Mark Yurich and Ralph Dor-Ghali, who work in sales at Sysco Food Services, took over a corner of Panera Bread in Troy, Mich., near Detroit, one recent day.
Their laptops were buzzing. Pastry remnants surrounded their tables. Steaming coffee cups were filled to the brim. They took calls and placed orders for clients from their computers, which were connected to wireless Internet that Panera provides its customers free of charge.
“We know all the Paneras in metro Detroit,” said Yurich, a district sales manager with an office in nearby Canton, Mich., which he admitted he rarely visits.
Yurich and Dor-Ghali are among a growing number of workers using coffee shops as offices. While there are no hard statistics, experts said an entrepreneurial boom is driving more people to work out of cafes. At the same time, more coffee shops are offering free wireless Internet, or WiFi, an attractive feature for workers on the go.
“It’s a definite trend,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., who occasionally works out of Chicago-area coffee shops.
“There are also a lot more self-employed people these days who don’t want to have the expense of an office,” Challenger said. “It’s also a way to cut back on gas spent during expensive commutes. And not only that, but commuting is a big waste of time. So, it cuts back on that, too.”
Of course, working out of a coffee shop isn’t appropriate for all workers, Challenger said. For example, attorneys should keep their offices for image reasons.
“If you want to show a big company that you’re a big company, too, you might need an office,” Challenger said.
But look in an urban coffee shop and you’ll find a sea of workers ranging from salespeople to pharmaceutical representatives. Not only do they work from laptops, they also meet with clients and hold meetings.
WiFi - which allows data tobe transmitted via a wireless network — is a major draw for workers, observers said. Panera and other coffee shops offer the service to patrons.
Of Panera’s 1,056 locations in the U.S., 940 are equipped with free WiFi, spokeswoman Liz Scales said.
“There are people that are there and don’t want to buy anything and that’s all right,” Scales said. “But most people do and we have had nothing but positive remarks about this.”
Jill Jordan, a career coach who closed her Farmington Hills, Mich., office last year and went virtual, said working from coffee shops has helped business.
“Clients appreciate that you are virtual,” she said. “They like knowing that they’re not paying for your pretty chair, your pretty desk, your pretty paintings.”
Frank Rubino, a local construction manager, said coffee shops are great to work from when he is moving from site to site.
“They have great bagels here,” he said, as he worked at the Panera in Troy. “And, yes, I have a good-sized office. But this is much more convenient.”
Melissa Williams, a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer Inc. who has a home office, regularly works out of the Caribou Coffee in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., which offers the first hour of WiFi free.
“When you’re on the road and need to stop somewhere and read a report, this works out much better,” Williams said.
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