Are coffee shops the answer for remote working and how do they compare to shared workspaces? As the owner of such a space, I am often asked whether there is an advantage to using a shared workspace as opposed to working in a coffee shop. Or, more directly, why I would pay to use a co-working space when sitting in a coffee shop is often free. 

I can speak from experience. In the past, I often worked from a coffee shop, as an alternative to working from home. I did also have an office in an office block, so I have experienced what it is like to work from different physical locations. I can only speak from my experiences, and I am sure each person would have their own pros and cons to each location, but I would like to address the primary differences between the remote options in this blog, and that is shared workspaces vs coffee shops as a work location.

Coffee Shops vs Shared Workspaces

How do coffee shops compare to shared workspaces? Here’s what I have found:

Interaction and Vibe

Coffee shops are a great meeting place. Places where friends catch up and quick meetings can take place – usually, a short business breakfast or a coffee meeting. This in itself creates a great ambience and can certainly make you feel a part of a thriving environment, as opposed to sitting at home. The human interaction often a necessary part in motivating us and getting the creative juices flowing. However, after some time, the noise factor and the ad-hoc meeting of people can be counterproductive, as you meet and get into conversations with people that have nothing to do with the work tasks you need to get done. At this point shared workspaces, where you get a dedicated space, to sit down, and simply get things done – the distractions are far less. If you are interacting with other people in the workspace, they are there for the same reason as you are, and the conversations are around business or potentially how you can work together, so creative business ideas are discussed. In fact, what I have found is that generally people do communicate more in shared working spaces and meeting strangers seems to be easier compared to getting up in a coffee shop and introducing themselves to the neighbouring table. This could be due to the common purpose people have in shared workspaces.


99% of the coffee shops that offer free WiFi do not offer business-grade fibre connectivity, and the limited WiFi is shared among everyone sitting in the coffee shop. As a rule of thumb, these free WiFi services offer little security, which would expose your PC to anyone else sitting using the free WiFi. Any co-working space charging for you to use their facilities should make WiFi connectivity and speed a top priority feature. The issuing of unique tokens or a unique password for the users to access the WiFi ensures higher security of your data and PC, so you can work in the fastest way possible, accessing data and uploading information knowing that hackers won’t gain access to your confidential information. Guarantying an always-up service, even if there is an interruption in power is essential, and for this, the Wi-Fi service should be running on a UPS. My experience is that most good shared workspaces do offer uninterrupted connectivity for your convenience.

Business Services

Services like printing/copying/scanning are usually conveniently located in the workspace area. While these are additional paid-for services (you usually get charged a Cost per Page), the real value is that if you need some documents printed, you don’t have to leave your seat at the coffee shop and try to find a copyshop. Instead, simply get up, and ask for assistance to print, or maybe the workspace will connect you to the printer to print at your convenience. Some shared workspaces offer additional soft services, such as basic IT support, Virtual PA as well as an address where mail can be delivered. These are usually at an additional fee but usually come in at less than what an average meal in a restaurant would cost.

Convenience in a Single Location

Shared spaces are fundamentally business centres, and most will offer additional paid-for services, such as boardrooms, virtual meeting rooms and private parking. These are usually ad-hoc services, however, if you are needing a private area to conduct a Skype call or meet a few clients and don’t want the whole world to hear your conversation, then these areas are more suitable than a coffee shop environment, and they are booked on a pay-per-use basis. If you are at a venue for a private meeting, then it would make sense to just work in the space for the day.

Is a Coffee Shop Space Free?

In reality, no. The expectation is that while you are sitting and using the space, you should be at least supporting the coffee shop, and buying a few cups of coffee, depending on how long you will be sitting at the table. It is probably not the most ethical thing to do, to occupy a table in a coffee shop for a whole morning, and buy just one cup of coffee. I have learnt by having our own coffee shop attached to our co-working space, that there are costs associated to running and operating a coffee shop, and that there is actually a daily minimum sales that need to be done. Unless coffees are being sold as takeaways, tables need to turn or they need to have decent value in terms of sales for the table. Shared workspaces are not for free, and there is a fee attached to using the services, however, the time you spend is related to the product/token you purchase, and during this time you have no pressure feeling you should be dipping further into your wallet to keep your place at the table. Some shared spaces offer a fully-fledged café where you can purchase snacks and coffee at your leisure, and some offer basic free condiments.

There is a Place for Both

To get into a different environment, for a quick meeting where you are not too concerned about noise, or when you are travelling between meetings and need a space to sit down and catch up on e-mails for an hour or two, in my viewpoint, coffee shops are great. If you are serious about getting work done and want to be in a space where you know the other people in the space are there to get work done, too, and you wanting all the business services that you would get in an office, then shared workspace is the only answer.    

Situated in the coastal town of Hermanus, Co.Unity offers a welcoming space to work, giving you the benefit of a fully equipped shared workspace and a coffee bar which can be easily accessed by our shared workspace tenants as well as the general public.

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