I have embraced over the last few years what I consider to be the ideal headquarters of the small business operator: the coffee-shop office . . . or, as I call it in order to save three syllables and therefore countless milliseconds per year, the coffice.

I use the coffice for almost all of my meetings with customers, prospects and colleagues. I do my administrative work and digital communication on my Mac laptop at the coffice. I do my best writing at the coffice. In fact, I am at one of my favourite coffices now; Higher Ground in Calgary’s trendy Kensington community where I am perched pleasantly in a pulpy black chair about one metre from the fantastic fireplace.

I actually work more efficiently at the coffice as the ambient activity and moderate noise level curiously translates to a higher degree of focus. And, unless you are right beside me, you cannot even hear the grinding of the gears between my ears, which, being true to my penchant for “wordinations” (my term for a word combination), I like to call . . . gears.

The coffice is also an excellent spot for networking. On numerous occasions, I have bumped in to a face from the past who ended up doing business with me, all thanks to chance meetings at my national head coffice.

When it comes to the coffee-shop crowd, I am no ordinary joe . . . drinker. But I am by no means alone in my reliance on coffee shops for day-to-day business operations. At this moment (2:52 p.m.), there are 10 other folks working on their laptops in this establishment. My quick survey (great way to meet nice people, it turns out) reveals that six are working at their own business, two are searching for jobs online and two are students.

Side note: four young people are reading hard-copy novels and zero people are reading on tablets. But that is a story for another time.

Coffices save entrepreneurs buckets of money that they would otherwise be spending in office leasing. They even provide coffice managers who clean our desks and keep things running smoothly. Their labour is FREE to us!

However, there is trouble brewing in Laptop Nation. Our cosy coffices could soon go the way of the dodo. And it’s all because many of us are acting like complete dodos, showing little or no respect to the coffee shop owners who have been so kind to us.

The first sign that the coffice worker was on the endangered-species list came when I walked in to Kawa Espresso Bar on 8th Street in Calgary’s Beltline district. I was impressed with the recently completed renovations at this jumping’ java joint.

The place was brighter, better lit and certainly gained a more modern vibe.
As I sat down at the high-top counter that typically seats four people, I went to plug in my laptop charger in the usual spot . . . but it was gone. So I moved to the long wall of tables along the windows but found no outlet for my charger nor for my frustration. Kawa had cleared out all electrical outlets that would be accessible to Laptop Nation with the exception of a power bar in the back corner intended for use by musicians.

Other popular coffee bars including Analog and Phil & Sebastian in Calgary and Caffé Artigiano in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary provide few electrical outlets. In fact, the Marda Loop P&S (be cautious when saying that quickly and aloud) in Calgary forces us to do a full downward dog to find the outlets beneath the bench and along the floor boards. Starbucks can’t be far behind.

I am pretty sure these moves are intended to socket to laptop-toting workers who spend plenty of time but little cash at coffee shops. We have indeed worn out our welcome. The prime perpetrators who have put our coffice perks in peril:

The Double-Double – Two people sitting side beside and taking up two tables so they can enjoy equally the people-watching component of the coffee shop. I frequently counter this conundrum in a crammed coffice by asking if it is OK to sit across from one of these generally sociable folks. The response has always been along the lines of “Oh, we are together – I guess we could sit together at the same table,” . . . to which I typically reply “Oh, that would be so nice,” pretending to be surprised and content that my mission is complete.

Big Spill – One person with belongings strewn across a table designed to accommodate four people. At a typical busy, big-city coffee shop, this person is, in a sense, stealing money from the business owner. Particularly at peak-revenue lunch period, BS is preventing larger groups from purchasing lunch at an average of $10-$20 per person. Coffee-shop owners should be able to drop a bill in front of the Big Spill for $60-$80 if he/she takes up an entire table for four over the lunch hour.

The Dime and Dash – The perpetrator of this particular paradigm spends the minimum amount on a tea or coffee, takes up a table all morning and then spends their lunch money elsewhere. If you are a dime-and-dasher, please consider purchasing your lunch from the establishment that gave you free rent all morning
. . . and bring friends if you are at a table intended for serving multiple people, or at the very least make it obvious that there is space for others to join.

Stick-in-the-Mud – This person is glued to his seat for countless hours and has no interest in interacting with humans other than the four or five words uttered to the barista in ordering a coffee in a to-go cup so that $3 coffee can stay hot for all those hours dominating what would otherwise be a revenue-producing table.

Battery Acid – This freeloader charges up his laptop to 100% so he can put in an entire 9-to-5 shift without having to move, regardless of whether customers are being turned away because of full capacity. You could say “all the power to you,” but the truth is, BA is slowly being pushed out of the coffee shop culture.

We can be better than this. We, the Laptop Nation, must unite and push each other to be more conscientious consumers at the coffice. If it’s -20C and you need to put in a few hours on a project, go ahead and stay at your coffice, but spend money . . . or you will end up in solitary confinement (home office) or doling out a lot more dough in office space.

If you are neither hungry nor thirsty, buy something for the homeless dude on the corner. Whatever you do, spend money to earn your office space. It’s better latté than never!

Business Edge editor Laura Parry (right) and publisher Rob Driscoll execute a combination of the classic Big Spill and Double Double at Phil & Sebastian coffee shop in Calgary.
Business Edge editor Laura Parry (right) and publisher Rob Driscoll execute a combination of the classic Big Spill and Double Double at Phil & Sebastian coffee shop in Calgary.