Digital Nomads, Part Two: Welcoming Remote Work, with Limitations

A laptop, computer mouse, coffee mug, pens, magnifying glass, and earphones lie on the top of a wooden table.

As more workers go remote, they seek a comfortable place with an outlet for their laptops: the local coffee shop. Is that beneficial for shop owners?

BY TANYA NANETTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Cover photo by ian dooley via Unsplash

In recent years, digital nomads have begun to appear in every public space with a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Whether in a designated co-working space or in public places such as libraries or cafés, people working away from home are on the rise. 

But are all these places, especially coffee shops, willing to host digital nomads?  

Are digital nomads good customers? Do they consume enough to support the business? Are they kind and respectful toward both the business and other customers?  

In short, is their presence something that helps or harms a café? 

Malaylack Venesingharath is the co-owner of Hello, Kristof, a specialty-coffee shop based in one of the trendiest areas of Lisbon, Portugal. Her café allows laptops, but with specific rules. Here’s her take on digital nomads. 

The exterior of Hello, Kristof, at the front of a pink building. The sign is small and black, and swings above the door.
The cheerful exterior of Hello, Kristof in Lisbon. Photo by Tanya Nanetti.

Barista Magazine: Hi, Malaylack! Can you please briefly introduce Hello, Kristof

Malaylack: The story of Hello, Kristof: Charlie and I took over this place in February 2021 during the pandemic and were able to open on April 2021. We offer specialty coffees, breakfast, and lunch seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

What do you think of this “new wave” of digital nomads? 

I say that it takes everything to make a world, and live with the times. It’s very nice to be able to work from anywhere and follow our personal activities to take care of ourselves, but at the same time, it is still necessary to know how to give meaning to what we do. 

Close up of palm fronds inside the cafe. The counter and menu board are behind.
Hello, Kristof is a small but comfortable shop with limited laptop seating.
Photo by Tanya Nanetti.

 
What is Hello, Kristof’s policy regarding laptops and digital nomads? Do you offer Wi-Fi? 

We have seating for 16, with one large community table and three round medium-sized tables. We’re definitely a small space, but we allow four places on weekdays for laptops: They’re in the back, behind a plant. But we are also flexible, depending on the crowd. During the weekend, on the other hand, (it) is completely forbidden to work on the laptop. There’s no daily fee or minimum order, and no maximum staying time, even if we go to their table every 45 minutes to ask if we can offer them more. 

And yes, we offer Wi-Fi. In a way, I don’t really know how to manage the Wi-Fi demand. Can we charge anything for it? How much? After all, some of our customers would like Wi-Fi only for their smartphones, simply to find their way, or to places to go after Hello, Kristof. But at the same time, some customers stay with us for a while with their laptops. We are not here to manage a co-working space, as we are a specialty-coffee shop … and we also serve brunch and pastries. I definitely prefer to share everything with people.

Was it like that from the start, or did it change along the way? What were the reasons for this choice? 

I’m not really sure what it was like before, but I think the previous owner allowed laptops everywhere. It was like that when we started, but it made me crazy to see customers behind their screens instead of sharing, talking, and having fun together. Also, it’s a matter of business: We cannot accept people who stay for more than an hour with only a coffee, using chairs, our Wi-Fi, and our space.

The Scandinavian minimalist inspired counter at Hello Kristof features a wooden bar on mid-century shaped peg legs, glass cloches covering pastry offerings, open shelving on the back wall, a large black and white photo of an elderly man, an espresso machine, trailing plant leaves, and a black chalkboard with a written menu.
The counter at Hello, Kristof. Photo by Veronika Jorjobert via Unsplash.

 
What is an average day at Hello, Kristof when it comes to digital nomads? Do you have a lot of people working on their laptops? 

The average is four laptops a day: We don’t have many because, over time, many already know our policy and know that we only have one electrical outlet.

What is the average digital nomad client like? Are they polite, respectful, and supportive of the business?

Digital nomads are often in their 30s, I think. Most of them are polite and respectful, because we try to inform them that we are not a co-working space, and most of our tables and bars carry “No Laptops” signs. 

Are there many people that don’t follow the rules? 

Obviously! 

Many coffee shop owners feel that having a large number of digital nomads in the shop doesn’t increase profits. Is that true, in your experience?

Yes, that’s right: They won’t make enough profit. My experience on this: go to their table every 45 minutes when possible and just be honest, while at the same time (staying) calm if they misbehave, and (remember) to always be nice with them, as you do with all other “traditional” customers. 

The interior of Hello, Kristof. Magazines on special selves line the walls almost up to the ceiling, facing out. People are enjoying their drinks and reading at tables. In the forefront is a family with a baby in a stroller. Industrial light pendants hang from the ceiling low over the long middle table. There are large palm trees near the shop counter, where a barista with a mustache stands over the pastry case.
Hello, Kristof offers a large magazine selection along with food and drinks. Photo by Tanya Nanetti.

What can you suggest to coffee shop owners on how to relate with digital nomads? 

I have no suggestion for other coffee shops; we all have a different layout of the space and different customers and a different way of managing it. I chose to adapt, and I’m still adapting.

And what about the digital nomads themselves? Any suggestions you want to share with them regarding coffee shop etiquette?

Just a simple piece of advice: Don’t tell us coffee workers that “you really have to work [on] your laptop,” without considering that we’re also trying to work, making coffee and food, and we must make a profit to be able to welcome (you).

Is there anything else on the topic of “digital nomads” and their relationship with the coffee shops you want to share? 

Please, go to a real co-working (space). 

In conclusion, are you happy with your choice regarding Hello, Kristof and digital nomads, or have you thought about changing it? 

I think I am good with it: After all, we can meet beautiful people even behind their laptops! 

You can read the first part of the “Digital Nomads“ series here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.

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