My (dream) office: Starbucks!

Apologies on this being late. It’s been a trying week with elections, social media feeling the crush, and mental digital exhaustion.

My thought of Starbucks: meh, but they have two things going great for them:

  1. Coffee and food to keep you going throughout the day
  2. Fast internet and a high-paced environment you can drown in to get your work done


I remember for two years, my job was mostly telework. Instead of sitting around inside of my house, I explored the country a little bit because all I needed was an internet connection and a power outlet. Starbucks was a consistent place to work in. One of those years, I spent about three months away from home. I’d hop on a plane, spend about a week somewhere, do work at a coffee shop and move to my next stop.

I became one of those people, a knowledge worker that was “disconnected from desk and office spaces” (Pigg, p. 69) using a technology “outside traditional spaces” (p. 74) such as a coffeehouse. Unfortunately, this teleworking position prohibited the use of social media and as such, I kept a quiet lid on my opinionated social media posts for fear that someone might use it against me. Also my work thought that social networking sites were ‘‘productivity killers’’ (Skeels and Grudin, 2009 in Ferro and Zachry, p. 18) and they blocked those sites on the network.

Fast forward two years later at my current job, I’m encouraged to use social media because I happen to manage the brand of the community college I work at. I think it has been extra special that I have that responsibility as well as being a technical communicator. I agree with Bernadette Longo that as a technical communicator, my “practices for making and sharing information [has] effectively redefined [my] work” (p. 23).  I write in ways that I never imagined I would write and I’ve transformed myself into a technical marketing communicator (that’s a mouthful to say).

For example, when we rolled out our fall enrollment campaign, we had to change the way we marketed online because it was different than what we did in the past and we learned new skills. Rich Maggiani says it best: “in a social media setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows” (Maggiani in Longo, p. 23). I couldn’t agree with him any more! I had to learn the ways of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram advertisement, understand the reporting tools to get data from our advertisement campaigns, and coordinate with multiple divisions in our department to prepare the ad slots. A lot of work and planning went into the campaign and my part was just a small subset of a larger marketing effort.

In retrospect, will it be too much for me to handle and take care of developing all of these new skill sets? My tool belt is quickly filling up with too many skill sets that I’m afraid I may have to drop a few and focus on specific ones. Perhaps I can find a couple of them that are of interest to me and I’ll put my best effort into skilling myself in that domain. I am quite lucky our work provides us with that type of opportunity frequently.

Moving on to learning using new tools. I was intrigued that to know my sentiments are the same as “knowledge workers who do not have access to enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems (e.g., freelancers), but they are also used by many who—for various reasons—choose to use services not sponsored by their employers” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6).

Perhaps I can share some insight on the reasons why we choose to use alternative services:

  • Tools are often faster and feel modern
  • Services are available on many devices instead of one
  • Systems are more reliable
  • Rules on how to use services are less strict
  • Free to use

I’m sure I’ve made every single IT worker in the world cringe at my reasons. But it’s true, I’ve dealt with email that doesn’t work, clunky tools that waste my time, and the need to have a mobile version for my on-the-go lifestyle. Lastly, if services are free to use–you can’t beat free (unless a software company paid you). I know my latest experience with Office 365 has made me consider using it more often than Google Docs at work. There’s much more IT can improve to change my reasons and get me back to using tools sponsored by my employer.

In conclusion, we have so much power in front of our computers that it’s unbelievable. I wish one day we can reflect on this and see that we have it very good right now. I’m not sure what the future will bring us. I predict it will be a melding of technologies that look like one huge amalgamated blob of technology that we hook up to.

Maybe I’ll grab a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and work from the virtual office for a change of pace and ponder more about the scary future of our technical communication tools.

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Spooky. #Halloween #coffee.

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About Roger Renteria

Professional Life: I am a technical communicator, writer, and presenter. Hobby Life: I'm a blues dancer, hiker, and foodie.

Posted on November 14, 2016, in Social Media, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I find it interesting that many employers don’t know how to deal with social media. At first, most banned it. Some blocked it all together. Today, many are coming around to realize the value of social media. Businesses offer discounts when you “check in.” That’s brilliant. Now I know where certain people have their hair done or get their tires changed. I know those people and respect them. I may switch to those places because if THOSE people go there, I want to go there too. Also – if people post pictures and tag a business, it’s free advertising. We played a show for one venue that required that we tag their name whenever we posted anything about a show they hired us for.

