The adventure began—as so many do—with coffee.
Our old $15 machine broke. So we bought a new one, a nice big one that did pretty much everything except deliver up that steaming cup of deliciousness on a silver tray.
We brought our fancy new machine home, took it out of the box, and settled it—in all its shining glory—on the countertop.
And that’s the precise moment we realized that our circa 1980s kitchen needed a whole lot more than just a new coffee pot.
We enjoyed our next cup of coffee courtesy of our local bank, while we waited to have our home equity loan papers notarized.
The comfy chairs in the bank’s lounge area had fold-out desks. Cupholders, even. The coffee bar was right behind us.
“I could do my writing here,” I said to my spouse in a hushed voice, as I made a beeline to the coffee.
And while the manager may frown on the idea of me and a few of my writer friends showing up there every morning, laptops in hand, a number of established businesses now have locations where users are encouraged to do exactly that.
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State Farm launched Next Door, a collaborative coworking café in Chicago, back in 2011. It offers workspace—and optional financial coaching—in a space that feels more like your favorite coffee shop.
There are workshops on anything from 401k basics to launching a podcast to buying a home. Whiteboards are available, as well as conference rooms for meeting with clients. Users can reserve event spaces, browse the library, and take advantage of the reliable Wi-Fi.
And the only thing they have to pay for is the coffee.
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So where’s the catch?
Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be one. State Farm says it benefits from learning about customer needs and developing one-on-one connections. Users say they haven’t been pressured to make a purchase. And unlike a traditional coffee shop, where the owners are relying on a high volume of drink purchases to make a go of it, at Next Door, users can linger as long as they wish, without worrying that they should give up their table or order additional lattes.
Other companies are also using the concept of free coworking cafés to engage with their communities. Capital One now has locations from Boston to Chicago that combine a Peet’s coffee shop with life coaches—and offer communal tables, meeting rooms, WiFi—even free ATMs. The spaces are open to everyone, not just cardholders, and some even hold special events, like family game nights. Through these cafés, Capital One seeks to preserve human connections in a field that is becoming more dependent on digital tools.
Although these types of free coworking cafés are not available everywhere, similar options are springing up throughout the U.S.—the main difference being that these locations charge individuals or companies a modest fee to access some or all of the services.
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Hopewell’s Columbus, Ohio, location, for example, provides users with a mix of public and private spaces to work and collaborate. Members pay a monthly fee for flexible daily access and the ability to reserve meeting spaces at special rates. The café area, however, is open to all, member or not (although coffee is free to members only!), as are some events. The Hopewell founders compare the space to a community rec center, or a student union.
Like Capital One and State Farm, Hopewell’s purpose in offering a communal workspace is to help forge human connections. But its motivation is arguably less mixed. Hopewell has no products or services to sell its members beyond that for which they are already paying. The connections being forged are thus not so much between the members and the business providing the space. Instead, Hopewell’s focus is on fostering the connections between its members themselves.
The Hopewell founders are serious about building strong communities and helping their members obtain the benefits associated with increased social capital. As co-founder Brian Zuercher puts it, “The mission of Hopewell is to end isolation through shared experiences.”
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We can all use a little more community with our coffee.