How to Select a Good Coffee Shop for Work as a Digital Nomad – Podcast 034

In this episode B and Jack talk about how to find a good coffee shop to work from as a digital nomad. First, they cover in which situations this advice is relevant. After that, they present the 13 main factors to consider when you are selecting a coffee shop as your working location.

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1. Summary

1.1. The topic within the Digital Nomad Life System

The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step meta-system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.

The fourth step of the system is called the “Arriving Process”. This can be understood as the things a digital nomad needs to do once you arrive in your new base (the city you will stay in) to make sure you will be properly settled there in order to make the most out of the stay. The reason why this topic fits into the arrival process is that we advocate the idea that digital nomads should find a place to work from as soon as they get to their new bases in order to set a routine. So if you intend to work from public wifi, like a coffee shop, all these considerations that we are about to make are relevant in this stage in order to figure out what is the best coffee shop available to you to work from once you get to the new city.

To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you should listen to this episode.

1.2. When and how this advice is relevant

So in last week’s episode, we talked about how to find fast internet to work as a digital nomad. In that episode, I presented a number of possible places and different ways you could find fast internet. Among those were coworking spaces, tethering internet from a local sim card, public wifis, etc. 

All of those are great options but one option that is very popular among digital nomads is to work from public wifi, like from a coffee shop.

In the last episode, I broke down public wifis into what I called well-research public wifi and random public wifi. I said you should prefer well-research public wifi if you want fast internet. You might be asking yourself, what exactly are well-researched public wifi? Well, this simply means the wifi that you research beforehand that has a high likelihood of providing you fast internet. These can be wifi from a coffee shop, hotel lobby, etc. I contrast those with what I call random public wifis, which are simply the wifi around in the coffee shop around the corner which you have no idea if it is fast or not.

I said there are a couple of different ways to find fast wifi. One way is to ask the local digital nomad Facebook group. Another way is to use a crowdsourcing service to locate wifis like wifimap.io. Also, you can check nomadlist.com to see their recommended coffee shop in each city. Finally, one good service to find good public wifis is https://workfrom.co/. This app is a crowdsourced service where users can input a number of features of different public wifi locations. Among those features internet speed is one.

This is all well and good as far as wifi goes, but if you want to find a reliable good public place to work from, we need to consider other things besides just the wifi. In other words, wifi is only part of the equation, there are other relevant factors to watch out for. These are things like, opening hours, having energy plugs, among other things.

So in today’s episode, we aim at presenting all the relevant factors to consider. Note that these considerations apply for both well-research public places (i.e. places that you previously research beforehand) or random public places. The only difference is that in the former it is to check what you previously research once you get to the place. Yes, I am advocating that you should always double-check the information you researched by one of the methods previously mentioned (e.g. Facebook group, nomad list, work from), from say a coffee shop, once you get to the actual coffee shop. On the other hand, in the case of random public places, it is a matter of checking all the factors once you get there since you will have no background information.

Also, it is important to notice that all the factors that I am about to present only make sense if you intend to stay a reasonable amount of time (or ideally if you intend to become a regular to the place) since checking will take some time. So if you are staying 1 or 2 hours, I would not worry too much.

Finally, it is important for you to check all of these factors before you “commit to a place”. What do I mean by committing to a place is buying something in order to be “allowed” to work from the place. If you commit to the place before checking those things you might be in a situation where you just bought a coffee and the place will close in 2 hours. Thus you will need to go to the next place and commit yourself again, which will cost you more money and even more importantly valuable time.

1.3. The 13 factors to consider when selecting a coffee shop to work from

A. Internet speed

This should be no surprise that the first factor you should watch out for when you are selecting a public place to work is internet speed. Basically what you need to do here is to check the internet speed by using a tool like internetpeed.net. For most people who work with the internet, the recommended download speeds are from between 10 to 20 Mbps. The exception is video content creator. If you are interested in this topic you should listen to episode 33 where we talk exclusively about how to find fast internet as a digital nomad.