    My department at work started it’s own Facebook page. We had bit of red tape to get it off the ground, but we have assigned responsibilities to make sure we’re making at least two posts a week to keep our students in the loop. I’m in charge of motivational posts. It’s funny, but when I was asked to make motivational posts, I agreed to do it, but said I will only do it from home because I don’t want anyone to see Facebook up on my computer. They’ll never believe I’m working.

    • I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but you’re so right! The ability for businesses to have free advertising via social media is a huge benefit of those businesses creating pages. And the fact that they can capitalize on peoples’ existing “networks” really is fantastic.
      I have to agree with Roger, the amount of power and potential knowledge we have in front of us daily is exciting!

      • I think that we can do a lot with what we have in front of us. I like innovating within the limitations of a digital system. It’s like art, the medium is the message, and we work within those boundaries to create something awesome! What’s surprising is then developers will create something to make it easier for us to innovate and we move on to the next thing.

      • It’s not only free advertising; it’s free data also. As we have learned from our readings, there is a TON of practically free data available about people on Facebook, even if they have fairly strict privacy settings. If you know who is checking into your store, you also can get a pretty good picture of the demographic using your business. That sort of data is priceless because it allows you to target your marketing pretty specifically.

    • I agree, getting around the bureaucracy to use social media at work can be a bit daunting for most teams. I’m glad that you were able to get it off the ground!

      I know that with Enterprise-level version of Office 365, I’m noticing an uptick on an internal social media platform called Yammer. It’s a nice idea at first, people get excited about posting on a work social media site, but then the excitement sputters and then dies. I’ve seen it happen before, many an internal social media networks dormant.

      As for free advertisement, it’s nice when you can repost content that other people post about your company. For example, when we have a news or radio station tag us about something nice and we repost it on our own feed. If people follow both the station and our college’s Facebook Page, they get to see it pop up on their News Feed. It’s a brilliant team effort and shows good will on both pages!

  2. I think social media for business is a trial and error and try again cycle both for using it during work time and as marketing. There are reasons and disagreements on both sides of the argument. Businesses starting out with strict guidelines are probably better off than no or loose guidelines then tighten the reins later. Hashtags and sites like TweetDeck and Hootsuite make it easier to post across multiple platforms as well as schedule weekly posts as well as follow trends.

    I wonder if freelancers have more knowledge how to use social media than businesses since they often work remotely and with various clients?

    • great question about freelancers! my assumption is yes, but it’d be worth researching people’s portfolios for lists of skills.

  3. Roger,

    I wonder if this point could evolve into your final paper?

    In retrospect, will it be too much for me to handle and take care of developing all of these new skill sets? My tool belt is quickly filling up with too many skill sets that I’m afraid I may have to drop a few and focus on specific ones. Perhaps I can find a couple of them that are of interest to me and I’ll put my best effort into skilling myself in that domain. I am quite lucky our work provides us with that type of opportunity frequently.

    Regarding the post-election social media crush, I just saw this in my feed:

    • Thanks for the suggestion! I’m looking into that idea. I know that a technical communicator can go into either spectrum: generalist or specialist.

      I have a hard time seeing what would be the best professional pathway. One, being a generalist gives you so many opportunities when job openings ask for so many skills. The latter, being a specialist can give you an edge over someone else in a particular domain, but limits the scope of job openings available.

      I see it as a hard double-edged sword, especially when both offer great opportunities.

  4. Super cool that you traveled around and worked all over the country! I could more or less do that…but I would never be able to afford it and I think my husband would be really pissed. But idea is really attractive. Coworking, telecommuting, working virtually or whatever you want to call it certainly seems to be the wave of the future. We discussed it last week in another one of my classes, and we also covered telecommuting last semester in a different class. It was always a dream of mine to work from home, and a month ago that dream came true. I’ve been posting throughout the semester that I’m not technologically inclined, but it’s amazing how much can be done with technology. I only see my boss for a half hour to an hour each week when we, you guessed it, have a meeting over coffee in town. I don’t mind working at the shop, but I wouldn’t want to exclusively work from a place like Starbucks or another place like a coffee shop or cafe. I’m a people watcher, and I think I’d get too distracted while there and wouldn’t be able to focus.

    • I enjoyed traveling around. I mostly went to places where I could visit with my friends so I didn’t have to spend much on lodging. I’d pick a weekday to go somewhere, spend the rest of the week there working off of my laptop, then go adventure on the weekend.

      I think my favorite experience was going to Chicago for my friend’s wedding. It was neat to visit with my friend (who was also my co-worker) in Chicago and we’d actually work together at a particular Starbucks in the Downtown Loop.

