August 30, 2007
The trendiest new office: a coffee shop with Wi-Fi
Detroit Free Press
HUGH GRANNUM / DETROIT FREE PRESS/MCT
Mark Yurich and Ralph Dor-Ghali, who work in sales at Sysco Food Services, took over a corner of Panera Bread in Troy, Mich., recently. Their laptops were buzzing. Pastry remnants surrounded their tables. Steaming coffee cups were filled to the brim. They took calls and placed orders for clients from their computers, which were connected to wireless Internet that Panera provides its customers free.
"We know all the Paneras in metro Detroit," said Yurich, a district sales manager who has an office, but which he acknowledges he rarely visits.
Yurich and Dor-Ghali are among a growing number of workers using coffee shops as offices.
While there are no hard statistics showing how many workers are doing this, experts say an entrepreneurial boom is driving more people to use cafes. At the same time, more coffee shops are offering free wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, an attractive feature for workers on the go.
"It's a definite trend," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Challenger added that he works out of Chicago-area coffee shops when he needs to.
Saving costs, commuting time, gasoline
"There are also a lot more self-employed people these days who don't want to have the expense of an office," Challenger said. "It's also a way to cut back on gas spent during expensive commutes. And not only that, but commuting is a big waste of time. So, it cuts back on that, too."
Look in a coffee shop and you'll find a sea of workers ranging from sales people to pharmaceutical representatives. Not only do they work from laptops, they also meet with clients and hold meetings at coffee shops.
"It's nice to have a place to stop on the road to work," Yurich said. "It's a great place to meet clients. And, who can beat the baked goods and coffee? We definitely spend a lot of money here."
Wi-Fi – which allows data to be transmitted via a wireless network – is a major draw for workers, observers say.
Of Panera's 1,056 locations in the country, 940 are equipped with free Wi-Fi, said spokeswoman Liz Scales.
"We're the largest provider of free Wi-Fi in the country," Scales said. "There are people that are there and don't want to buy anything, and that's all right. But most people do, and we have had nothing but positive remarks about this."
Jill Jordan, a career coach who closed her office last year and went virtual, said working from coffee shops has helped business.
"Clients appreciate that you are virtual," she said. "They like knowing that they're not paying for your pretty chair, your pretty desk, your pretty paintings."
"We purposely decided not to have offices because we figured we could save the dollars we would spend investing in an office and pump it directly into our business," she added.
Frank Rubino, a construction manager, said coffee shops are great to work from when he is moving from site to site.
"They have great bagels"
"One of our sites is right across the street," he said as he worked at a Panera. "They have great bagels here. And, yes, I have a good-sized office. But this is much more convenient."
Melissa Williams, a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer, regularly works out of a Caribou Coffee.
Caribou Coffee spokesman Ryan King said the store installed free Wi-Fi in September.
"I like it here because the first hour of Internet is free, and it's less congested than other places," Williams said.
After the first hour online, Caribou's system requires customers to spend $1.50 every half-hour.
"We also don't have our own offices," Williams went on. "We are required to have one at home, but when you're on the road and need to stop somewhere and read a report, this works out much better."
"There are a lot of jobs where you can't really do this," Challenger said. For example, some professionals, such as attorneys, should keep their offices for image reasons.
"If you want to show a big company that you're a big company, too, you might need an office," he added.
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