Your coffice or mine?

2011-09-10 11:51

The irony of a post-recession world is the innovation that springs from necessity.

Many workers who lost their jobs during the recession took a leap of faith and started their own businesses.

Luckily, these entrepreneurs had technology on their side.

Starting a business in cyberspace has become the norm.

Today, armed with just a website and an email address, small businesses now have an effective launch pad to offer services, sell products, publish or edit content, and consult online.

Home-based industries are not new, but the sheer volume of new online businesses has forced cyberworkers to find some level of human interaction in a “third place” – the 21st-century coffice.

A coffice is not just a regular coffee shop where people meet or haul out their laptops to check mail.

Coffices are a new hybrid, or evolution, of “the third place”.In 1989 Ray Oldenburg penned a book called, The Great Good Place, where he coined the term “the third place”.

Oldenburg identified our homes as our “first place” and our workplaces as our “second places”, where (sadly) we spend most of our time.

He therefore championed the need for a “third place”, a neutral anchor where community life could be nurtured and promoted.

He observed that all societies traditionally had meeting places, but in our modern world these were disappearing and we therefore needed to actively identify such spaces and revive their use.

He suggested that the hallmarks of an ideal “third place” were “free or inexpensive food and drink, highly accessible and proximate for many, encouraging the patronage of regulars, but also welcoming and comfortable for new members.”

Perhaps something got lost in the interpretation, but in the 1990s, coffee shops became that essential “third place” in our lives.

Coffee culture has since become embedded into our modern lives. It might not be exactly what Oldenburg had in mind, but they essentially serve the same purpose.

Global coffee giant Starbucks mastered the art of providing a third place and it is no coincidence that all branches – anywhere in the world – blur the boundaries between a coffee shop and a comfy lounge where you can meet with friends.

Modern coffee culture has become so essential to our daily lives that McDonald’s is attempting to muscle in on the action with their rollout of McCafés – the company’s biggest strategic transformation since it started serving hot breakfasts two decades ago.

It’s no wonder that its mascot – Ronald McDonald – is being retrenched. He’s not a very convincing barista.

The coffice, however, is a step up from this third place. Coffices are designed to actively embrace the 21st-century cyber workforce.

The mood, while casual and conversational, is focused and businesslike.

Meetings are more likely to be business oriented than social, and the people tapping away at their laptops are regulars who the staff and owners not only know by name, but automatically make their brew of choice as they settle in for the morning.

These coffice workers are not on/off freelancers, but either forward-thinking business owners who run virtual offices or young millennials who work multiple projects or jobs simultaneously.

It is the ideal working environment of the future – where your rent is determined by the amount of coffee you consume.

Unlike places like Brooklyn, New York (where coffices are plentiful), South Africa has yet to embrace coffice culture.

But I have found two ideal coffices in Joburg: Guru in Parktown North, which I use for early morning and late-afternoon meetings; and Bean There at 44 Stanley in Milpark.

I run an almost virtual office, but I don’t have the meeting facilities.

Bean There has a boardroom that I can rent by the hour to host a large meeting and there are enough tables to run my day-to-day meetings.

Guru, on the other hand, is a networking master class every morning. Lawyers, journalists and (hip and cool) captains of industry have their first morning meeting before heading to their traditional offices, after which the coffice crowd settles in.

If only those tables could talk.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit fluxtrends.com 

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