Coworking vs. the Coffee Shop: Who Wins?

In the spirit of New Year’s reviews and resolutions, I’d like to propose an exercise. Look back on the last several years of your life. How many hours, in aggregate, do you suppose you’ve spent staring at a computer and drinking a hot beverage?

I’m in the “too many to count” category, as are many corporate functionaries, programmers, designers, etc. When you’re a freelancer, those hours have potential to become decidedly isolated. It is treacherously easy to fall into Lazy Freelancer mode, which involves rolling out of bed, turning on the coffee machine, and sitting in front of the big glowing screen all day in your pajamas.

The Bane of the Coffee Shop

When the pajama piece gets old, freelancers often head to coffee shops. There, you can be isolated among other lone wolves, experiencing human company, familiar faces, and a placeboic level of social interaction. The coffee shop allows freelancers to feel as though they’ve accomplished in that old-fangled world outside of the Web.

Admittedly, some freelancers are enterprising types who dress nicely every day, attend meetings and workshops, and expose themselves to open skies on a regular basis. I cannot count myself among their ranks. In my world, the suction capacities of the Internet tend to overwhelm the urge to self-present as a professional member of society. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I live in a town where business owners walk around in ski pants and dogs run around office spaces. You get away with less here, appearance wise.

Why Coworking is Better

But that’s not my point. My point is that working at home gets lonely; coffee shops are a little bit better, but coworking rocks. I say this having never done it (there is no venue in my town; I am considering opening one). I imagine that it must rock. Consider the average coffee shop, where:

-A cafe latte sets you back $3-$4. You feel guilty if you sit around without purchasing a new one, making an average day of work there cost around $12, excluding yummy baked goods.
-You may or may not end up next to really loud, gossipy people.
-You feel like a ham if you are the only one with a laptop.
-The seats are often uncomfortable.
-You can’t talk on your cell phone inside. Well, I don’t. Plenty of people do. I consider it rude.
-You are obligated to look somewhat hip.

Coworking, on the other hand, allows you a range of cafe-like benefits, without the cafe:

-You pay a flat membership fee instead of a daily fee.
-Everyone has a laptop!
-You get the chance to collaborate with your peers.
-The seats are probably more comfortable.
-Cell phone use is more acceptable–it is a workspace.
-The hip factor may not be a factor, although I am not sure about this point.

I can only imagine that coworking will burgeon as more people turn towards freelancing. Having frequented far too many coffee shops, I will allow myself to claim, having never coworked, that coworking is better.

Have you coworked, or do you own a coworking location? If so, how does it compare?

  • I like to go to local coffee shops for potential networking opportunities where I can strike up a chat with fellow patrons. We even have a “networking pit” in one of the coffee shops in my town however one big drawback of the coffee shop is you can only stay a limited time (2-3 hours max). The main culprit? The bathroom. I really don’t want to have to pack up my laptop and take it to the bathroom with me. Yes, I know they are security measures you can take but I’d rather not have to. I rather be there for a short time and force myself to do the work I want to do like blogging, editing photos, making a business plan or a little coding within a forced time limit than plant myself there all day. If you stay all day you also feel obliged to spend more in support of your time there and use of the wireless network.

    Don’t get me wrong. Some of my most productive times in terms of both work and networking have been in the coffee shop venue but only for a limited time in one sitting.

  • I don’t know of any places to co-work in Central Mass, or even Boston for that matter, although I know Boston has to have some within the city limits.

    I would be open to trying it. I have found more mothers bringing toddlers to a cafe I frequent and letting them run around (not cool).

    I definitely would like to find one. I wonder how profitable (if at all) they are as a business model? Hmm…

  • scratch that, here are Boston’s locations. As for the Worcester area….

  • Co-working in a coffee shop is a great idea. It gets fairly boring sitting at home all the time trying to get things done (which most days nothing gets done)!

  • Interesting and helpful post, keep em coming, thanks =-)

  • Ok, so i’m sitting here reading your article in a pair of sweats that I keep telling myself are very different than my pajamas (but they’re really not), and I am drinking my daily dose of caffeine, which for me is rockstar. Seriously though, I own a website development company, and find that I work better by myself, delving deep into my software, programming and computer language. I do have an office to go to if I so choose, but find it really no different than working from home. But that’s just me.

