How to Work from a Coffee Shop or Free Wi-Fi Hotspot

Productivity and security tips for working remotely in public locations

With free Wi-Fi offered in so many places these days, you have many more locations to work from besides the regular office or your home office, which can be great for a productivity-boosting change of pace. In most cases, you have access to a steady stream of coffee and snacks and can tap into the energy of a bunch of strangers all tapping away on their laptops together. But there are challenges and etiquette considerations to take into account as well. Here's what you need to know about working from Starbucks or another coffee shop or any public Wi-Fi location.

Finding a Spot

The first order of business is usually to grab a table, especially if your neighborhood coffee shop or bookstore is often crowded. If there's an empty seat next to someone, just ask if it's empty. Bring a sweater or jacket with you so you can hang it over the chair that you claim while you go get your coffee.

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Don't leave your laptop bag, laptop, purse, or other important belonging on the table or chair to hold your place. Maybe it's the environment, but people tend to let their guard down at a cafe. Don't.

If you do need to get up from the table and don't feel like lugging your laptop to the restroom with you, secure your laptop to the table with a cable like the Kensington MicroSaver Cable Lock (a wise investment also for traveling).

Many people also don't realize when they're working at a coffee shop that it's easy for others to see what's on their screens and what they're typing. Not to make you paranoid, but beware of "shoulder surfing." If possible, position yourself so your screen is facing a wall and be vigilant when entering in sensitive information or if you have confidential stuff on your screen--you never know.

In addition to physical security, there are also important data security precautions you'll need to take. Unless a Wi-Fi network is secured by strong WPA2 encryption (and you can bet a public one isn't), any information sent over the network can be intercepted easily by others on the network. To secure your data, there are a few things you should do, including: log on only to secure websites (check for the HTTPS and SSL sites), use a VPN to connect to your company or home computer, enable your firewall, and turn off ad-hoc networking. Read more:

Food, Drinks, and Company

Now to the fun stuff. One of the perks of working at public location is the communal vibe and you might have access to food and drinks. Do not become a squatter: the longer you stay there, the more you should buy. Regularly working from a Starbucks or other dining location, however, can get to be expensive fast, so you may want to consider alternating your Starbucks days with trips to the local library or give co-working a try. A business lounge like Regus businessworld, which gives you an alternative Wi-Fi working location, is another option.

Common courtesy tips for working at any public location include keeping your cell phone calls quiet and making room for others. Be friendly, but if you prefer not to be disturbed and needs some help concentrating, be sure to bring along a pair of headphones.

Other Coffee Shop Gear

Here's a checklist of the stuff above and some other things to pack along in your laptop bag:

  • An extra battery, in case you can't grab the seat by the outlet
  • Microfiber cloth and screen cleaner; I always need these, especially out of the house
  • Headphones
  • Cable lock
  • Pens, paper, business cards, and other work stuff

Enjoy working from your "third place".

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