A field guide to your local virtual office
You know all those people who use Starbucks as their office? The ones with laptops, powercords, cell phones, and papers spread out, holding meetings across tiny wooden tables? They used to annoy me. Until I became one.
I began with great disdain. Starbucks is the white-collar lowest common denominator. Like buying an entire wardrobe at The Gap, or a complete living room set from Pottery Barn. In my mind, that’s cultural ebola.
But the truth is, working at Starbucks… works. The comfortably pre-packaged vibe, the familiar music, the Everyman client?®le, they allow you to focus on your job at hand instead of the environment. When I was writing Radical Careering, Starbucks was my office for six months, every workday, up to 8 highly caffeinated hours a day. I had each of the CD memorized in order of rotation. If you were to call my house, my husband would tell you, “She’s at the office.” That’s what we called it. The Office. Eventually, our son thought all mommies worked in offices with racks of baked goods.
Over the course of those months, in addition to learning how to say “barrista” with a straight face, I learned all the unspoken house rules. Rules? Oh yes my friend. Rules. Like all workplaces, Starbucks has its own code of behavior, and god help the rookie who commits a gaffe like stealing a regular’s newspaper. If you’re going to work in this office, do us all a favor. Learn the protocol.
These days I travel constantly, and the world is my corporate headquarters. With so many people consulting, telecommuting, traveling on business, unemployed, Starbucks has create a new form of cubicle-land. Every location glows with laptop screens at any time of day, in any city. Chairman Howard Schultz once envisioned that Starbucks would become the “third place,” behind home and work. For many of us without offices, however, Starbucks has become the second.
What follows is your handbook to the Starbuckian workplace, as well as other virtual workspaces like airports or hotel lobbies.
Rule #1: Establish a favorite Starbucks location.
My primary location (I use several in rotation) was originally a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s a thinly disguised remodel. Starbucks got rid of the Colonel’s famous recipe and “sporks,” but kept the plastic tiled roof and drive-through. After careful consideration, I did decide against business cards with the address, “Starbucks at the corner of Riverside and Margaret.”
The advantage of frequenting the same location is that you get special treatment from the employees and respect from your fellow regulars. Barristas offer free leftovers from the frozen cappuccino machine. After a while, if I was out of the “office” for a few days, they inquired about my condition with concern while handing me a nourishing sample of marble cake.
Rule #2: Avoid turf wars.
Like most Starbucks, mine comes with precisely TWO purple velvet chairs. If they’re both filled, customers circle like sharks. They eye each other warily over the foam of their lattes, calculating dibs. One guy arrives every morning at, seriously, 7am to get one of the velvet chairs. He knows I prefer the same chair, and we wage an unspoken zoning battle. He usually wins by arriving first, and I swear he taunts me. While I’m uncomfortably shifting positions in my torturous hard-back chair, he stares pointedly at me and settles into his cushy purple fiefdom with appalling self-satisfaction, not even using the three-pronged outlet beside him. Bastard.
My husband suggested I open my own Starbucks franchise so I could sit wherever I damn well pleased. I nodded, envisioning an engraved brass name plaque.
Lucky for us Starbuckians, four new locations open each day, offering us new branch offices. One guy has made it his mission to visit every single location, and he can’t keep up.
Rule #3: Pay for your real estate.
Legally they can’t kick you out once you’ve purchased one item, but squatters are frowned upon. The longer you sit, the more you should buy. Consider it rent.
During a particularly intense project, I loaded up my Starbucks debit card $100 at a time. My husband confessed that he was sick of my clothes smelling like freshly ground beans.
Rule #4: Diversify your diet.
Yes the frosted pumpkin scone is really tasty, but soon it becomes about as appetizing as a shot of tequila after college spring break. Learn from my mistakes. Avoid the palate-numbing effects of daily lunch from the bakery racks. Even Starbuckians cannot live by bread alone.
On a business trip to Hawaii recently (”Honestly, Mr. IRS Auditor, I swear it was for business!”), I was thrilled to see that their Starbucks have expanded beyond the bakery racks, offering innovative yummies such as egg-and-spinach breakfast sandwiches.
Rule #5: If you’re going to sneak food in, be discreet.
I’m not here to judge; I too smuggle in the occasional combo meal. Just be smart. Don’t insult your landlord by flashing your McD’s styrofoam cup of coffee.
On the down low, I can tell you that it is possible to have a pizza delivered to a Starbucks. For this, I recommend the outdoor seating.
Rule #6: Keep your cell phone calls to yourself.
We all know how it goes. You get a call, and suddenly you’re so focused on the caller that you don’t realize you’re speaking louder than the espresso machine. However your fellow Starbuckians sit within a 5 yards radius. We don’t need a meticulous rehashing of your weekend exploits.
Rule #7: Observe airplane etiquette on conversation.
Many Starbuckians enjoy a rousing chat about the weather. Many don’t. Just because you and the person sitting next to you are both drinking coffee, that doesn’t mean you’re out having a cup of coffee together.
Rule #8: It’s not okay to put your bare feet up on a stool.
No matter how much Starbucks feels like a living room, no matter how soothing you find James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” on the CD cycle, do not take your shoes off.
Rule #9: Avoid Starbucks on legal holidays.
President’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, and all those other so-called “holidays” are a Starbuckian nightmare. Swarms of worker-bees are freed from their brick-and-mortar hives and descend en masse on our workplace. Sure, we’re happy to share our ottomans with “civilians.” as long as they don’t raise the sunshades without asking first.
Rule #10: Befriend your fellow Starbuckians.
Each Starbucks has a high percentage of regulars, and they become your community of co-workers. They’ll watch your laptop while you dash to the bathroom, or offer to switch places if you need to sit closer to the outlet. It’s the Starbuckian way, to respectfully smile and nod before returning to our venti chai lattes.
Hey, I’m a regular. I’m allowed to use words like “venti.”