WFH(ome)? How WFC(afe) may be a part of the post corona workplace change

7 September 2020
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
PhD student James Bushell explores the Work From Cafe (WFC) phenomenon, which may well be part of the 'new normal' alongside working from home and working from the office.

As reported in another Thinking outside the box series article penned by Professor David Hensher, WFH is likely to become more of a feature of the future of work than less of one. The working from home (WFH) revolution has been pushed into its final stages over the last two months, out of public health necessity instead of anything else, and surprisingly has been made to work.  Perhaps not as well as going to a workplace itself, but it hasn’t resulted in a complete stop to our economy and is allowing us to continue. 

In a follow up to this piece, a lesser known phenomenon, working from cafes (WFC) is probably also set to become a more prominent part of what we do.  Subject to future potential regulations around social distancing, or the fact that we may personally prefer some social distance post corona, WFC may become a feature of the modern way of working as an extension of WFH, or some part way hybrid between WFO and WFH.  Being separate to your home removes the distractions of that load of washing or cleaning task to be done, that pet that is hassling for attention, or the ‘lets just put an episode of the latest show on for noise’ in the background. And the process of going somewhere for a short period of time helps focus attention on specific tasks.

WFC is popular in places that have agile workforces and for freelance workers without a permanent office.  But any officeworkers with a laptop have found it useful too. The flexibility of working unmonitored in a pleasant space often gives people the sense of freedom from standard workplace norms, and a connection to the world in which we live.  And the beauty of it is that you can work in different parts of your city and have little mini workday excursions.

There are rules though, an unspoken and unwritten etiquette.  You don’t take up more space than you need, and you need to ‘buy’ your space with the coffee (or food) you purchase – the longer you spend the more you should buy.  You can’t establish there for hours and days on end and make it an actual office – that is taking it too far, and you must watch the other tables to make sure if there is a lineup, you should make space if you’ve been there too long.  Though if there is plenty of space (that is, too much free space) the café might want you to stay there to give it the impression of being a place to be!  And respect the WiFi (though I prefer not to use the WiFi and be disconnected so I can work on a discrete task for a period of time with focus)

What does this mean for transport?  Well, not a lot in itself, WFC isn’t going to lead to major changes in transport patterns, but if the WFH trend continues and other forms of WFx arise (including what I think I saw on a recent Zoom seminar, WFB (working from a boat!)) less time will be spent in the office and less transport time devoted to reaching it.  Cafes close to home or on the way to the office are likely to be candidates for more WFC use given they can be linked with existing travel plans (and people can drop in on their way or augment their WFH routines with some variation), though interesting cafes might prove to be destinations in themselves depending on what the individual wants to achieve or if they’re in the area for another reason (e.g., a client meeting or private appointment). 

And with the café sector taking a large hit, WFC is likely going to be a welcome boost to the economy of this sector.