyone.

Glance at your local newspapers and find something interesting to do every week. Invite people who share this interest or if scheduling conflicts make it impossible, go by yourself. You never know who you might meet when you are out.

Preventing Weight Gain

Okay, I’m not the best person to be talking about preventing weight gain because I’m well, … a well-rounded individual.  Perhaps that’s makes me an expert — I’m an expert at gaining weight so if I suggest that you avoid everything I do this might work. Here goes nothing!

People who work from home often report weight gain. It’s easy to figure out why–you are sitting all day and the fridge is far too close. You don’t even have a vending machine to feed coins to to get a bag of something.

Going to the coffee shop will help initially with weight gain. First, you have to walk to your coffee shop (or you should walk to your coffee shop). Then you have to pay for whatever it is. Handing over some dough for your doughnut may help you to stop overeating. And when you are contemplating that doughnut you may want to cast a glance at the yoghurt cup.  Making better eating choices will help not only with your physical well-being, but your emotional well-being.

Drinking no more than 2 cups of black coffee a day, no milk or sugar, has been shown to help elevate moods. Hurray for caffeine! But did you know that plain black coffee is also full of antioxidants? Apparently, even just breathing in the heady aroma of a well-brewed cup of coffee contains as many antioxidants as 3 oranges.

As journalist Caitlin Crawshaw of the Edmonton Journal so eloquently put it: “…your health is your number one priority. Without it, you can’t run a business for the long term”.

The Pitfall of Overwork

When you are running your own business, overwork seems to be the least of your problems. Everything is riding on your shoulders. You have to keep working, right? Wrong. Overwork will lead to burn out and other health issues. Set your schedule and don’t let time-hogs, like the friends who think because you work out of a coffee shop you aren’t really working, steal your day away from you.

And don’t let distractions fritter away your day either. If I’m working from home, I’ll sit down in front of the tv to eat my lunch and before I know it 2 hours have passed. Not keeping to a schedule eats up precious time.

It’s also important to have a time for the end of your day. A colleague of mine says that she doesn’t do any work at all after 9 pm, whether it’s work-related or household work. At 9 pm, her cell phone, computer and dishwasher are all switched off.

If you are having trouble managing your time well, you may want to try something simple like tackling a task for 20 minutes at a time. Set your alarm and go to it. I also try to set myself a task list the night before and I try to list no more than 5 things if possible. If the task turns out to be too big to accomplish in a few hours then I break it down into smaller tasks.  Write out what you need to do, step by step if necessary. As a business coach said once, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count. Ticking stuff off the list gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure.

Make sure that your time is spent wisely and well. After all, didn’t you decide to become your own boss because you wanted to have more control over your time, your life? Well, now is your chance to do it, so don’t mess it up.

Q: How has working out of a coffee shop affected your working life?

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

Written by Lori Thiessen

Since I’ve moved, I’ve had to recite my new ‘digits’ ad nauseum to all and sundry.  How much better it would be if I had a card with all my information to leave with people.  Being an English literature fan, I remember reading about ladies and gentlemen leaving their ‘card’ for the master or mistress of the house on a fine silver salver presented to her or him by the butler.  What an elegant way of communicating with someone!

The basic calling card is generally about the size of a playing card. It can be a little larger or a little smaller. The history, design and use of the calling card is charming but complex. For more information, please consult these excellent articles on the topic: “The Art of Manliness” and “The Gentleman’s Page”.

But it seems that the calling card is making something of a comeback in our era. Time Magazine featured an article on its resurgence, “May I Offer You My Calling Card”.  Many people feel awkward about offering their business card in a social setting and so we scramble for pens and scraps of paper to scrawl down names and numbers. The calling card is an effective, creative and easy way to swap information.

This is particularly true for parents wanting to connect with other parents for playdates and other social occasions for their children. Elaine Milnes, a stay-at-home-mom, decided to create a calling card. Her revival of this quaint method of social connection caught on so well that she created an online business, MommyBiz.net.

For the cafe commuter, the calling card initializes a potential coffee shop office friendship in a more subtle fashion than a business card.  Because the coffee shop office is a mercurial place, neither strictly business nor strictly social, the relationships formed there reflect the character of this “third space”.

Cafe commuters by their very nature cover the gambit of enterprise (from student to upper level management) the traditional business card doesn’t suit communication needs of everyone.  The calling card, revamped for the social media needs of today, fills the gap.

So what should be included on the calling card of a cafe commuter? I would suggest the following:

  • Your name
  • Facebook name or Twitter name and/or website
  • Email and/or cell phone

You may even want to put in the name and address of the coffee shop that you use most frequently, somewhat like a Victorian gentleman including the name of his club on his card.

You can order business cards for free from websites like VistaPrint.ca, or pick up some business card stock from a stationery supplier to create them on your own printer, or talk to your local printer.

In this age of overwhelming technological gadgetry, something as simple as a well-designed, attractive social card stands out a mile, and so will you in the mind of your card’s recipient.

Q: What do you think of calling cards?

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)