B. Energy sockets

Another important thing to look out for is if there are energy plugs available. This should be a no-brainer if you intend to have a long day of work in the place. So not only you should look around the public space if there are any energy plugs but also if the tables next to such energy plus are available or not. By the way, don’t forget to bring your universal adaptor (*this is the one I recommend) to the coffee shop. The only expectation of this rule would be if you have a full battery on the laptop and intend to stay only a few hours.

C. Opening hours

This happen to me a few times. I will go into a coffee shop and look around the place and like what I see. Check the internet speed and it is fast. Finally commit to the place by buying things to eat and drink. Just to find out the place is about to close in 45 minutes. It is categorical that you check the working hours since this change drastically from place to place and you want to get a place that suits your needs in terms of working hours. If you are looking for places to work in the late hours or if you are looking for a 24h place, then probably your best bet will be chain coffee shops or hotel lobbies.

D. Lighting

The lighting is essential for a number of reasons. I would advise you to always choose places that are well-lit. Preferably with sunlight. There are two main reasons for that. First, well-lit places won’t strain your eyes. Independently if you are working with paper or on a laptop screen a well-lit environment is always easier for your eyes. Secondly, by having a well-lit place you can avoid the feeling of sleepiness that is all too familiar to us.

E. Seats’ ergonomics and comfort

If you are planning to stay working long hours in a place, the ergonomics and comfort of the chair/table matter a lot. This can be broken down into the chair being comfortable and the ergonomics of the chair in relation to the table being good. This is usually understood in terms of the height of the chair is in relation to the table.

F. Noise and busyness

Let us start with the noise. This will depend on you as a person, but for most people, the noise levels are crucial because places that are too noisy are hard to work from since you cannot really concentrate. Thus, you should prefer places without loud music and/or too much chattering in the background. One workaround solution would be to bring with you a noise-canceling headphone if you have one of those.

Now let us talk about busyness. On the one hand, busyness is an important factor. Similar to noise, a place that is too busy is hard to concentrate well especially if there are always people coming and going around you. There is also another reason why business is important. If a place is too full, it is likely there are many people simultaneously connected to the internet. So unless the internet network has a very high bandwidth, most likely you will have problems with the internet connection both in terms of speed as well as stability. Thus, you should always prefer to work in places that are not that busy.

G. Temperature

This is the kind of thing that you might not mind in the first 30 minutes once you get to the place. For instance, you might get to the place and the AC is very strong. This is a common thing in chain coffee shops. You will enjoy the cool temperature in the beginning especially if the outside is extremely hot. Yet, trust me, after 1 or 2 hours the temperature will be insufferable. Independently if a place is too hot or too cold, which seems to me to be the most common scenario, uncomfortable temperatures will hinder your ability to work effectively. Always look for a place with a comfortable temperature.

H. Coffee shop’s policy

This is not an issue in all places, but you should figure out if there is any special policy in the place like minimum spending, the maximum amount of hours you can stay there if the place can only be used by certain people (e.g. hotel guests in the case of hotel lobbies). Figure those out before committing to the place in order to avoid unexpected surprises later on.

I. Vibe

This is perhaps the most subjective factor within our list. Yet, at least for me, extremely important. The first difficult thing about this factor is that it is hard to define in very specific terms what vibe is. The way I think about it is the overall feeling a place gives you. This could perhaps be broken down into smaller factors like light, music, type of people that go there, among other things. But that is not the point, I am not trying to define vibe here since I think most people intuitively understand it. Anyway, my advice here is to only commit to working in a public place where you feel you have a great or at least neutral vibe. A bad vibe is a no-no. In my experience, if the public place gives you a good vibe not only you will be more productive in your work but also will boost your sense of well-being overall for the rest of the day.

J. Toilet

If you intend to work long hours in a place, inevitably at some point you will need to go to the toilet. Therefore, I think it is always smart for you to pick a public place with a toilet. Sure, you could go out to find a toilet and then come back. But there are some drawbacks to doing that. You will spend time finding a toilet that you can use outside, when you come back you might have lost your seat, or when you come back the staff might ask you to buy again if they don’t remember your face

K. Uniqueness

This is a bit optional, but nonetheless important in my opinion. Sometimes we get so caught up with work as digital nomads that we forget we are travellers after all. You should not forget that. Hence my advice here is to look for unique public places to work. By doing so, you can be working while being able to experience the city, you are staying on as a digital nomad by osmosis (i.e. in an indirect manner by simply going to places locals go). In practical terms, this translates into leaving the chain hotel or coffee shop to be your last option to work. As my first option, I would always try to go for local independent places that really provide something unique.

