Can I make you some bucks?

how the net is transforming the way we work and earn

When your office becomes a stranger’s lounge July 29, 2008

There are some things that are just trendy and really shouldn’t be questioned. Like ‘doing coffee’. Ever wondered why it’s called that when often it’s tea or perhaps a double thick chocolate milkshake with extra chocolate sprinkles that people order? And I’m certainly guilty of that. Me, someone who doesn’t even drink the stuff, still manages to ‘do’ coffee on the odd occasion.

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And in this world of all things trendy where tea-drinkers ‘do’ coffee it’s time to make room for the coffee-shop lurkers. For they are the latest in all things trendy. And we’ve all spotted at least one of these lurkers. They are the people who sit alone and are not surreptitious about it, how can they be?

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A coffee-shop lurker will be found accompanied only by laptop or any other portable desk item and that one cup of coffee that seems to be on auto-top up. And this is what these coffee-shop lurking individuals call work? Sitting in coffee shops all day.

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For someone who ‘does coffee’, this was an opportunity not to be missed so I decided to try it out for myself. It was a Friday and I had some work, nothing too taxing, nothing I thought couldn’t be done while I sipped on some Lipton Lemon Ice tea. So off I went to Mad Hatters, one the local coffee shops, to claim my corner table.

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My lap-top has seen me through many assignments. But the truth is that it is a veteran with its own imposing black carry case that really could be carrying anything. Few would probably guess a laptop. But that’s step one on how to be a successful coffee-shop lurker: make a grand entry. Be noticed. No coffee-shop lurker wants to just fade into the background.

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So, things were going well. I had the imposing, briefcase-like bag which caught people’s attention when I began unzipping it – it’s difficult to miss. Then there was the loud greeting sound my laptop makes when I turn it on. More attention for me. This was almost too simple.

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But my trendiness lasted just under 2 hours. See, not only did I leave my laptop battery at home, a huge coffee-shop lurker faux pas, but I would look up every time someone walked into or out of or past the shop. To be honest, any movement distracted me.

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Maybe that was because I wasn’t doing it right. It seems those in the know, those who are ultra trendy, don’t bother with coffee shops. They simply rent space in other people’s living rooms. Sure it costs more than a coffee. But it beats renting an office and on top of it all you get to do your work while in the comfort of a stranger’s living room. And if you’re lucky you may even get a cup of coffee:

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Coworking space for laptop workers in Cape Town, CBD

Includes Wi-Fi, desk space, lounge, kitchen, coffee, fax, printer, Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chairs. Available 7:30am to 5pm. R1500 per person per month.

Panoramic city views from Signall Hill through to Table Mountain. Plenty of street-side parking. Secure parking available on a monthly basis. Dunkley Square is 50m away and there are some fantastic cafes (Sage) and restaurants (Aubergine) within 100m. The National Gallery and gardens are 100m down the road. It’s a lovely place to be. Very central. Very inspiring.

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It’s called co-working or co-location and it’s the latest working lifestyle from those who brought you procrastination. Okay, perhaps that isn’t fair. Many who practice it claim to be very productive because of the environment which co-working allows for.

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Co-working marks a move back to the office. But the interesting thing about these offices is that they are nomadic and make-shift ranging from people’s lounges to cafes with good Wi-Fi.

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They also sprout up as and when they are needed with various wikis which help organize co-working meet-ups. Then there are services like Jelly which describes itself as “a semi-weekly work-together” where people are encouraged to set up casual working sessions called Jellies. There are Jellies happening all over the world. There is also Cream Cheese which functions in a similar way to Jelly. Let’s hope these co-working sessions have more than food on their minds. Another interesting service is Cubes and Crayons which provides both co-working and child care space. Now you can work flexi hours and still find time to spend with your kids.

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Co-working functions in a similar way to a sewing or knitting group. You come. You work on your own project. Perhaps you grab lunch, get some encouragement and a little nudge in the right direction from someone in the group who may have more specialized skills than you. And then you leave. No mess. No fuss. And no office politics.

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Some are calling this SWOT (Solos working alone together). To them, this work culture is:

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a reminder that while we each pursue on own projects and engagements, that we are not on this journey alone. While we retain the freedom and flexibility of working solo, it is great to have others to bounce ideas off of, to celebrate wins, to commiserate about setbacks, to plot pitches. In short, to function as virtual coworkers without the inter-office politics.

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Doesn’t this sound great? No more 9 to 5. No more air-conditioned offices. But I’m still not convinced. Okay, so my experience as a coffee shop lurker was bound to fail. Next time I will invite others to join me. I’ll be more social. Maybe even do coffee.

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Or maybe I should just join Less Distracted, a co-working group. They have an open space and that might help keep my focused but still trendy. Perhaps you should be doing the same. For it’s likely that your working lifestyle will change over the next few years and that co-working is going to feature quite prominently as part of it.

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