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The Dos and Don’ts of Working in Public

Updated on June 17, 2022Professionals

After more than a year of many professionals working from home, more companies foresee a long-term shift in favor of a remote workplace. Working remotely has its perks, like scheduling flexibility, a reduced commute to an office, and, for some, the ability to work from anywhere that has a reliable Wi-Fi connection. 

Even before the workplace shift brought on by the pandemic, many people opted to work—or study—in public, dropping in at coffee shops, libraries, and coworking locations to create boundaries from home life and set themselves up for effective, focused work time.

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Whether your employer is transitioning into a fully remote workplace, offering a hybrid option, or leaving the choice to you, there are a few dos and don’ts to remember when working in a public space.

Do: Bring headphones

Headphones are an essential part of your working-in-public toolbox. Whether you’re completing a writing assignment while listening to music or preparing a presentation, headphones help you focus.

Noise-canceling headphones insulate you from audial distractions in a busy coffee shop or outdoor area. They also let you listen into meetings or webinars without disrupting other guests around you.

Don’t: Unnecessarily interrupt others who are working

You may come across the inevitable need to ask a neighbor to watch your stuff while you run to the restroom. This is fairly common, though it can be awkward to put this onus on a stranger. It’s generally best to take your valuables with you on restroom breaks if you know you may be gone for a while.

Outside of this ask, working in public spaces isn’t an invitation to indulge in banter. Be a courteous third-place neighbor and limit excessive small talk while others are focusing on their work. On the flip side, if someone in your vicinity tries to engage you in small talk and you’d rather not participate, politely mention you need to focus on a task. Or avoid an invitation to chat altogether by wearing those noise-canceling headphones, which act as a signal that you’re in focus mode.

Do: Be a mindful customer

When working out of a place of business, it’s common etiquette to make a purchase at the establishment. Cafes provide internet connectivity, electricity, comfortable temperature control, restrooms, tables, and seating to give customers an enjoyable experience. Although not the rule, some businesses, like Starbucks, don’t require a purchase to sit in its cafes as part of its third place policy.

Generally, a rule of thumb is to purchase a food or beverage item every one to two hours, if you can, or offer the staff a tip at the end of your visit if appropriate.

Don’t: Choose a quiet, communal space for meeting-heavy days

If you know you’ll need to take a work call or actively participate in a Zoom meeting while working in public, avoid settling into a quiet space. Plan ahead and choose an appropriate public area based on your to-dos each day.

For example, if you have multiple meetings with clients throughout the day, setting up at a shared library table isn’t ideal. A better option is a coworking space that offers a private meeting room booth for calls. Another option may be a coffee shop with moderate noise—that is, one that’s quiet enough for meeting attendees to hear you clearly, but with enough ambient noise or space between other patrons so that speaking aloud isn’t unreasonable.

Do: Sit near an easily accessible outlet

One of the biggest detriments to staying focused and productive while working in public is your device running out of battery power. Wherever you go, find a seat that’s close to a wall outlet so you can charge your laptop and cell phone throughout your workday. Another handy way to avoid running out of juice is to use a portable power bank or battery-powered charger. 

Don’t: Move furniture around unreasonably

When working in public, be mindful about keeping a reasonable footprint. This includes how much space your belongings occupy, temporary alterations you make to the area, and what you leave behind. 

For example, while moving a chair from one table to another might not be a nuisance, reorienting a couch (even if it’s to access a wall outlet) is more disruptive. Not only do workers have to put everything back at the end of the day, but also it can be inconvenient to other guests. 

Scattering your personal items can also create a safety hazard, such as someone tripping on your charging cable or backpack. And rearranging furniture so that it blocks aisles, doors, and walkways might put the space in an accessibility or fire code violation.

Working remotely offers you the freedom to work wherever you feel most productive and focused. These are just a few of many tips to work effectively and considerately in a public space.

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