Philadelphia Metropolis


My Office Away From My Office

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By Rachel Levy Lesser

 My office is wherever I am - the kitchen table, the front porch, my favorite spot on the family room couch and most recently, my local Starbucks. When the couch gets too cozy, the kitchen table too messy, and the deadlines too close, I head down to the Starbucks on State Street in Newtown. It's the perfect office away from the office for this writer.

On a good day, I grab my favorite table in the back - the one under bright lighting, next to an outlet and with (from my perspective) the strongest Wi-Fi connection. This small table has just enough room for me to set up my computer, spread out my notes, and put down my coffee drink, but not enough space for someone else to sit across from me. Just to make sure, I place my workbag on the empty chair.

Several of my "office mates" share my seating preferences and strategies, although some gravitate towards the big communal table in the front. I wonder what these people do? Whatever it is, I imagine they work best when they can stop and chat with their table neighbors. Or perhaps they just like the energy of people very close by. I need my own office just like I had in the traditional workplace and like my favorite desk on the 5th floor stacks of Van Pelt library at Penn. With my headphones plugged into the E Street Radio channel on, and the productive surrounding Starbucks buzz, I am in the work zone.

That is until one of my favorite Baristas (the one who knows my name and my order - a tall extra hot half-caff soy latte) stops by with samples of the new Starbucks Refreshers drinks. I politely decline but appreciate the offer and the genuine smile. No one ever offered me a free sample of anything in my old office in the Time Life Building, and at home the only offers I get are from the automated voice of the Sarah the telemarketer explaining that I may have just won a free trip to Disney World.

I like this communal environment, and I see that others do too. Like the young moms who congregate by the cozy chairs on the side making sure there is room for their strollers, and the retired crew of men who sit in front of the counters by the windows where they pick up the latest newspapers strewn across the countertop. Perhaps, the nervous young man in the dark suit and white shirt who glances at every person entering through the front door wondering if that is his interviewer, is less comfortable at my office, but still I sense a tiny bit of his excitement. Who knows what their meeting will bring for him? Really anything can happen at this Starbucks.

I sometimes forget this when it's time for a bathroom break. In my old real office in an actual office building or of course at home, I simply got up from my computer, did my business and returned to find everything just as it was. In the Starbucks office, this process takes a little more thought. I scan my closest "co-workers," looking for the most trust worthy looking one.  Then I ask him or her to keep "a half an eye" on my stuff as I run to the bathroom. While washing my hands, I realize that I just asked a complete stranger who might in fact have a criminal record to watch my new MacBook Air, my wallet and my treasured work notes, for a full unattended 5 minutes. I recall stories of people's laptops and cash being stolen from right under them as they hold their bags in a restaurant or bar, and I realize that I've just made a really stupid decision.

But then I come back to my spot, everything is just as I left it, and sometimes my new watchful friend and I strike up a conversation about the latest Apple technology or where I purchased my colorful bag. It's Starbucks - my office, and I do feel safe there. I've seen others even more comfortable than me who take off their shoes or put their feet up cross-legged on their seats as they work away. I've even seen people leave their belongings for a while as they run an errand down the street.

I'm not there yet.... but I'm getting close.



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