      I say Starbucks because they are convenient like 7-Eleven stores are in Japan (they have more 7-Elevens in Japan than in the United States), yet I went to local coffee shops when I could.

      In fact, I have visited Starbucks to get my homework done in this class. Two of my blog entries were posted from Starbucks (not this one though).

  5. Thank you for sharing your story, Roger. My new job (not really new anymore) is fully telework and I’ve been thinking about doing some travel working. Balancing that and school is a bit much, but any tips to get started would be great.

    Your thoughts about the need for the ever-expanding toolbelt as a technical communicator is a good point. So much of what I have sought out has been as a result of looking at job descriptions and other postings. Is this a job that allows specialization, especially at the entry level that some of us as still at/looking to get into? I don’t think so. Even as you get more experienced and find work the nature of the technological beast requires you to learn new skills and implement your old ones on new platforms.

    Becoming a general specialist, with the tools to learn new skills and softwares seems to be the requirement. Yes, we can move into Technical Writing, Project Management, or UX Designer careers, but we also have to remain flexible in terms of what we can offer.

  6. When I was 100% telecommuting for a prior job, Starbucks was my “office” several days per week. For the price of a single Grande, extra hot, nonfat chai latte (or occasionally a London Fog) I had comfy seating, power outlets, Internet access, a table to spread my work stuff on, all the free hot tea refills I could drink, and no cat or husband bothering me to be fed. I have a hard time working at home–distractions, atmosphere, uncomfortable working conditions (tiny apartment means the best I have is a barstool on the kitchen peninsula). So I would go to Starbucks for 6 or more hours at a time, several times per week, to get my work done.

    “My” Starbucks was pretty large, with big comfy chairs, tons of tables and power outlets, and zippy Google wifi. My backpack started permanently smelling like coffee.

    An interesting note about that particular Starbucks is that there were a LOT of interviews and small meetings held there. I think because it is large and centrally located between lots of highrise office buildings. When working so close to other people, you can’t help but overhear things sometimes (especially if you forget your headphones), and I heard some pretty interesting stuff.

    My current job’s headquarters is a 1.5-2-hour commute, so I only go up three times per week. I’m able to work from home or at our satellite office, which is just 10 minutes’ walk from my apartment. However, some days I choose to go to Starbucks instead because the atmosphere is different–plus the coffee at the satellite office, while free, is undrinkable. And this is coming from somebody who doesn’t mind instant coffee.

    Sadly, I think Starbucks has changed its stance on being worker friendly over the past couple of years, at least in my area. My old “office” Starbucks remodeled. Gone are the big comfy chairs and sofas, as well as many of the tables, and most of the power outlets. It seems they just want people to get their coffee and go, or if they have to meet up for an interview, get it over with and leave. It’s not welcoming like it used to be.

    My backup location has also gotten rid of its comfy chairs, but it has swapped its original tables for larger ones with wireless charging stations built in. This location also has an “evenings” menu with small plates and wine. I think this particular location (located in an area that’s mostly hotels and residences) wants to encourage small groups to gather and dine there in the evenings, much like a traditional neighborhood cafe, so the atmosphere is a little better–however, it’s still not nearly as good for the lone daytime worker.

    Will we see the death of the Starbucks “office” worker? Who knows? There is less space for us than there used to be, and outlets are at a premium. Maybe they will begin to migrate to the other myriad coffee/tea chains?

    • I once dreamed that one day there would be fast enough Internet access that I could live in the mountains. That dream might turn into a reality in a few years, if not now.

      On another note, I was working on the plane using the on-board WiFi when flying out to Ireland and back. It was totally worth the $32 total for the Internet, considering having to be crammed in economy class seating for the trans-Atlantic flights. Unfortunately on the way back from Ireland, my attention to work was distracted by the news unfolding of the nightclub tragedy in Florida. In this instance, very few people on my flight knew about it until arriving in the US and seeing it. I imagine that nowhere on Earth we can escape from being connected, including planes.

      In this case, we technical communicators can work almost anywhere if our jobs allow us to. I’m worried how employers will treat that constant connectivity or if they will find a way to turn off/disable our devices during non-work hours. It’s an idea I think might catch on where employers nurture our health in a positive way. For example, logging into your email at 8pm might show up with a message that says: “Sorry, our email servers are taking a snooze. We’ll be back at 6am for you! Instead, consider enjoying a movie on us! [Link to Fandango].”

  7. I was on a flight when I heard about EgyptAir MS804. Let me tell you, being on a plane is pretty much the worst time to hear about a plane crash.

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