How to work in places that are not your office and not be a jerk

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Following up on our post from earlier this week about non-office working spots around the Capital Region, we figured we'd share a few observations based on our experiences about how to work in these places.

Really, though -- this isn't so much for you. It's for us. Because we'd prefer to not work next to a jerk.

+ Sure, this place looks like a cafe, coffee house, or library to everyone else -- but to you, it's a place of work. You're not there to lounge, hang out, chat. You have a post to write / code to write / design to design / dissertation to research -- and that's why you're there.

+ If you work in the same place for a while, you'll start to notice the regulars. They will become like your pseudo co-workers. You might talk with them from time to time, maybe even help each other out with something now and then. That said, they're not your real co-workers and, thus, unlike a real office it's not acceptable to prattle on in their direction about the gastrointestinal problem your dog is having. (Actually, this shouldn't be acceptable in a regular office, either, but most people apparently don't seem to realize this.)

+ Staring at your pseudo co-workers' laptop screens or deliberately trying to listen to their conversations are both acts of rudeness.

+ Your pseudo co-workers will probably ask you this question at some point: "Hey, can you watch my stuff for a minute?" The answer is always "yes."

+ As a regular at some place, you will also start to form a relationship with the people who work there. This is a relationship somewhat different from the pseudo co-worker. You may banter back and forth a bit, which is great. Still, they're behind the counter and you're not. And when you think about it, you've decided to plop down in the middle of their office and work. You should make every effort to be friendly with them.

+ To that end: the proper way to ask about possibly borked wi-fi is not, "Hey, you need to fix the wi-fi," or "What the @#$% is wrong with the wi-fi?" The sentence you're looking for is: "Hey, when you have a second, could you have a look at the wi-fi? I think it might need to be re-started."

+ As a friendly regular, every once in a while you may end up getting something free -- maybe an extra cookie, or a comped drink from the manager. Here's what you should do: say thank you. Then find the tip jar and put money in it.

+ It should go without saying that you should buy something when working at a cafe or coffee house or similar spot. Bringing in outside food and not buying anything makes you a jackass.

+ As a regular, you will probably settle into eating many of the same things. As a result, you'll learn exactly how much your order will be. Everyone will be happier if you have your money, debit card, payment-of-whatever-form ready to go when you get to the register.

+ When stuck behind non-regulars, it's only natural to become frustrated with them for not understanding how the line works or being slow. But you shouldn't make a show of this. It is not acceptable to exclaim in a not-so-hushed whisper, "You've got to be f-ing kidding me!" as the people ahead of you try to decipher the menu as if it's written in Mandarin.

+ That said, if you're not ready to order because you're talking on the phone or texting, you deserve all the exasperated looks that will inevitably be shot in your direction.

+ There may be times when it's necessary for you to eat and work at the same time. But you should know that trying to shovel a sandwich into your face while you bang on your laptop makes you look a little crazed. If you can spare it, take the time. A five minute break to eat will do you good.

+ Clean up your table when you're finished. Really, it's not too hard to throw away your garbage or put your dirty plate in the bin. A quick swipe with a napkin goes a long way, too. Is some of this going the extra mile? Sure. But it sucks when your favorite table is dirty -- so don't leave it dirty for someone else.

+ Every place has tables that are better than other tables -- because of window location, plug access, distance to/from the door, whatever. It's perfectly acceptable to move to one of the "good" tables when someone's finished with it. It is not acceptable to vulture these tables.

+ Sitting by yourself at a four-top in a space jammed with people is poor form. You should pick a table commensurate with the size of your work group. (That said, if the place is empty, go for the extra space.)

+ If someone asks you to plug in their power cord to an empty outlet they can't reach, you should do so graciously.

+ Does your phone have an obnoxious ringtone? Then it should be on vibrate. (Aren't sure your phone has an obnoxious ringtone? Then the answer is probably yes.)

+ If you can't talk on your phone in a low voice, then you should go outside or move to another area where the noise won't bother people (the vestibule is a good choice in the winter). This is especially true if it's an excited or long conversation. We're sure your sales figures are fascinating to someone -- but that person is not us.

+ Are you listening to music from your computer? Watching video? Surveying a list of awful restaurant websites that all auto-play music? Then you should be wearing headphones.

After working in the same place for weeks or months, the time will come to move. It'll be hard to explain why, but it's like you've eaten all the grass there and need to find a new pasture. If you eventually return to that place it will seem both familiar and foreign. There will be different employees. The art will have changed. And your pack of pseudo co-workers will have moved on. But you'll sit down anyway. You have work to do.

Earlier on AOA: A short, incomplete tour of places in the Capital Region to work that are not your office

Comments

I always wondered how that worked, in terms of crashing a cafe on a daily basis to work and not feeling like an imposition/annoyance. How much money should one spend on food at their location of choice? Me thinks ordering a $1 coffee over the course of 8 hours might raise some eyebrows. Then again, the cost of daily cafe snacks/lunch can add up quick. How does one balance this?

Sounds like fun... man, it sucks having a real job.

Thanks for this series. What's the etiquette on Laptop Cable Locks?

Does Uncommon Grounds still turn off their wi-fi from noon until 2? I always thought that was a clever way to free up tables for paying customers during the rush, but still catering to the coffee flies the rest of the day.

How to sleep in places that are not your office and not be a jerk about it.

Thank you for this great guide to working in a non-office environment. I do not work in a place that is not my office, however I lunch in those venues. Those of us that go to eat and socialize appreciate the above tips of etiquette as well.

When stuck behind non-regulars, it's only natural to become frustrated with them for not understanding how the line works or being slow. But you shouldn't make a show of this. It is not acceptable to exclaim in a not-so-hushed whisper, "You've got to be f-ing kidding me!" as the people ahead of you try to decipher the menu as if it's written in Mandarin.

Definitely guilty of doing this myself, though usually not because I'm hanging out for a while, but making a pit stop to-go while on the road ...

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