As Office Culture Changes, Are Cafés In Danger Of Extinction?

"The ways we work will continue to change and I think the ones who will continue to suffer the most are the cafes because people aren’t working in them as much anymore," says journalist Abby Ellin.

The rise of on-demand and the gig economy have already been having a major impact on everything from local business to automotive manufacturers, and it’s having a perceptible impact on the nature of office work.

And as coworking spaces like WeWork become more commonplace, that’s likely to have an impact on local businesses that cater to workers.

In one sense, as WeWork, which recently acquired app-based community planner Meetup, looks to expand from its 235 offices across 54 global cities, there’s a chance for a positive impact on gyms, bars, restaurants, and other amenities that attract independent professionals, community groups, small startups. For instance, WeWork began working with geo-data specialist Factual this summer to figure out what locations might be best situated to serve the kinds of people and entities that would have a natural affinity for coworking spaces.

During a roundtable discussion on the Future of Work that looked at the nature of employment in 2027 -fittingly  held at a WeWork space near New York’s Bryant Park — the topic touched on the current shape of the professional and creative class’s gravitation to coworking spaces versus the stereotypical laptop toting worker hunkered down in a Starbucks or cafe for an entire day.

Future of Work panel at WeWork Bryant Park

“WeWork and places like this make the most sense,” said journalist and author Abby Ellin, who served as one of nine panelists at the Future of Work roundtable hosted by freelance service MyLittleJob. “I’ve always liked being autonomous and avoiding office politics and things of that nature.

“The ways we work will continue to change and I think the ones who will continue to suffer the most are the cafes because people aren’t working in them as much anymore. So, the Starbucks revolt is coming,” Ellin added to knowing laughs from the panelists and the attendees.

But is the changing nature of work likely to have an impact on cafes? After all, there has been a love/hate relationship with telecommuters and freelancers who take up space an order minimal amounts of coffee and pastries while soaking up valuable wifi access.

We queried some of Ellin’s fellow panelists:

Alexis Tryon, VP Strategic Initiatives at career advice site The Muse: Cafes were here before WiFi and I think they’ll be here after. As remote work and co-working becomes more common, the “third space” to gather will continue to be critical in our communities. We will also see more of these spaces embrace workers in new ways - such as restaurants partnering with Spacious for day time co-working hours.

Grant McCracken, director of the Artisanal Economies Project (and Future of Work panel moderator): Further to the idea that everyone must be alert to the idea that their real “business model” is not the one they think it is. Or, to put it another way, we are all of us often creating dark value we cannot see.

WeWork could be the place that we go to look for teams for new projects. WeWork spends time getting to know the people they host. And they get to know their special gifts and talents. And that allows them to be a curator or casting agent for the talent someone needs for a very particular project.

This assumes that they would have a small team wandering the halls and getting to know folks. They could add additional value by saying to enterprise 1, “oh, you should be talking to enterprise 6 down the hall. They’re working on something similar.

Marlon Litz-Rosenzweig, CEO of MyLittleJob: In the future, workplaces will be both physical and virtual, but, increasingly, virtual. By going virtual or “distributed,” companies benefit from decreased infrastructure costs, greater flexibility around workforce and diminished costs around onboarding and “offboarding” employees. Outsourcing solutions like MyLittleJob and Deloitte will continue to grow and satiate need for people and work in environments that are highly dynamic.

For workers, too, there are many benefits to working virtually. Flexibility around where, when, how and how much, most notably. That said, as our moderator Grant McCracken noted, there will continue to be a need for physical spaces for workers to convene. The ideal is something along the lines of a ’talent bazaar’ where individuals and groups with different talent and skill sets convene in proximity.

WeWork is very much built around this model. Workers enjoy serendipitous interactions with each other that offer personal or professional benefits. And ‘pop up’ teams can be formed along the lines of a ‘pick up basketball team,’ as Grant suggested.

In order to survive and prosper, physical places should accept the reality that workers will deliver work products virtually and offer group activities that attract individuals. These can be spiritual, physical, mental activities that are group focused. And community managers, already entrenched in the co-working model, will become increasingly important and prevalent in the landscape—‘curating’ experiences.

Aaron Price, CEO of tech event and community platform Propelify: Local businesses need to innovate around the way that work is moving. For instance, restaurants and cafes might more aggressively market services like coworking as a benefit to patrons. They might bring in wellness coaches and speakers more regularly.

They should certainly embrace technology to augment their business offerings now, like online ordering and enhanced customer support, if they haven’t already. Local businesses that embrace the fluid marketplace and purpose-driven workforce will be primed to succeed, leaving behind traditional stagnant local businesses in their wake.