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Tools

How to Have an 'Office' in Every City

Several services rate coffee shops and public spaces on how well they double as remote workspaces

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.

 

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