I grew up under the roof of Bar Collado, the establishment that my family ran for 84 years. I studied psychology and worked for over a decade analyzing trends and consumption habits to tell brands how to connect with their consumers’ hearts. Tired of feeding the capitalist demon, one day I decided to return to my roots, to what I had loathed as a teenager and now adore: serving food and drinks to the people in the neighborhood. From my time on the other side of the counter, I’ve observed the appearance of a new kind of user —not necessarily a customer, as we will see: people who turn a barstool into their office.
The first time I heard the term “digital nomad,” I imagined a thirty-something with a well-groomed beard seated in front of a screen. Wearing a loincloth and warming himself by the psychedelic flames of a Netflix fireplace, he contemplated his next stop.
I later learned that Estonia was one of the first countries to offer a visa specifically for digital nomads. Now, anyone who considers themselves a citizen of the world can enjoy a smoked sprat sandwich and enjoy the views of the Tallinn town square.
But not everything is rose-colored in this new liquid universe, where life moves at a pace that washes your impurities down the drain. No: only a privileged few have the luck, and ability, to respond to emails from blow-up flamingos in the waters of the Bahamas.
The vast majority of this self-employed-precariat-working class have to go out every day to find a table and turn it into their office. They are people who cannot —or do not want to— pay for a co-working space. Although it is hard to believe, there are some independent professionals who don’t like to work inside a glass cubicle across from a group of people in tights practicing yoga.
As an observer from both sides of the bar, I have noted several different profiles of anonymous heroes who, day after day, come out of their burrows in search of office space. Equipped with their MacBook Air and a reusable water bottle inside their Ölend backpack, they are out to experience a world that they define as “glocal” by destroying their spines sitting for hours on a bar chair. These are the six kinds of nomads who use cafés and bars as their office.
There is a type of Barcelona-based freelancer who only frequents SandwiChez, a small chain that takes special pride in the quality of its sandwiches and salads. They arrive at the venue when the floor is still being mopped and the staff is preparing for service. Their goal is to get the best table, the one furthest from the counter, to avoid the murmur of the parade of customers going through the cashier. They can sit there for nine hours having consumed just one measly latte. It is rumored that some bring their Tupperware from home and eat their lunch semi-surreptitiously. The only thing they consume is electricity. The most disturbing thing is that it seems that the brand value of this chain is exactly this: come work in our joint.
They show up later. Any bar will do as long as it has Wi-Fi and beer. They drink as if they had a son in jail, while watching series on a tablet and writing in a soft-cover ENRI notebook. From time to time they let out a laugh that involuntarily shoots spit at the staff, but they don’t care. To them, there is no one else around.
They look for cafés with a wide variety of teas and herbal drinks. They ask repeatedly for refills of hot water in order to squeeze all the last bits of flavor out of the herbs. They smile more than they should and speak too softly. If they are having a hard day, they decide to make peace with sugar, their main enemy, and eat a piece of fancy cake. They always carry around a lilac yoga mat and a Decathlon microfiber towel.
These individuals generate the most stress for hospitality staff. They enter the premises alone, speaking in loud English over AirPods with someone who, of course, is on the other side of the world. They stand at the bar staring at the bartender, mentioning “briefings” and “budgets” as if the clerk’s eyes are teleporting them directly to that Australian kangaroo on the phone. It does not occur to them to think that the person at the bar may feel confused by having someone in front of them droning about digital marketing.
Everything would be solved with a small gesture, indicating their ears and mouthing “excuse me, give me a second.” That never happens. Sometimes the call is so long that they enter and exit the bar several times without placing an order. When they hang up, they don’t apologize. They get around on a Brompton bike, and they’re such lucky individuals that it never gets stolen.
Can you hear me?
Meetings are their MO. They go from Zoom to Zoom and cancel meetings because of other meetings. Most of them are boomers or older millennials. They constantly complain about the bad internet connection, and they don’t hesitate to ask the waiters to turn down the music. Their presence overtakes the sound space, and captures the attention of the customers at the bar. When they meet clients in person, they greet them at the door of the bar as if opening the door of their house. They smooth out their caffeine addiction by ordering a flat white instead of a double-loaded latte at six in the evening.
Any service worker will agree that it is the best profile you can find on the other side of the bar. They start with coffee and croissant, continue with salad and pesto rigatoni, and finish with a slice of carrot cake and vanilla rooibos. They do not want to disturb the locale’s dynamics, to the point of sharing their phone data so as not to freeload Wi-Fi. They are grateful and polite.
One’s poise can be measured by one’s ability to adapt to each place and situation. If you are an office-less freelancer, remember who you are and where you go to work.
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