The savviest of freelancers know that desk-space can be rented for the price of an Americano. Forget ‘hot desking’ and ‘virtual office spaces’; as sexy as such working arrangements may sound, they only prove how easy it is to convince people to buy into linguistic glamorisation.
As a freelancer (working this way more by necessity than choice) I frequently find myself doing a weekly coffee crawl in the name of productivity. Calculate the rate of coffee consumption to your hourly/day rate and you have an equation for figuring out how many coffees you can buy before retreating back to your bedroom where refreshments are on tap.
Although I recognize that I have a peculiarly strong compulsion to wander, an itchy tendency to be unable to stay in one place; I’m clearly not alone in my predilection for working from cafés and I believe this communal habit reveals much more than just the extent of our shared caffeine addictions.
My mother suggests that I have other motivations for choosing a rotating selection of cafés as office space. She reassures my grandmother that the café-office is a great place to meet men. While my mother’s priorities hardly put the professional spin on my nomadic part-time lifestyle I’ll be plugging on my CV, she may be onto something.
I’ve had two coffee-shop approaches: a note slipped onto my table suggesting lunch, and a guy sliding into my diner-style-booth to chat me up. It’s not just that cafés are a hot-bed for totty and desperate singles; my success rate is far more revelatory of the employment situation for those of my generation.
If a café is a good place to pick up a like-minded guy of a similar age it’s because a large proportion of the unemployed, semi-employed and self-employed graduate army of my generation are spending their afternoons working there. It’s a kind of a club, where fortunately the standards are generously low: if you can pay for a coffee, you’re in.
Overheard conversations in coffee shops are a melting pot of stimulating projects and ventures: start-ups, independent magazines, co-ops and collaborations. In East London alone you can choose to go to the independent cafés to find the creatives, or to one of Shoreditch’s open working spaces for the tech geeks and web developers.
That’s the new reality for graduates of the recession. It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to find full time and long term contracts. In the coffee shops of today you don’t find angst-ridden bohemian artists putting their feet up whilst they wait for inspiration, what you do find is a whole crowd of feverish graduates attached to their laptops as they work on their DIY careers.
Above the caffeinated buzz of this generation there hovers a sense of desperation. It’s a cut-throat economy and in the competition for a plug socket we all recognise that more is at stake: some of these latte-fuelled dreams will succeed and others will not.