Web Culture

How To Rock The Coffee Shop Cubicle

Joshua Lockhart 28-04-2014

It’s been happening for a while: meetings have moved from conference rooms to coffee shops, business calls can be taken in the middle of a café, important paperwork is taken care of at the food court. The structure for so many businesses has shifted to an online interface, and the physical, real-world aspect of the office is slowly starting to fade. Thanks to the Internet, we work where we want to, when we want to, and how we want to.


But unfortunately, with this freedom comes quite a few social risks. When humans share breathing space, they can’t help but act… well, human. Even with all our high quality technology and cloud-sharing and fancy communication devices, we can’t help but ignore some elements of common decency when we’re working in a public place.

While these aren’t necessarily hard-fast rules bent on making you a stiff, upright netizen, they are definitely something to consider. All of our suggestions are aimed at keeping you less intrusive and even more focused on your work.

Headphones Are Your Best Friend


Headphones are literally the greatest things in the world – legitimately, amazingly, truthfully. While we don’t have an affordable option for true virtual reality, these $10 miniature speakers can plug you into a different world: ambient sounds, music, even a world without people! Because no one ever bothers you when you’re wearing headphones, right? Heh.

But for real, if you are working with media-heavy materials (light video editing, perhaps) or maybe you absolutely have to have music playing while you are working, then get a pair of headphones. They keep you from annoying other people with sounds from your laptop, and they also can keep you in the zone.


That said, don’t start blaring music from your laptop’s speakers while working in a room full of people. It’s rude, and it’s likely to distract anyone who may be around.

Keep Phone Calls At A Normal Conversation Level


If you can have a conversation in a coffee shop, then you can have a phone call, too. However, keep these two rules in mind: don’t speak super loud, and don’t draw attention to yourself. Because that’s obnoxious. Speaking of headphones, if you have an iPhone, I’d recommend using the included EarPods or any other headphone kit that feature a microphone – they are awesome. Bluetooth users? This is also your time to shine with a Bluetooth headset The Beginner's Guide to Buying the Right Bluetooth Headset The dirty little secret to buying the perfect Bluetooth headset is that there is no "perfect" headset. Read More . Just… keep it down, will ya?

On the other hand, it seems as if many people really can’t stand phone-talkers in coffee shops just… because they are there. People sometimes think it’s rude even if they are sitting at a table full of friends, chatting away. Let’s be honest. This is kind of stupid. If you like to complain about phone talkers, you’re probably in the same category as people who force coughs when anyone with an e-cigarette is nearby.


Skyping Actually Isn’t That Bad, But…


Moving right along, I’d even go as far to say that Skyping isn’t a cardinal sin while in public. But again – headphones. Furthermore, make sure your camera isn’t facing a direction that will show anyone. Why? People are sensitive about their privacy Who Is Fighting On Your Behalf Against The NSA And For Privacy? There are several Internet activism groups who are fighting on your behalf for privacy. They are doing their best to educate netizens as well. Here are just a few of them that are incredibly active. Read More anyway these days, and nobody should be displayed anywhere that they don’t want to be. In this case, it’s more of a respect type of situation.

Even If You Aren’t At Work, NSFW Does Apply


Look, MakeUseOf isn’t your mama. We don’t care what you do or look at while you’re online, but occasionally, other people will. When you’re in a public place, you don’t know who’s around you. You also probably don’t know what they will be comfortable and uncomfortable seeing if they happen to glance over at your workstation. Yes, while they should definitely be minding their own business, it’s something to think about.


Look at it this way: the business you are working in is allowing you to do whatever you need to do there. Respect that by playing nice with others, because in the end, you should want their operation to succeed.

Don’t Hog The Bandwidth


Guys. When free WiFi is provided to you, respect it. Don’t play a thousand 1080p Vimeo videos at once while rocking out some Titanfall MakeUseOf Plays: Watch Dave & James Play Titanfall on Xbox One Read More in a separate window. Oh, you were supposed to be working, right? Just keep in mind that everyone is drinking from the well, and you should be willing to share.

Keep The Business Thriving

Most importantly, wherever you are, whatever place that so gracefully allows you to come in with your work materials, set up shop, and sit for a few hours while you do your thing, support them. Buy a drink every hour. Eat there often. Recommend it to your friends. Post about it on social media.


After all, coffee shops and cafés are slowly becoming our modern offices, and we all need to do our part to help pay the rent.

Image Credits: Benjamin Staüdingereldeeem, Ronn aka “Blue” Aldaman, Hannaford, marsettmn tallahassee, Dmitri Korobtsov

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  1. Saikat B
    April 30, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Nice article Josh. The headphones it is. But nothing beats the right vantage point at the shop. Anything close to the door or the counter is a massive distraction.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 30, 2014 at 3:37 am

      Thank ya, Saikat. And very true! I tend to hit up corners or booths. There's one shop I go to very often that has a (mostly) unused bar in the back, though. I sometimes will sneak my laptop there.

  2. Nikolaj K
    April 29, 2014 at 10:16 am

    ...., and if I may add: It's extremely rude to talk on your phone, while others listen. Get up and leave the room. The comparison to a conversation in the article is huge mistake.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 30, 2014 at 3:35 am

      Hi Nikolaj : )

      Regarding your second argument, I'll agree to an extent - if the person is being loud, obnoxious, blah blah blah.

      However, I personally use my headphones to talk, and sometimes, I'll even go as far as to cup my hand over the microphone on the cord and hold it close to my mouth. Granted, this is typically in louder, larger coffee shops I go to. Either way, if people are having a conversation at an acceptable conversational level near you, then why can't you speak at the same tone?

      As for your first one, I don't necessarily want to address it as it seems to deviate from the point of the article.

  3. Nikolaj K
    April 29, 2014 at 10:12 am

    It's not freedom. It's stupidity. Productivity and Effectivity go down. That goes for the golf course too, where many companies have gone bankrupt.

  4. Dann A
    April 29, 2014 at 6:39 am

    All very good tips! I especially agree with the headphone recommendation. I work from a coffee shop fairly often, and my headphones are the first thing into my bag. I'd recommend getting something nicer than a pair of Apple ear buds, though . . . a nice pair of Sennheisers or AKGs will block out more sound (and just improve the listening experience overall).

    Not using all of the bandwidth is another great tip—I accidentally find myself doing this on occasion. I try not to, but I do a lot of multitasking, and that often involves downloading or uploading things. I really make an effort to keep my bandwidth usage minimal, though. It sucks going to a coffee shop and having a super slow connection.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      April 30, 2014 at 3:36 am

      Sennheisers - mmm. Unfortunately, I lose headphones on a regular basis. I keep Maxwell, Sony, JVC, and Skull Candy all in business.

      But I rarely buy Apple ear buds. Just so costly!