A Café for the Freelance Nation
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
By 2020, 40 percent of America’s workforce will be freelancing, contracting or temping, and they’re going to need some “coffice” space.
By Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin
Every freelancer knows the fear: You’re in a café, pretending to sip the slimy dregs of a cappuccino while you finish your story, proposal or spreadsheet. Every time the barista comes around to clear tables, you stare at your shoes. Sure, you’ve been nursing a single cup of coffee for three hours, but doesn’t he or she know how hard it is to find reliable Wi-Fi?
The pay-as-you-go “coffice,” which sells time and space instead of coffee and cake, could be the answer. The concept behind Ziferblat, the U.K.’s first pay-per-minute café, is surprisingly simple: Customers clock in on arrival and pay a nickel a minute for as long as they stay. The coffee and Wi-Fi are both complimentary, and you can work for as long as you like — entirely guilt-free.
Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?
Well, it seems that they did — Ziferblat, which started in 2011, opened nine Russian branches and one in the Ukraine before breaking into Western Europe.
Urban Station, which originated in Buenos Aires in 2009, runs along similar lines to Ziferblat, but it’s designed exclusively for freelancers, mobile workers and entrepreneurs. They offer desk spaces by the hour for between $2.50 and $4.50 — and unlimited monthly hours for $225. What’s more, there’s free coffee and snacks, and meeting rooms are available for hire. With coffices already established in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Turkey, Urban Station’s aim is to become a global network of affordable, collaborative pay-as-you-go workspaces.
“We believe that we provide a differentiated service,” says Florencia Faivic, one of the owners of Urban Station. “We are flexible in [terms of] hours, services and offering.”
You might ask why Starbucks and the other coffee giants haven’t already adopted this model, and the answer is pretty simple: It’s not profitable enough. Ziberflat, which charges three pence a minute in Shoreditch, one of London’s trendiest districts, works hard to survive, let alone thrive. By selling one skinny soy latte to go, Starbucks makes double what Ziferblat does in an hour. But unlike Big Coffee, the flexible workplace movement is not primarily profit-driven. Indeed, Ziferblat and Urban Station could be described as social enterprises. “We treat our clients in a special way as part of our philosophy: Enjoy working differently,” Faivic says.
Maybe this is why, from Bogotá to Istanbul, emerging economies have been the early adopters of this trend, while big Western cities have been surprisingly slow on the uptake. The traditional 9-to-5 office culture is firmly established in Western cities, but emerging economies rely more heavily on small-scale entrepreneurs with budgets so tight that even the cost of a hot desk could halt the operation in its tracks.
In addition to affordability — and free chips — Urban Station and Ziferblat facilitate innovation, independence and flexibility. Not only do clients have access to cheap professional space, but they also benefit from having a diverse pool of potential collaborators.
If pay-per-minute joints start popping up in U.S. cities, they could do a lot more than relieve the stress of sipping a cold cappuccino until you finish that project. They could also contribute to an eclectic community of freelance and mobile workers by offering them a guilt-free space to work, network and, as Ziferblat puts it, “create something interesting.”
- Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin, OZY Author Contact Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin