Lessons learned exploring and working from local cafes for the last 3 years.
The thrill of finding hidden gems in my neighborhood, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, tasting exotic latte options, finding new songs to add to my playlist, and the random chitter-chatter with strangers — these are some of the many novel experiences during a workday that I have gotten used to since my company went fully remote in 2020.
It’s been close to 3 years now, and still, my favorite part of remote work is working from different cafes throughout the week.
The Trouble with WFH
When my company announced its WFH policy back in 2020, I was ecstatic thinking I wouldn’t have to commute anymore, and how work/play will be right there in front of me all the time.
Being a productivity geek, I started dreaming of all the things I could get done at home in-between work sessions, and how all the commute hours I save could be better spent elsewhere.
Some of these were true. Not all of them, though.
As days passed, I could see a dip in my focus levels. It started becoming more and more difficult to do my most focused work with my bed, TV, and all sorts of distractions literally a few steps away.
The monotony was also setting in.
Working from the same spot every single day was getting tedious. Every day was turning into a blur.
Not having coworkers around me didn’t help either. The lack of socializing was starting to take a toll on me.
Overall, I sensed that it was time for a change within the first three to four months.
That’s when I started exploring nearby cafes and shopping malls now and then.
To my surprise, the benefits I started reaping almost immediately were very unexpected. I loved the experience so much that I have made a habit of this.
Sure, it can get expensive very easily. However, the boost in productivity and focused work that I got out of it made every penny worth it.
Also, to offset some of the cost, I was using the reimbursement I get for remote work from my company to fund my newfound tea and lattes addiction.
Great way to explore my neighborhood
Checking out local cafes has been one of the best ways to walk around and familiarize me with my neighborhood.
Whenever possible, I try to walk to the local cafes around me. I have found so many hidden gems this way, some of them not even there on Google or Apple Maps.
There’s something unique about walking around and stumbling across random cafes that you end up loving.
Dedicated space for focused work
I have written before about having a dedicated physical space where you do your most focused work.
Cafes serve that purpose for me.
Whenever I am at a cafe and I put my headphones on, that signals to my brain that it’s GO TIME. My brain switches on and the next couple of hours are dedicated to tackling my “highlights” of the day.
I can focus fairly well at home too, but devoid of distractions, in cafes I always tend to focus better.
Meet new people
Given I identify as an introvert, this has been the biggest surprise of all!
I have had great conversations with more random people in cafes than I did anywhere else in my life.
These serendipitous conversations range from finance, world news, books, and tech, to other things such as what’s going on in the neighborhood, hidden gem restaurants, etc.
It’s been a great way to socialize and have “small talks” with people that have been greatly missing from my life since offices stopped being a thing for me.
I have enjoyed the variety of these conversations, and I always look forward to one of these whenever I am going to a cafe that I have gone to before.
Amongst all the other points, this has to be the most ironic.
Since going permanently remote, I have created a personalized desk setup at home. I bought the best hardware I could afford and over-engineered the living sh*t out of the setup.
The result: a setup that lets me do my best work and I am absolutely in love with.
However, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.
A desk setup at home also means having all the distractions in the world only a few steps away. From my TV to Xbox to my bed, to distractions when family and friends are over, it’s surprisingly easy to get interrupted frequently when working from home.
In sharp contrast, when at a cafe, even amongst the noise and movement around me, I can deeply focus. None of the distractions in a cafe interrupts my workflow. It’s easy to treat them as “white noise”.
That’s why, I always do some of my best-focused work when working from a cafe, rather than the comfort of my home.
Better use of “dead time”
When at home, it’s surprisingly easy to spend “dead time” — a few minutes between meetings, waiting for someone to respond, procrastinating on starting work at the turn of an hour — doing something wasteful.
A few things I always find myself doing during these times:
• Turn on the TV and watch something mindlessly
• Scroll through my messages
• Scroll through my photos
• Go to my bedroom and lie down for a little
Activities like these pull me out of any “flow state” I am in. They can also last longer than expected.
When at a cafe, I don’t get to do any of these.
Instead, I end up reading a few pages from whatever book I am reading, or just shutting my laptop and observing my surroundings. I end up spending more mindful minutes this way, and staying in my flow state, rather than getting distracted by meaningless activities which end up being time sinks.
Keep it fresh and avoid burnout
Working from home can become very exhausting very quickly.
You are working from the same spot, joining the same Zoom/Google Meet meetings, and once you are done with the day, you are still chilling right next to your work desk.
Everything becomes a blur.
The lack of social interactions with coworkers and lack of physical activity by walking around contributes to this too.
To keep things interesting (and to add some social interactions and physical activity), I work from cafes frequently. I try to mix up the different cafes I work from, and even change the table I sit on when going to the same cafe over multiple days.
It’s a great change of pace, and I can have a more clear division between “work” and “play” this way.
Each day becomes more distinct and life becomes less of a blur.
If you are working remotely too, I would love to know about your experiences.
Please comment below and let me know how remote work has been for you, and if you are working from cafes, share some fun and interesting stories too.