Happy campers

September 15, 2019

Little, big coffee houses are fast becoming the digital freelancers’ favourite, albeit temporary, work stations

Happy campers

It’s no longer just about how well the coffee is brewed in a café. Cafés, or coffee houses, are scrambling to accommodate an increasing number of laptop users who camp out for hours on their premises, thanks to the uninterrupted wi-fi connections they offer together with comfortable ambience and savoury food items.

Advancement in technology is fast changing the organisational climate of offices with the freedom to work from home -- or anywhere you like, for that matter. This paradigm shift to remote workers is beginning to garner the support of both employers and workers. According to a report, nearly two-thirds of US companies have employees that work outside of office. To put it in perspective, 3.9 million people in the United States worked remotely at least half the time in 2018 -- up by 115 percent from the number of remote workers reported in 2005. Could the statistics speak the same for Pakistan in the coming years?

"It depends upon the nature of your work -- whether you have the liberty to swap a traditional workstation for a seat in a coffee shop," says Abdul Muqeet, project coordinator at Science Fuse, a social enterprise aiming to "change how science is perceived and communicated to Pakistani children, both inside and outside the classroom.

"It’s a great facility for startup businesses, given the crumbling state of our economy where even acquiring space for your business is burdensome," he adds. "Here you can arrange your meetings, invite your members, and talk in peace."

Muqeet says Science Fuse is new and is waiting for popular feedback. "Meanwhile, the cafés in the city are our temporary offices."

For Natasha Fatima, a freelance interior designer, the idea of a café becoming your temporary workstation is most suitable: "It offers an ideal work space, if you ask me. It’s a place where I can work for hours, and also have at my disposal some tantalising food/drinks. More importantly, I can have detailed meetings with my clients in a conducive environment."

Fatima claims that she does not find any noise on the premises, even the whirring of the coffee maker, bothersome. "I actually love these sounds; they stimulate me and help me concentrate."

She is also clear that freelancers "don’t have to fret over not being able to set up their own proper workplace any longer."

There are no free lunches. If you are enjoying the environment as well as facilities provided by a café, you would also be taxed. The rule is that you must place an order (of food or drink) at least once, to be taxed.

A recent report published in Forbes ranked Pakistan as the fourth fastest growing freelance market. The country is said to have shown 47 percent growth in freelance earnings during the second quarter of 2019, compared to what it was like in the same months last year. Cafés are thriving on the unwavering support of young professionals who are mostly under 30, the report said.

At a place like Mocca in DHA, Lahore, there are many attractions for freelance workers besides a good cup of coffee and the food options. Imran Ashraf, the owner of a software design consultancy, measures his increased productivity in the following words: "Physical environment has a great influence on my performance. Somehow, I find [a café] very stimulating, and I am better able to think and create!"

Every café has its own unique selling point -- be it their location, ambience, or food. The mushroom growth of posh coffee houses in the city has made it possible for more and more young professionals to secure themselves a cool, quiet corner for work.

But the success of a café is largely contingent upon how well it meets the demands of the customers by allowing room for collaborations, branding, and productivity. Gloria Jean’s, which can be called our answer to Starbucks, is at the forefront when it comes to popularising the trend. The millennials’ favourite coffee house now has as many as six outlets in the Gulberg area alone. "Our aim is to provide comfort, convenience, and good food," says Rizwan Ahmed, manager at Gloria Jean’s, Hali Road. "Hence, our design ensures soft ambient lighting, comfortable seating, hues of green in the décor, and of course, deep aroma of coffee."

Hamna, a young student who often comes to the café, says she likes to occupy corner space because "it’s quieter, and not many people prefer this side [of the café].

"There’s something about it that contributes to enhancing my concentration and prolonging my attention span," she tells TNS. "I am generally not quite inclined to study at home, especially when my folks and siblings are hanging around!"

Hashim is another frequenter to the café. He says that his friends usually stop by on their way to their offices. "At times when the roads are all too congested, it’s a hassle to get to work. So, we bring our laptops here and complete our assignments without missing the deadline."

But, as they say, there are no free lunches. If you are enjoying the environment as well as facilities provided by a café, you would also be taxed. The rule is that you must place an order (of food or drink) at least once, to be taxed.

Muqeet insists that one "must consider the noise level, too. Some cafés play loud music in the background which can bother you. At Gloria Jean’s [on Hali Road], though, it’s pretty calm and serene. That’s what draws most freelance writers like me to work here."

The trick is to find a café that suits you -- both in terms of the comforts it offers, and the cost of utilising them.

Happy campers