The world of business IT does like to offer interesting terms for the latest trends. For example, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been very well documented in the media and is genuinely a shift in the way people access their business IT – taking advantage of the unparalleled choice in personal mobile devices and the development of cloud computing.
Another term that has found favour lately is the ‘Coffice’ – a portmanteau of ‘Coffee Shop’ and ‘Office’ – an extension of the remote working principle which has seen purveyors of good quality caffeine products offering a much wider service that encapsulates excellent Wi-Fi access and comfortable, functional surroundings to entice the clientele throughout the working day. But far from being the latest buzzword, the ‘Coffice’ is actually becoming a common phenomenon for many working people as an alternative to home working.
Of course remote or home working is nothing new – a recent CBI survey showed that 59% of employers now offer remote working options (compared to 13% in 2006). Many organisations have been sharing secure connections online for a number of years. Technology such as Citrix-enabled servers has made it relatively easy for businesses to offer access to email and locally hosted systems via a web connection.
The growing popularity of cloud-based alternatives (which for some companies offer cheap, scalable and easy to administer services via a web portal) and the ubiquitous use of mobile devices has come together to make remote working easier than ever. Whereas even a few years ago remote working usually meant home working with a landline internet connection, now the abundance of Wi-Fi throughout the world means the remote worker has enormous freedom with regards to their work location.
There are some big advantages, both for the individual and the employer, to remote working. Obviously any workplace has underlying costs to service it – be it utility bills, furnishings, local taxes or security. The fewer people that need to be accommodated the lower the costs. For the individual there may be a considerable savings on travel costs by not having to journey to a central location every day. Many small and flexible businesses manage to cope very well by simply hiring premises for meetings or a seminar.
There are also distinct advantages to working in a Coffice environment over the home for example. Many modern Coffices offer excellent connection speeds with comfortable surrounds and a certain ‘buzz’ that can be very conducive to working – background conversations and movement that are not unlike a traditional office but don’t distract and set a pace of working that will probably be more productive than sitting at home alone or with the distraction of children and pets.
The Coffice can often be an excellent place to meet with colleagues or clients and many are open for long periods, making them an ideal location in which to complete all the daily working tasks. Where else can I get comfortable work surroundings, plenty of meeting space, a great internet connection and my own personal barrister and pastry chef, for about £10 a day?
Inevitably there are also disadvantages to working in a Coffice. Some workers will miss the team atmosphere and shared insights that can boost productivity. IT giant Yahoo recently banned its staff from remote working, citing similar concerns. There could also be questions over productivity. Will the employee actually be working or simply chatting to friends? Will they be monopolising their work hours with social media? It would be hard for the employer to monitor either of these if they are not present and a third party internet connection (and possibly even device) is being used.
Beyond these potential concerns there is also a question mark over the connectivity of the Coffice in question. Not all retailers invest in the best Wi-Fi routers or broadband speeds (for the casual user on a smartphone there may be no need) but for an individual working on image or video-heavy work this may cause problems. What happens if the Coffice’s connection drops? Does the individual await the resumption of service or move to another location?
There may be security concerns too. In a public space it is much easier for prying eyes to view confidential information or even to steal devices which carry or have access to this. Phone calls are particularly difficult to keep private, so this can diminish the suitability of the Coffice for some of the most basic work-time activities. There may even be a lack of space in the Coffice on occasions (perhaps at busy meal times), making it more difficult for the worker to find an alternative to work in or host a meeting for example.
There are wider potential issues of compatibility too. Using the BYOD model the employee could be completely devoid of company supplied IT and this makes it much harder to diagnose and rectify any problems. Compatibility of software can be a particularly thorny issue to deal with. Any remote access means the business will have to ensure its services are available via the web. At the very least this means having remote server access and could prompt a move to more cloud based services, which may have significant cost implications for the business.
And as mentioned above, security will always be more of a concern on a public access network. The assurances that the internet connection is fully secure that can be achieved on-site at the business premises are difficult to replicate in public locations. Even with the user’s device protected with security measures, there is more risk that the connection point could have been tampered with.
So is the Coffice the future of remote IT working? Like all changes in the way we access our IT, this very much comes down to the needs and circumstances of the business and its employees. Undoubtedly it’s a work style that suits many people very well. It’s often said that ‘work’ is becoming what you do rather than where you are and this can offer flexibility that works very well in the real world. After all, happy employees will be more productive.
In many cases the Coffice will probably be an alternative to home or mobile working rather than a direct replacement for the traditional office-based role. It will be interesting to see how this working style evolves, perhaps in the not-too-distant future it will see many people working from their favourite beverage retailer rather than making the commute to the office – a far more pleasurable experience. Of course it does mean we’ll all have to drink a lot more coffee!