New technology and flexible working mean that 21st century workers can find themselves setting up a temporary office almost anywhere. But while some locations make for a perfect laptop stop, others can be testing encounters:
Unlike the generally smooth-running inter-city train, London buses lurch from side to side, fly over speed bumps and take corners on two wheels which makes working on your laptop a precarious experience. The seats are smaller than the train (literally no elbow room to type) and the journeys are often too short to get anything meaningful done. No loo facilities, and no refreshments, unless you count the bottle of water in my bag and the smell of fried chicken from the passenger opposite.
Smoother than the bus, but the elbow room is similarly restrictive and the passengers more aggressive. Journeys can be longer (especially if, like me, you have a client in Uxbridge) but the soporific rattle of the rails can lull you to sleep and you could wake up with no laptop, mobile, ipad.
As a quick drop-in space between meetings, Starbucks can’t be beaten. But stay there over an hour it becomes anything but the perfect venue. Yes there is a free WiFi (when you sign up for a Starbucks card), and often plug sockets and the refreshments are pretty good (I’m not a coffee drinker, and it’s hard to ruin a peppermint tea). There is work-style desking and lighting which helps create the office mood but the seating is anything but ergonomic and after two hours hunched over my laptop I’m developing a hunch that Starbucks isn’t that good for my posture.
And what do you do when you need to go to the loo? Ask the person next to you who you don’t from Adam to look after your laptop or pack it all up, take it with you and risk losing your coveted window seat? And the same goes for confidential calls – risk taking them in full earshot of potential rivals and just nosey eavesdroppers? Or pack up and stand outside? And don’t even start me on the people who bring their kids in there (don’t they realise that it’s not a coffee shop but my office??!) who run around screaming and knocking hot drinks over priceless bits of kit.
Free WiFi it does have, and some rather tempting, if plastic, food but McDonalds is also deluged with under 5s during the day and hoards of horrible teenagers after school hours. Same problem about leaving your laptop when you go to the loo (except the Starbucks business clientele are more trustworthy than the average techie teenager) and you won’t be able to make yourself heard on the phone above the shouting, usually from the McDonalds managers demanding the staff wish everyone a nice day.
Apart from a quick visit to pick up or drop back usually late books, it’s been years since I’ve spent any time in the library. So when the children were being more than usually loud one day after school, I left our nanny to it and went to the library. I’d envisaged a haven of quiet calm, diligent note-taking and hushed tones. Instead I got the after-school crowd loudly demanding internet access (which is available on the library computers but not for WiFi users), a row over an unpaid fine, two teenagers snogging in the corner, an old man snoring in the sunny corner, and two 10-year old boys playing hide and seek. But, they did have today’s newspapers (which maybe makes up for not being able to read them online) an attempt at a work station with a table and chair and even a plug socket (just one mind).
Having been tempted outside by the heatwave and a complete lack of work discipline, I set up my office on a park bench. Big mistake. Yes it feels very decadent, but practical it’s not. The glare to the laptop screen makes it impossible to read without a Moorfields-Eye-Hospital-visit- inducing squint, any light breeze means all your documents are spread about the grass and flowerbeds, and I narrowly avoided a dog mistaking my leg as somewhere to mark his scent.
So, it’s back to the office then…