Chris Ward talks to Workingmums.co.uk about his new book about life working from coffee shops.
Where do you have your best ideas and feel most relaxed? If the answer is a coffee shop then you’re in good company. JK Rowling famously dreamt up Harry Potter in a coffee shop and they were the seedbed of such icons of modern times as Moshi Monsters, instagram and the board game Cranium.
Chris Ward, an entrepreneur and creative consultant on Comic Relief, Text Santa and many other projects, thinks coffee shops are the way to a smarter, more rewarding working life and he’s written a book, Out of Office, to explain just why. It covers everything from the history of the “coffee movement”, the business benefits of allowing employees to work remotely out in the community [they’re more motivated and committed, for instance] and how to get the most from coffee shop working. It also cites those who have done it successfully, particularly entrepreneurs.
Ward, a dad of four, spoke to Workingmums.co.uk from, where else?, a coffee shop, although he was drinking a pot of tea at the time.
Ward says he has spent 10 years working from cafes. “I never wanted an office job,” he says. He started his working life managing bands and when he eventually moved his music business into an office with a lift he could not believe he had become so corporate. He sold the company shortly afterwards. He moved to London and started holding meetings in coffee shops. When he worked for Comic Relief as creative director he says they even built his office to look like a coffee shop. “I had a shelf along the window rather than a desk. It was more like a creative hub,” he says.
He now works with several big charities and is able to combine this with his passion for cycling – he is about to start the Tour de France. He likes being in charge of his own time. “I work wherever I want to,” he says. “I think I am more productive and creative that way. Coffee shops are like a third space between work and home, but they’re more than that. They’re about space and time – controlling your own time.”
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Ward’s children are aged seven to 17 and he says he can dedicate his time to his children when he finishes work rather than be stressed out from the day and in need of ‘me time’. In the book he describes his typical day as a coffee shop worker, which includes a two-hour break in the morning to go cycling after doing the school run. He stops at various coffee shops for conference calls and other work, is home by around 7pm and then works till about 1am after the children have done homework and are in bed. He says the biggest positive of working remotely, as opposed to from an office, is that you can work when you are most productive rather than when you are obliged to or spend hours in the office “wasting time sharing pictures of cats”. “I don’t feel guilty if I don’t work much in the daylight hours,” he says. “You can get more done in a really productive four to five hour period than 12 hours spent in the office. Much of my book was written in the middle of the night.”
He adds that the advantage of working from a cafe rather than from home or an office is that you are surrounded by potential customers or clients. The atmosphere is relaxed and there is the kind of white noise which makes it easier to concentrate. “Working in an office or at home can be quite silent these days and in offices meetings can interrupt your day and your flow. None of the conversations I hear in a coffee shop has an impact on my concentration,” he says. “It’s like when I was at school and did my homework with music turned up loud. White noise helps you to focus.”
He predicts that eventually there will be work hubs and co-working spaces on every high street and says watching his children is instructive in how the future world of work will shape up. “There is no way my 17 and 14 year old daughters will work 40 hours in one office. Nothing in their lives is preparing them for that. They have laptops and are on their phones all the time. They are totally mobile and they are the future.”
He says the book is in part written for his children. “I want them to have lots of things going on in their lives so if they lose their job it is not the end for them. I want them to think of life as a game and work as part of that game. If they lose their job, they have not lost everything, just one part of the game.”
He says coffee shop working particularly suits entrepreneurs and that parents are sometimes put off from starting up businesses because they think it will mean working 60-hour weeks. However, he says it is possible to get just as much work done by working smartly in shorter hours around the children and part of his book is devoted to priorities, with family and friends coming first. There is a section on how virtual companies should work best, including advice to have regular phone calls with remote workers to keep up to date with what is going on for them rather than relying on more impersonal emails.
“The important thing is to live in the present,” he says. “Look at your children, they live in the present. Social media is about that particular moment. That’s what we should be focused on.”
* Out of office: work where you like and achieve more is published by Blue Dot World, price £9.95.