  • A a free lancer, I hadn’t heard of co-working before. Sounds like a great Idea and I am als keen to hear of anyones good and bad experiences

  • I enjoyed your article, it made me smile because my colleagues and I (programmers, server admins, geeks) drink alot of coffee and tea in the office during our working day. Where do we go to relax at lunchtime? The coffee shop of course. We even have a favourite chain which I blogged about recently:

    I am all for coworking as long as coffee is involved!!

  • It only took me a few months of working in cafes before I moved in with a couple of friends. We pooled our funds to buy furniture, equipment, and hired a few people to assist.

    Having an office was great as it provided a base for piles of paper, free printing, and others who to lean on when issues arose.

    Of course.. our office was right across from a cafe in case we needed to get away.


  • Lela Davidson

    Wow that sounds like a great idea. I was just thinking I need to get back into the coffee shop habit. I’ve gotten very comfortable in my home office, but I too am feeling pretty isolated. Maybe I should start a co-working space. There are a ton of home-based professionals where I live. Let us know if you know where to find more info on this type of business!

  • I love the idea of coworking. It used to be a pleasure as a freelancer to work at coffee houses. Now the prices are way too high and rude baristas and customers ruin the environment. I brew myself a cup of my favorite Kona coffee, hang out in my “lounge pants” and grab the laptop. If I feel lonely, I invite a neighbor to share a cup of coffee and conversation for awhile. Coworking would be a great way to talk to other freelancers…

  • It’d be so nice to have a network or online community that supports co-working and could reliably point you to a local co-working space and if there isn’t already one, have resources on organizing and starting on. Business opportunity, anyone?

  • I recently tweeted that I wish I had time to start a coworking facility… I don’t think I can, but I wish there was one in my city (Lexington, KY). I met with a friend today who is interested in opening a small executive suite that focuses on virtual offices. I told her about the coworking concept and she sounds very interested. I may just get my wish of having a coworking facility in Lexington!

  • Drea:

    Very interesting topic. I had a physical meeting place in Gothenburg, Sweden, called Blue Chip Café & Business Center. It was like a combination of a coworking office space together with a coffee house with WLAN and personal computers hooked up to the Internet. I am very interested in discussing this matter with entrepreneurs, potential business partners, investors, facility owners, e.g. regular coffee houses and and tea lounges that want to add a business network dimension.

    My main inspiration is the historical coffee-houses and the concept called The Third Place. For more on this, please read my post, The Third Place:

  • I love this concept! I’m brainstorming the feasibility of this in my area. Great post!

  • I have had so many interesting business ideas spur from this post. I am so pumped about this concept!

  • Again… Massachusetts residents who are interested in this, might we get an interest group going?

  • We are an office business center in Chattanooga, TN that is looking to include coworking. Interested in coworking in Chattanooga? Give us a call (423.266.6388) or drop a line to!

  • I am happy to report that the ball has been set into motion to create a co-working space in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. Any interested parties please feel free to contact me at james.r.moreau [AT] gmail dot com.

  • Very interesting. Please keep me posted. How far is Worcester from Boston?

  • Oooh. Good practice :) I probably drink at least 20 cups a week when at my desk working on my laptop :S

  • Bean to Cup Coffee sure is posh. i’d like to buy such a machine for my office. choosing one sure isn’t easy.

  • Now that looks like a healthy work place :)

  • allison

    Coworking is a great way to stay connected with other professionals. It provides a creative environment to share ideas & network, while also being more affordable in these tough economic times. The Concierge Level,LLC in Chattanooga,TN is currently setting up a coworking space in the downtown business district. We are hosting Jellies every other Friday to introduce people to this concept. Find us on Twitter & Facebook.

  • Coworking and coffee shops both have their benefits. The major advantage I see to coworking is being able to schedule out desks or conference rooms, depending on the features of the coworking space. Divvy is a customizable online billing and reservation tool, ideal for scheduling coworking desks by the hour, day, week or month. How many coffee shops allow you to do that? :)

  • I think coworking is the perfect balance between a cafe and a rigid office, you’re able enjoy quiet and comfortable space while having the opportunity to interact and meet other professionals. Having noticed some interest here for coworking space in Boston I’d love to introduce WorkBar, a new coworking office in downtown Boston (right by south station in the Leather District) The building is gorgeous and having recently started with WorkBar I am amazed at the quality of the space and how affordable it is (practically giving the space away!) Website for more details: My email for further contact:

  • A very interesting article! I like the way you’ve presented the benefits of co-working, because there’s a lot of people who don’t even know about it. Thanks!