Working from a coffee shop has long been a thing for freelancers and creative types.
And now that hybrid working appears to be the future, with big-name employers from PWC to Experian telling staff to expect just a few days a week in the office, a wider range of hospitality and leisure businesses are looking at how to capitalise on the opportunity to entice in a much larger pool of desk-based customers during the day.
Chains including Costa have already launched designated areas for remote workers, complete with 'desk' spaces divided by screens and a power socket, while London group Young’s said this week that it will be pushing its "work from pub" deals over the coming months.
Previous offers from Young's have included unlimited hot drinks and lunch for £10.50 at the Hammersmith Ram, and a £20 package comprising bottomless tea and a pint at the end of the day at The Kings Head in Winchmore Hill.
There are even trending hashtags like #pubdesking and #workfrombars.
But not every business owner has yet worked out how their pub, bar, restaurant or museum should go about making their venue a place former full-time office workers want to sit and fill in their spreadsheets.
A new report about to be published by City University's Business School and Goldsmiths is full of suggestions for how different proprietors should adapt their offering to ensure this new wave of customers doesn't slip through the net.
The study, by Dr Laetitia Mimoun and Dr Adele Gruen, was compiled after conducting extensive interviews with managers and customers inside a spectrum of venues from pubs to museums, libraries and churches.
It identified several types of "third places" flexible workers will enjoy working from, and concluded that the most successful are those that manage to create "an atmosphere that is homey but not too comfortable to enable focus work".
Dr Mimoun, marketing lecturer at the Business School, said: “Customer-workers can be enormously valuable for third places if managed successfully. This study shows that people do have fatigue from working at home but enjoy the social aspects flexible working can offer.
“In the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan city, workers are able to find the identity that they have been unable to find in an emptier work office or uninspiring home workspace.
“Practitioners and customer-workers can both benefit from the creation of these spaces, but now is the time for owners to act if they want to catch these new customers.”
Here are some of the report's top tips for business owners:
Even if it seems hard, it may be worth adapting your space
The experts' interviews with and observations of customer-workers revealed that many are keen to work in communal venues in future, as they offer better productivity and motivation than home working, societal benefits such as tackling loneliness and increasing chances of romantic meetings, and can help develop an identity not afforded by home working.
Ensure your Wi-Fi is strong and your chairs are comfortable
It seems simple, but the report found many venues without a reliable Wi-Fi connection, available plugs, or back-supporting chairs, and said they were likely to see "customer-workers visit less regularly".
Offer a special deal for remote workers in order to become a "hub"
The researchers said their findings suggested that "designing special offers for customer-workers is attractive financially and reduces staff workload".
They wrote: "Use “after-work” deals (e.g., “a free drink after 5 pm”) to foster loyalty. The goal is to become a “hub” for flexible workers. We also recommend leveraging aggregator platforms that curate a list of available places welcoming customer-workers to gain legitimacy and awareness."
Don't put up anti-laptop signs
Avoid rules and signs which can deter customers and stress out staff, such as “no laptop between 12 and 2 pm”.
Use environmental cues
These include plugs and booths in usually empty or calm areas to attract customer-workers and place covers on tables at lunchtime to show that the atmosphere has changed.
Another tip is to use long tables and booths to facilitate sociality between customer-workers
Make sure not to overwork your staff - or angle your entire offering at remote workers
The researchers warned that it is crucial to work out what type of "third place" your business wants to be, as "improperly managed, the overlap of customer-workers and traditional customers in the same place is likely to create conflicts, dissatisfaction, and staff fatigue".
‘Customer Work Practices and the Productive Third Place’ will be published in the Journal of Service Research