Humans are social creatures, and studies show what countless freelancers and telecommuters have long known: When you're not working in a traditional office, the low-level buzz and activity of a café can aid creativity and productivity. Of course, when you tote your briefcase to a coffee shop, you risk contending with slow Wi-Fi or the clerk whose sneer effectively serves as a “no lingering” sign.
To the rescue: a handful of apps and sites that take on the specific task of mapping out the best—and most welcoming—places for digital nomads to break out their laptops.
“I’ve wasted a lot of time and money hunting down places found on Yelp with a checkmark next to Wi-Fi, only to find upon arrival they're not conducive to remote work,” says Darren Buckner, founder and chief executive officer of WorkFrom.co, a site that maps laptop-friendly locations. “I even took to making an Evernote list tracking places I could comfortably work along with their Wi-Fi speeds, network latency, seating options, and food choices.”
WorkFrom, which has been around since 2013, lists more than 1,500 coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and even a few for-pay co-working spaces in more than 300 cities across 50-plus countries, Buckner says. The information comes from users and business owners. The site experience will be familiar to anybody who has used Yelp: Enter a city, neighborhood, or address, and a Google Map will show relevant locations. Users can filter results by such factors as noise level, plentiful power outlets, the presence of food or alcohol, and the all-important reliable Wi-Fi. Many locations also feature Foursquare-style “Pro Tips,” such as the listing for one Brooklyn café that noted that the “Wi-Fi password rotates and is written on a chalkboard below the menu.” Another review promises (or warns, depending on your perspective) that “there’s a piano that anyone can go up and play.”
For a more impromptu and mobile-friendly experience, there's a new app called WHA (it stands for Work Hard Anywhere). Released in early September for iPhone, the free app uses your phone’s GPS to detect your location and show you a map view of user-submitted, laptop-friendly pitstops.
For a brand new app, WHA has a surprisingly polished and intuitive user experience. It just emerged from a 10-month beta period with 900 users, said the company’s cofounder and chief executive, Benson Chou. WHA now lists more than 3,000 user-submitted workplaces across 650 cities in 61 different countries.
As with workfrom.co, WHA breaks down locations by such attributes as Wi-Fi speed, loudness, and availability of power outlets. In addition, it has a neat bar-graph rating system, which makes it easy to see at a glance if, for example, a coffee shop has great Wi-Fi but limited seating capacity. And if you find yourself suddenly needing a place to park your laptop while roaming a strange city, the app’s show-me-what’s-near experience is a whole lot easier than digging through Yelp reviews.