These days we’ve got all kinds of flexibility. Laptops, mobile devices, and cloud-based services make it easy to work how—and where—we want. But a recent Gallup poll reveals that, while the number of people working remotely is going up, less than half of those surveyed said they worked off-site at least some of the time. So why are so many of us still working at a traditional desk, in a more-or-less traditional office? Sure, there are a few compelling reasons worth considering—face time with your boss, in-person access to your colleagues, or getting a slice of that carrot cake over in accounting.
But whether you’re in a cube farm or an open office, there are even more good reasons to mix it up and find other places to work. For one, working remotely lets you ditch your daily commute every now and then. For another, it helps you get away from the noise and interruptions that can keep you from achieving the focus you need for complex projects. And stepping out can make you more productive, too. In a FlexJobs survey, only 24% said they got their best work done at the office during business hours. That leaves a whopping 76% who say they go elsewhere—or work outside normal business hours—to get important work done.
So where are the best places to work that aren’t your office? Workplace research suggests several good options:
1. At home
Your home may be the most natural choice for a day of focus. Chances are, you have Wi-Fi and a comfortable spot to work, and there’s no chance for colleagues to drop by—at least not in person. But working from home can have its own set of pitfalls. Here’s how to make it productive:
- Get dressed. Yes, it’s tempting to work in your pajamas. But you’ll feel more focused if you get ready just like it’s any other work day—because it is. Plus, this way you’ll never be caught off guard by a last-minute video conference call.
- Structure your day. You need to take breaks at home just as you do at work, but beware of getting sidetracked by cleaning projects, your favorite TV shows, or other home distractions. Set up scheduled work times and break times to keep you on track.
- Set boundaries. If anyone else will be home with you, make it clear that you’re working, and let people know in advance when it’s OK—or not OK—to interrupt you.
2. Your favorite café
If you don’t have a lot of calls to make, a coffee shop might be your new favorite place to work. There’s something about the background clatter of dishes and the buzz of activity—not to mention the readily available caffeine—that stimulates the flow of ideas and boosts productivity. Recent research suggests that mental effort is contagious, so pick a spot where people are working rather than socializing.
The drawbacks include having to keep tabs on all your gear and using potentially insecure Wi-Fi. Check with your company’s IT expert about how to keep your data safe while working on any public connection. And if your work is confidential or sensitive, look into getting a privacy screen so others can’t see what you’re working on.
3. Hotel lobbies
Studies show that travel can boost creativity, probably because new experiences spark different synapses in the brain. But if you don’t have the freedom to work from Tokyo or Barcelona, hotel lobbies can provide a sense of the new and unfamiliar. The pace can range from sleepy to bustling, and the surroundings from basic to glamorous. Many offer Wi-Fi, offer excellent people-watching from super-plush chairs and couches, and have options for a cup of joe or a bite of lunch.
4. Co-working spaces
As more people are working remotely, co-working spaces are popping up to support them. They include most of the amenities of an office space—like secure Wi-Fi, coffee and tea, printers, copiers, and private spaces for meetings or phone calls. They also offer the sense of community that an office can provide—but without the potential interruptions from your own actual team members.
By design, many of these spaces are flexible, offering drop-in access or weekly and monthly packages. They also offer opportunities for networking and cross-pollination, so a random conversation in the break room might just spark a great new idea.
5. The library
If enforced quiet is a must-have, your local public or university library is just the thing. If all goes according to plan, you’ll hear nothing but the muted sounds of other people working, reading, or studying.
For an upgraded library experience, you might consider a membership library. They were the norm before the 1880s, when free public libraries were rare, and there are still 19 in operation across the country. You’re likely to find a cultural center mixed with some of the benefits of a co-working space—but for a lot less money. Perks often include use of meeting rooms, Wi-Fi access, and free or reduced admission to cultural events and programs. And though it’s probably not relevant to your work life, some have fun stuff like chess rooms. How cool is that?
Employers are recognizing that nature can inspire creativity and boost productivity. From Google to the federal government, more offices are incorporating greenery, bucolic views, and even interior waterfalls into their buildings and office plans. If yours isn’t yet one of them, you can still reap the benefits—just head to your local park. Depending on where you go, you’ll probably need to consider your laptop’s battery life and invest in an anti-glare screen protector. If you need to be connected, use your phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot—or check to see if your city offers Wi-Fi in parks and open spaces. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
It may take some time to figure out the best places to work—and what kind of environments make you the most productive. Do some exploring on days when you have some flexibility and a little free time—so the next time you need to get out of the office and focus, you have a few surefire options.