Tips for working with a laptop from public locations

Finding the Perfect Workspace for Digital Nomads

Whether you are a digital nomad, freelancer or remote worker, it is critical to find good spots to stay for a few hours and get some work done with our laptops. WiFi is readily available today, but there are still many other factors to consider when trying to find the perfect work space, and it’s surprisingly not easy to locate a place that has all factors combined. Although some prefer working from home, many of us crave the social stimulus provided by the traditional haunt of many famous writers: the coffee shop, of course!  In this episode, we discuss the features that make or break a perfect place for working with your laptops.

Listen to the podcast to hear more about how I choose my perfect coffee shop:

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What to Consider in Finding the Perfect Workspace for Digital Nomads: 

Internet: Needless to say, a decent internet connection is a must-have feature of any workspace.  The quality of internet can also be variable, so beware! Look for signs advertising WiFi, since they tend to lead you to shops that are welcoming to those working on laptops.  If it’s your first time visiting a certain place, check before entering whether a network appears under their name. Some places are actually limiting internet use for 30 minutes or one hour, so it’s better to avoid those altogether. You can also use apps like Speedtest to run a quick speed check. However, in most cases, you’ll discover about the quality and stability of the place only through trial and error.      

Noise: It can be nice to work with a gentle hum of noise from the other patrons of your shop, but one or two loud parties can ruin the productivity of a space.  Try to avoid shops that are meeting places for teenagers, are oriented toward families, or that play especially loud music.  A solid playlist from the shop can make or break a productive work day.  (If a place gets too noisy, you can always think about using isolating headphones to mitigate the disturbance.)

Outlets:  Outlets!  Find them before you choose a table and get comfortable.  If you’re going to stay and work for a few hours, you will inevitably need power. Some shops have outlets that are hard to access, or too few for the number of patrons.  Choose a table where you don’t have to trip over someone else to plug in.

Ambiance: This is probably the most important factor on this list.  It’s also the hardest to quantify. Finding a coffee shop with the perfect ambiance to work with your laptop can mostly be achieved by trying out a few places until finding that special place where you feel good which boosts your creativity and allows you to stay long and get some great work done (and makes you happier in the process). Personally, I like a place with a casual crowd, where there are others working on laptops as well. I love sitting in those big shared tables that you can find in Starbucks and other places which allow you the option to see others working by your side, and even start random conversations. I also enjoy places with a lot of natural light and windows that allow me to take a break from working and do some people watching from time to time. The idea here is knowing yourself and what makes you feel good and then finding the right place which has those unique characteristics.

Chains vs. Local Establishments: In many places, local coffee shops are cheaper, have better coffee, and better atmosphere than national or international chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee. But local spots are often smaller and may be noisier too and will sometimes create some pressure to leave when they get full.  If you don’t have time for trial and error, nothing beats a chain like Starbucks.  You know exactly what you’re going to get there, and although chains might not be authentic or stylish, they are built for people working on laptops.  They have reliable WiFi, conveniently oriented outlets, and are generally filled with other people working.  Sometimes, looking up to see those around you being productive is great motivation.

Feeling comfortable to stay longer: One of the most important factors to determine if a place is a good work-space is the ability to stay longer without the pressure to leave. In connection with the previous paragraph of Coffee Chains, one of the best indicators that I have found useful when determining whether you can feel comfortable staying for a long time is weather it is ‘self-serve’/ counter service or if there is a waiter. Places with waitstaff are designed to keep things moving, and you may feel more pressure to move along.  Also take note of how many tables there are in a space.  Places with too few tables can fill up fast, leaving you feeling pressured to leave and free up the space for other patrons.

Etiquette:  Consider what type of work you are doing and what’s acceptable in that space.  Take a smaller desk as possible if you will be staying for multiple hours.  Also try to be fair, ordering more food and coffee if you plan to take up space for a long period of time, and tip the waiters well for having to see your face for hours. Also, be considerate and leave if the place is getting packed. If your work involves making calls, try to find a place with more space between tables, so you don’t disturb others. Keep in mind, some places are not suitable for working with a laptop, e.g., avoid pubs or romantic restaurants at night.

Good Quality Coffee: The quality of the coffee (or tea and snacks) is, of course, an important factor.  Make sure that the place you choose is serving up their brew the way you like it.  Work is much more enjoyable with hot, tasty espresso.

Food Options:  Getting hungry?  You don’t want to interrupt a productive workflow to go in search of a meal.  Choose a coffee shop that also offers tasty, nutritious food.  Salads or sandwiches will give you more energy than that slice of cake, even if the sweets are more tempting.   

Hours: Pretty simple.  If you’re a morning person, you need to find the places which open early.  If you’re a night person, you don’t want a shop that closes just when you’re gaining momentum. Apps like Yelp or Beanhunter are not only great resources for finding shops, they’ll also (often) tell you whether the shop is open, and for how long. Speaking of which, avoiding rush hours is always good. 

Prices: If you’re going to be working in a coffee shop every day, finding somewhere inexpensive can dramatically impact your monthly budget.  A few dollars every day adds up, especially if you are purchasing food as well as coffee.  

Furniture: This may seem nit-picky, but you definitely do not want to sit for hours with a laptop resting on your knees.  Pick a shop with higher tables and seats that you’ll find comfortable for multiple hours.  I prefer those big tables with power outlets around the middle that are geared toward working customers.

Temperature, Safety and Restroom: A perfect work-space has to be the perfect temperature, especially in the heat of summer or during a cold spell in winter. Also, picking a space where you feel safe leaving your laptop for a moment can make working a lot more comfortable.  I always use a laptop lock, just in case when going to the counter to reorder, or heading to the restroom. Speaking of which, staying longer in a place will only work if there is an accessible restroom, so that’s another factor to take into account.

Smoking/ Non-smoking: This isn’t a factor everywhere, but in certain regions (the Balkans, in my experience) you’ll find that a lot of shops allow smoking inside.  If you’re a non-smoker, this can be infuriating.  Make sure you check ahead of time that an establishment is smoke-free.  

Libraries and other options: Also try thinking outside the coffee-shop-box.  What about the local library?  Public libraries can be a great option if you enjoy a quiet space.  Plus, they’re usually free! For special occasions, hotel lobbies although expensive are also a good option when you need serious work done or you have an important call that requires a more quiet and secluded place. Needless to say, that if you need a long term solution for serious work, nothing beats coworking.

Ask a Local or search online:  Haven’t found the perfect spot in your latest base? Try asking friends and locals for their preferred work stops.  Often, locals can point you to places you’d never have thought of on your own which will allow you some variance instead of being in the same place every day. Online resources for finding the right digital nomad coffee shop are starting to appear, starting with the recommended Nomadic Notes Work Cafe section.

Did we forget something?  Post a comment!  


2 Responses so far.

  1. Eric says:

    Pretty solid list of factors … outlets are a deal breaker for me!

    • elid1979 says:

      Thanks Eric 🙂
      outlets are not such a deal breaker for me since laptops today can last for about 3 hours, so I actually prefer to take a break after a few hours, but that means i have to charge all my devices at night so i get there on full energy 🙂

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