The Harpoon Blog

Working from a Grocery Store? 3 Strange but Effective Places to Work Remotely

by Ryan Battles in Business Tips

I’m growing tired of working out of a Starbucks.

Sure, there’s free Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets, drinks and snacks at the ready— but I need a change of scenery.

Sometimes I just want to work without feeling like I need to buy something. Sometimes I want to work without having to listen to other people’s conversations. Are there any alternatives to working from a Starbucks?

Of course, there’s always the library. Free Wi-Fi. Peace and quiet. Rows of books to wander when I need to stretch my legs. This is actually a great place to go when switching it up from the ole’ coffee shop.

However, am I limited to these two locations if I want to be a mobile worker? Of course not! Over the past couple of years I’ve discovered a few “strange” places to work from that have actually become some of my favorite places to work remotely.

Working from The Grocery Store

If I could design my ideal office setup, it would include the following:

  • Highest-speed Wi-Fi mankind has ever known
  • Free childcare
  • Fresh coffee
  • Salad bar, fruit, nuts, brain-food at the ready
  • Free massages on the hour

With the exception of that last bullet, I’ve found the ideal remote workspace at my local grocery store. Now, your local store may not exactly contain all of these things, but I just happen to live by a  Giant Eagle grocery store that has up to two hours of free childcare in their “Eagle’s Nest”, where my kids can make crafts, play with toys & games, and interact with others. The only requirement is that you stay within the store, which isn’t a problem since I’m looking for a place to sit down & work anyway!

As far as the Wi-Fi, I have found freakishly fast connections at this location. I don’t think this has much to do with the fact that it is a grocery store than the fact that this plaza ties directly into my community’s fiber optic lines. The point is, test your Wi-Fi connection wherever you think you might want to work from. I’ve seen speeds that range from below 1 Mbps, to over 60 Mbps. For reference, I pay for a higher-tier service at my home and only receive about 10 Mbps, which is generally good enough for streaming HD movies and music without a hiccup. At 60 Mbps it feels as if the entire Internet is resting on your local hard-drive. Stuff moves quickly!

This grocery store also sports a Starbucks coffee cart right inside of the entrance. The actual sitting area is outside of the Starbucks, typically used by people buying made-to-order lunches near the deli counter, so it is no problem to come in here and work without feeling like you need to buy a coffee. Some afternoons, I just want to sip some water and avoid the over-caffeination that comes with constant drinking of my favorite brew.

As far as food goes, this store has a pay-by-the-pound salad bar. I used to be afraid of these, I don’t like the uncertainty of how much this is actually going to weigh, and how much I’m going to have to pay. Thankfully, I’ve discovered that a responsibly-sized salad with grilled chicken typically runs me under $5. A fair price to be sure. Of course, there’s also the entire produce section if I just want to grab a few oranges to take home, and eat one or two while there.

Okay, enough about my obsession with working from the grocery store. I only do it about once per week, but it is a great break from the other places I typically work, and I can take the kids there too while my wife gets a little break.

Working from a Hotel Lobby

Photo Credit: Pargon

Working from a hotel is not anything out of the ordinary…unless you aren’t actually staying at that hotel.

I discovered my love of hotel lobbies when I was walking towards a coffee shop to do work a year ago, and I just didn’t feel like more coffee that day. I thought, “Where can I go work without having to order something?” Across the street was a Hilton hotel. I thought they might have some Wi-Fi there, and hopefully a place to sit.

Upon entering, I was greeted with a giant lobby: full of couches, tables, chairs, outlets, a fireplace, palm-trees and houseplants. Ironically, there was not a single soul sitting in this posh lobby, so I headed over to a table and set up my laptop.

At this Hilton, the lobby has free Wi-Fi without having to sign in as a guest of the hotel. Of course, there’s always tethering to your phone, but I prefer the Wi-Fi when I can find it.

What I appreciate most about this location is the atmosphere. I feel more professional, likely because people are walking around in suits and the furnishings are nice. This is where I do my best planning and strategizing. At least once a quarter I head over here to set goals and reflect upon how business has been over the past 3 months (see also:  Setting Freelance Goals with a Personal Retreat).

During the warmer months, I usually head here a little more often as there is also a nice outdoor seating area that is also usually vacant.

Working from the Gym or Community Center

Photo Credit: relexa hotels

For several years I was a member of  Lifetime Fitness, a nationwide fitness club that is full of marble and other fancy trimmings. In addition to posh surroundings, they have a smoothie bar inside with free Wi-Fi. At first glance this seems like a million other places that I could choose to go with two exceptions:

  1. My children can play in the Child Center for free with my membership.
  2. I really have no excuse not to exercise while I’m there.

Once you cut down on drive-time as a remote worker, you can accomplish quite a bit throughout the day, and if one of those days involves working from a fitness club, then you can gain money and muscle in the same locale.

I mentioned that I was a member of Lifetime…but honestly the fees just kept going higher so I had to explore other options. Right now I am a member of my local community center, which has a gym, childcare, and plenty of tables and chairs throughout for setting up work for a few hours.

This is another location with surprisingly fast Wi-Fi (you never know where you’re going to get lucky with that stuff). The other benefit of a community center is that you actually run into your neighbors and acquaintances around town.

Again, the biggest benefit of this work location is that you are near the gym so you can fit in a workout while saving time on driving around town.

Putting it all Together: Location-based Time Blocking

Perhaps you are like me and you are excited about each of these strange work locations and the variety they bring. Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “What does this guy have against Starbucks?”

The reason why I like to have an arsenal of places to work from is because I like to divide my day up into 2-hour chunks. Switching locations between these chunks is a perfect way to give your mind a break, and self-impose a deadline for particular tasks. For example, my schedule for today looks like the following:

  • 9:00a - 11:00a (Whole Foods Cafe) Tackle existing Harpoon issues assigned to me
  • 11:30a - 1:30p (Hilton Lobby) Finish writing blog post on remote working
  • 1:30p - 2:30p Lunch/Errands
  • 2:30p - 4:30p (Home Office) Build JavaScript widget for client
  • 4:30p Final email check, tidy desk, write out plan for tomorrow

As I wrap up this post, I’m sitting at…you guessed it…a Hilton lobby. This particular flow works for me because of where these places are located. Whole Foods is down the street from the Hilton, which is near the Costco where I had to run an errand during the lunch hour. Other commercial centers around town have other locations that I like to hop between without having to drive too far between places.

The most important thing to remember when implementing the time-blocking strategy is to ensure that you set a realistic, achievable goal for that time, knowing you only have 2 hours to do it. I find that personally I get a lot more done when I have a relatively short time to do it. In contrast, if you told me I had 6 hours to accomplish a particular task, I might waste that first hour responding to emails, reading the news, and online shopping. Planning your freelance day like this also helps you to  prevent freelance burnout. My days are always more enjoyable and productive when I have a plan, usually made the night before.

How About You?

What do you do for working remotely? Do you hang out at the same place typically? What do you like about it? Do you have another weird place that you like to work? Hit us up on Twitter: @harpoonapp

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