The other day one of my more cynical friends saw me at a coffee shop, aggressively walked over to my table, and interrupted a very important business meeting. As is typical of our relationship, he threw out as many insults as he possibly could think of in the opening three minute volley of introductions, then he smiled and said, “I read your articles.” To which I replied, “Thanks that means a lot to me.” (I lied.) Then he said, “You know, considering that you typically write about absolutely nothing, you don’t do a bad job.”
In a left-handed complimentary sort of way, that kinda made my day. I felt like Larry David when he described the “Seinfeld” show as, “A show that’s about absolutely nothing.” From nothing sometimes came some great laughs.
Speaking of which, my 8-year-old granddaughter confided in me today. She told me that when I used to say that “I was going to work at Starbucks,” she thought that I was actually a Barista. Then she said, “Poppa, I thought it was really cool that you were getting to work there and drink good coffee.” She admitted that it wasn’t until two years later she figured out I meant I was sitting in Starbucks having meetings and using my computer for work.
It’s amazing to me how places like Starbucks have become home base for so many intinerant workers like me. Not unlike Uber and Airbnb, the new sharing economy allows folks to live a different kind of non-office life. With all of the connectivity available now through the Internet, social media, and cellphones, you can have a desk in your home with no central office anywhere. Hence, when you’re on the road between appointments, places like Starbucks become your office.
The good news is that you don’t have all of the overhead of owning or renting an office building: no expensive signage, and no need to restrict your employees to living in a certain geographic area. The world is literally your oyster. The bad news is that we’re not an overly friendly society, and sometimes you just want to be able to talk to someone at the water cooler.
What it takes to build a non-centralized company is to train yourself to be able to let go of control. You have to hire people that you can trust, self-starters who don’t need constant supervision. Then you set up parameters that are acceptable to you as the head honcho. Once you find that happy zone that allows you to accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to watch everyone at their desk all day, it can work pretty well. And it does, except for the isolation thing for the gregarious ones.
Obviously, the use of these alternative restaurant/coffee shop offices has become so big so fast that some companies have taken steps to limit the overuse of their places. They don’t want you to live there. One place turned the music up so loud that it’s hard to talk on the phone. Another limited access to the Internet during peak times, and others cut back on electric outlets.
So what can be done to help those of us not physically working in an office building? How can we avoid that feeling of isolation? Even a crowded coffee shop, offers little interaction. Here’s my idea: Create a place where people who pay a few extra bucks will get red coffee cups.
Then they have to talk to each other once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t need to happen when you’re in a meeting or tied up in deep thought, but the red cup can be a sign that indicates that you’re social and miss the water cooler. Bam! Talk to me, baby.