Alternative offices: how working from the pub might work for some
Bored of working from home but still don’t want to commute to the office? It might be time to embrace ‘third spaces’ such as pubs, restaurants and hotels. But knowing how to make best use of these alternative workspaces is key to a productive day’s work
Pre-pandemic, if someone on a team had said they were working from the pub they would likely have been met with a derisive “working hard or hardly working?” But now, with many businesses accepting some form of remote working for office-based roles, options for people to swap working from home to working near home are on the rise, as the so-called ‘third space’ becomes more appealing.
Indeed, remote employees who spend time working outside the home in spaces such as cafés, pubs, restaurants, hotels, libraries and even museums are said to be more productive and motivated than those who work exclusively from home. That is according to recent research by the City, University of London Business School and Goldsmiths, University of London, which included interviews with people working remotely in 38 varied locations. The study revealed that third-space working plays a key societal role by providing potentially isolated remote workers with the health and wellbeing benefits of office-based socialising, as well as helping to create a sense of belonging and identity.
But before we all start plugging in our laptops at our local pub, we might benefit from learning some new rules of engagement to ensure that remote workers get the most out of their new working environment.
Socialise and network
Don’t underestimate the power of building a strong rapport with the staff at your chosen venue or striking up a conversation with fellow remote workers. Little things like introducing yourself to your server or inviting other ‘co-workers’ for a coffee or lunch, could open the door to future business collaborations.
“Make sure the host knows who you are, what your business is and what you do, in a way that isn’t pushy, so they can introduce you to other people,” advises Benjamin Carew, co-founder of Othership, a subscription platform that allows members to pre-book work-friendly, free third spaces like hotel bars and restaurants, as well as more traditional co-working spaces. “You might need to find a tech developer or a copywriter, and a good host will be able to connect you with any relevant people they have come across in their space,” he adds.
The social approach has certainly worked for Ellen Cole, who runs Little Seed, a PR and marketing consultancy based in York. “I met one of my longest-standing clients in a café. We’d sat working near each other for two weeks before starting up a conversation that resulted in us being able to help one another,” she explains.
Choose your space carefully
Working from your favourite pub, restaurant or hotel might sound much more inviting than yet another day in your spare room, but it pays to research the location first. For example, a pub or restaurant with a private dining room that might not see much leisure traffic mid-week would make for a more conducive workspace than propping up the bar with your laptop at a less work-friendly venue.
The White Horse pub in Wembley Park, London, for example, has recently upgraded its interiors with private rooms, quiet spaces, laptop charging points, strong Wi-Fi and new lunch deals to entice remote-working professionals out of the thousands of flats that surround it. If there is a match on at Wembley, however, you’ll struggle to be heard on your Zoom meeting, so it’s worth being aware of who else is likely to venture to the pub on a certain day.
“l contact venues beforehand to see if it’s possible to work there and to get more information, such as if they have good Wi-Fi and if there is a particular spot where they would like me to sit,” says Little Seed’s Cole.
To buy or not to buy?
Is it acceptable to claim a table at your favourite café and nurse a single flat white and a glass of tap water while you work all day? No, says Cole, who makes a point to buy refreshments throughout the day when working from a third space.
But The White Horse’s general manager Sinead Murphy says she’d never turn away someone who just wants to work. “They could come back on Saturday night with 10 friends. The more people that come in and have a great experience [the better]. It’s like free advertising,” she says.
Murphy has, however, introduced ‘home-from-home’ promotions such as all-day unlimited tea and coffee for working customers who buy lunch, making the question of how much consumption your workspace is worth easier to answer. Venues and managers may vary in what spend they expect from remote-working customers, so again, research is key to avoid being snubbed by staff for not splashing the cash.
“One hotel got really fed up with people working from there and spending no money, but the problem was it was trying to charge £20 for lunch. So, the hotel decided to introduce a £20-a-day package that included workspace. A lot of hotels have migrated over to this model, so don’t just expect to go and work anywhere for free,” warns Othership’s Carew.
Ideal places to work outside the home are evolving beyond the stereotype of sitting in a café. Indeed, Carew believes that cafés are relatively poor working spaces – they are often noisy, there’s a lot of footfall and many café owners want to maintain a high turnover of tables.
Our rules of engagement on making the most of third spaces could make working near home – or, in fact, from anywhere — a win-win situation for everyone. Employees still get to skip the commute and work flexibly in an environment of their choice, while companies save on office rent and can build morale and culture through the third spaces they encourage. And, together, they’re providing a much-needed boost to independent businesses – and that’s perhaps the most exciting and important part of working from third spaces.