Walk into any Starbucks or other upscale coffee shop today, and you'll likely find many of the people inside busy on their laptops, tablets, or iPads, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. You also find at least a few conducting business with potential clients or business partners. In large metropolitan areas such as Kansas City, it isn't unusual to see people conducting business in coffee shops as if they were in their own private office - but is it productive? Are coffee shops taking the place of office suites? Hardly, but it may seem like it when you go to get a cup of Joe and float through a sea of business professionals on your way to the counter. Is this really such a good idea?
Office suites vs. coffee shops - the good and the bad
Whether you run a small company, a large corporation, or are one of the 42 million US workers that freelancers who are mobile, working from anywhere with an Internet connection, there are pros and cons on both sides of the debate.
Should you work from a coffee shop, or consider an office suite? It all depends.
If you typically work from home, it's easy to get cabin fever after several days or a week of seeing no one other than your immediate family, or your own mug in the mirror if you live alone. A coffee shop can offer you a sense of engagement; people milling about, conversations floating in the background, even the sound of coffee grinders. For some, a bit of background noise enhances focus; for others, it can be a huge distraction.
Are you a professional services executive who engages clients on a regular basis? In this type of work, you may want to consider an office suite or executive suite. There are many national virtual office and executive suite providers like Da Vinci and Regus. While it's fine to take an existing or potential client for a cup of coffee or a latte, conducting business in such a public place may not be such a good idea. Privacy is a big issue, and it's hard to hold a conversation with so much distraction.
Pros of working from a coffee shop. Most have great wi-fi and it's usually free. An added bonus is the coffee, which somehow tastes incredible to what you typically find at home or at the office. If you're self-employed and usually work on your own, interacting with others can be a very freeing experience.
Cons of working from a coffee shop. There is a cost that comes with enjoying the "buzz" that surrounds you - the coffee! Specialty coffees and pastries are not cheap at most national coffee chains; in fact, the cost can really add up over a few hours' time, and if you go on a regular basis, you could find yourself spending hundreds of dollars per month. Lack of privacy, limited power supplies, and uncomfortable seating are other drawbacks to conducting business at the local coffee shop. It's also impossible to control your surroundings. Finally – a pro or a con – when you meet clients at a coffee shop, you are perceived to be a freelancer. When competing on price, this is an advantage. When you a competing against other providers that are “perceived” to have physical space and therefore a deeper talent base a resources – you may be at a disadvantage.
Kenny Manley, co-owner of a local franchise operation for a national home inspection services company states: “Coffee shops are a great place for meetings. Most of our work is done onsite, not in an office, and even with our decent sized team of home inspectors, it may be a while before we need physical office space – if ever.”
Do companies care if their service providers have physical office space?: Take Alex K., owner of a Kansas City auto body shop states: “Yes and no – it depends on the service provider. I would expect key service providers to have office their own office space. But for cheaper or lower risk services, such as perhaps freelancers or people offering services on Craiglist, I wouldn’t expect office space. This is where references really come even more into play.”
The advantages of office suites for business
Whether you work independently or have a staff, there are many advantages of renting an office suite. Considering the money you may have spent on all those special coffee drinks and lattes for yourself and perhaps a client/business partner, the cost may be comparable.
Kevin Downey owner of Leawood Office Business Center, a facility that leases office space in Overland Park KS, states: “Coffee shops are a great place for many types or small businesses and freelancers to meet existing or prospective clients. Yet, for many other types of small businesses, coffee shops and cafés will not cut it. We have many tenants that are professional service providers such as CPA’s, lawyers, financial planners and other B2B service providers that could not conduct day-to-day business in a café or coffee shop. Executive suite office space is perceived by some to be higher cost on a square footage basis, but when you factor in front desk reception, phone answering, free utilities, ultra-fast Internet and especially conference rooms, executive suites are very cost effective for small businesses and even large national businesses that need an immediate local presence.”
Office suites make it possible to have everything you need at your fingertips; lightning-fast Internet, kitchen/lounge, access to fax machine, copier, or other equipment often needed in conducting business, personalized call answering/forwarding, free coffee (although it may not be as fancy as Starbucks), conference rooms for holding meetings, even a prestigious mailing address and private mailbox.
Perhaps the most important reason of all to consider office suites is your ability to conduct business in a private setting. Clients deserve privacy, and will see you in a more professional light when you have a well-appointed suite that while visually appealing and professional, is comfortable as well.
Consider the pros and cons, and chances are you will decide that an office suite is more efficient, better equipped, and conducive to forming lasting business relationships.