Good morning, fellow workers and coffee drinkers! Step aside, please, as I wend my way to my back corner table.
My coffee shop has become crowded lately.
I say “my coffee shop,” not in the sense that I own it. Just that I work there. And I don’t mean I roast the beans, bake the biscotti, or act as barrista. I’m talking about the work I do on my computer. My coffee shop is my adjunct office. My office away from office. My “north branch,” if you will.
I have a home office, and it’s wonderful when I need to get real work done. Quiet. Nice view. Spacious. You know… officey. I even refer to it in certain settings as my corner office, since it’s technically on a corner of my home. I have an office assistant who is unusually quiet. Sleeps during the day. Refrains from barking when the mailman visits.
And that’s the problem. Sometimes he’s too quiet. Sometimes I long for the good old days when I was surrounded by office mates. Chums, really. Chums who could talk. So I go to my coffee shop to do my work.
No spreading out now
When I started going to my pied-a-tearoom earlier this year, I could spread out over neighboring tables. Being of the male persuasion, that’s something I’m wont to do. Spread out. Toss my jacket on a nearby table, my laptop case over there, drag an extra chair up just in case I need to put my left foot up at some point. But those days, seemingly, are over. While the traditional 9-to-5 workplace economy is in the dumps, the coffee-shop-officed freelance world is booming. I’m suddenly awash with co-workers, in a manner of speaking.
Many, like me, work solo, with the occasional quiet client meeting. Others work in tandem. Still others work in rowdy teams of three or four, focused around one computer. “Get an office, why don’t ya!” I want to yell at them. But that may break with proper coffee office etiquette.
We hear that our current recession, with its almost 8 percent national unemployment rate, has, in its severity, surpassed the recessions many of us may be familiar with – 2002, early ’90s, late 70s/early 80s – and is, according to historians and economists, comparable only to the Great Depression of the 1930s. They acknowledge that we may not have yet seen the worst of it. But what will this recession-cum-depression look like years from now? Generations from now? How will it be depicted? What images will become instantly representational of this time?
Look back on photographs of the Depression. You see images of men standing in long lines, looking sternly at the camera. They’re invariably well dressed, wearing long coats, ties, and fedoras. Somewhere in the photo is a sign that advertises “Free soup, free doughnuts, free coffee.”
An icon for the late ’00s?
So what iconic image will depict this time in our nation’s history? Despite the downturn – dropoff – I’m not sure it’ll be a soup-line image. It may end up being a foreclosure sign in front of a large suburban home, dealership lots full of unsold automobiles, or disheartened stock-exchange workers after another selloff session. Or, it may just end up being a photo of a coffee shop crowded with laptop workers.
And so, if this is the image of the Great Recession of the late ’00s, then, fellow laptoppers, tilt down your computer screen, raise your hot, steaming four-dollar mug of double mocha latte, settle in, and smile for the camera. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.
Glenn Miller is a corporate communications consultant, specializing in the production of corporate videos and events. His wife, Jocelyn Hale, is the one with the health benefits. This article originally appeared in the Southwest Journal, where they share a regular column.