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Alex Fergusson Architects

Coffee shops must embrace the virtual office


Today I took a trip through the modern history of the British Raj (known locally as Southall) to visit a client on the other side. All the way, I've seen coffee shops and I've now deserted my usual Starbucks and Fuller's pubs for a few office moments in Costa.

All three chains offer WiFi, coffee and seats and an ambience that's a little less austere than the office - than our office at least. But all is not perfect.  Similar issues hunt me down wherever I set up my "office".

The market for accommodating the modern virtual office is huge and growing faster than ever now that Outside Starbucks with tablet

  • the iPad and its fellow tablets are encouraging all manufacturers to aim for lighter travelling machines with better battery life,
  • the link from the office to the Cloud has the bandwidth to support a sensible amount of home- our out-of-office working.
  • Suppliers like VMware, Citrix and LogMeIn are offering the infrastructure that will let us access even the most uncooperative legacy software without actually having to sit in front of a desktop PC.

So now it's perhaps time for the hotels, pubs and coffee shops to meet us half way - especially if they want our valuable trade.

We need:

  • Fast WiFi with fast login.  I know it seems pretty obvious, but maybe the message is getting lost in translation. When we visit sometimes maybe two our three places a day, supplying the credentials to set up a new account each time really can get to be a bit of a pain. Then there's the process of copying some access code off a till receipt, or a board stuck on the wall - it can all get a bit much. Another issue here, and later when the machine is logged in, is the response times. Some systems are clearly running low on capacity because they are becoming a victim of their own success.

  • Power points. Yes, I know I mentioned the wonders of improved battery life about two minutes ago, but most of these tablets are not perfect yet: they don't actually support a full working day - plus a few entertainment extras - all on one charge. And the laptops... some of them may have started to respond to the new challenge that tablets present by improving battery life, but most have quite a way to go yet!

  • Slightly quieter areas. Probably things are improving, but there is still the danger that the backdrop to your business phone call is a little serious rock music, or someone else's job interview. Not ideal. It wouldn't take that much: a little cleverly position carpet; or a planned room with one end for the louder kind of socialising and the other for the virtual office crowd.
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