L. Food quality and price

In most public places you will need to buy something in order to be “allowed” to work in a place. That I have been calling committing to a place this far. You might think the quality and price are irrelevant since you are just going there to work. Yet, I think that matters a lot especially if we assume that once you find a good place to work you will go back there quite regularly. Let us start with the food and drinks quality. This should be quite straightforward if you are buying drinks regularly, say a coffee, the coffee better to be good or at least not bad. Who would want to repeatedly eat or drink something bad? More importantly, the average food and beverage cost varies quite drastically from place to place. Thus, if you end up paying too much for the public place to work, it might not be worth it. For instance, imagine if you find a place with the coffee is 5 USD, which is a very possible price for independent coffee shops nowadays in many cities around the world. Now say that you take two coffees a day since you work long hours there. That’s a total of 10USD a day. In a month it would be 200 USD if you working five times a week. That is surely more than what you would pay in many coworking spaces around the world. So perhaps that would be a better deal for you. The simple message here is that you should watch out for the price especially if you intend to be a regular in a place

M. Privacy

You might think “Oh, I don’t really care about privacy because I am doing nothing wrong on my laptop”. But let us be honest here, nobody likes the feeling of being so close to another person that the person can literally see everything you are doing on your laptop. Also, if you need to make a phone call, it won’t be very comfortable. Thus, I would suggest you look for places where the tables are reasonable far apart and places that are not super jammed. One alternative here is to also use a laptop privacy screen protector (*the one I recommend is this one)

1.4. Putting all this advice together

In an ideal scenario, you would have done some research about the place before going there. So once you get there you would simply be checking if things are all in order. 

So if you did this research the uniqueness factor should be already dealt with, since you know it is an independent place.

Say you come to the coffee shop, the first thing I would simply verify is the temperature, vibe, light, noise, and busyness.

If all of those things are alright, I would pull out my phone and open the internetspeed.net tool to see the internet speed.

If the internet speed is fine, around 15mbps, then I would go straight to the sitting area, not to the counter. In the sitting area, I would see if there are energy plugs available to an empty seat. Then I would check how comfortable the chair is and the ergonomics of the table in relation to the chair. Also, I would check if there is a reasonable space between the tables in order for me to have some privacy. Finally, I would check if there is a toile available next to the sitting area.

If all of those things are good, I would then go to the counter. At the counter, I would first ask for the working hours of the place. Then I would simply ask “can I work here for a while?”. This question seems silly, but by asking that you are prompting the staff to tell you if there is any funny policy in the place (e.g. limit hours to stay there for customers). Finally, I would have a look at how the food looks and their prices. Of course, you can never be sure about the food/drinks but you can have a pretty good idea by the looks of it and if you check Google maps for reviews.

Just then, if all of those things are fine, I would commit myself to stay to work by buying something.

It may sound like a lot of steps but remember you just need to do this once (or at most a couple of times) in each new base you are staying. Once you find a good place you should go there repeatedly to work.

Sure, sometimes it is hard to find all these factors in a place. But at the very least the place should be alright in most of those things that we just talked about.

Once I find a place I truly like, I tend to use that place regularly since it takes some effort to find good places and I do not want to waste the time I spent to find such a place. Besides that, if I were you I would try to befriend the staff if you intend to be a regular there for two reasons. First, it is kind of weird if you constantly go to a place day in and day out but you treat the staff of the place like people you have never seen before. Second, you are in the perfect natural scenario where you can befriend a local to hang out with you as well as give you free perks from the place if you are lucky. It doesn’t take much to befriend the staff. Most people are very straight to the point when dealing with them, thus if you do just a little bit extra (like asking how are they, making one or two observations/jokes, giving a tip sometimes) you can go a long way. By the way, if you are interested in the topic of befriending people on the road as a digital nomad you should check out episodes 19, 20, 21.

2. Transcript

3. Resources