GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Photographer Anthony Calleja is one of many isle professionals who often set up office in coffee shops with wireless Internet access.
Out of the office -- and into the 21st century
More Hawaii students and professionals are using laptops, wireless Internet and cell phones to work outside of traditional settings
STORY SUMMARY »
Welcome to the office of the 21st century -- not a tiny cubicle inside some concrete building, nor the coveted corner spot with the panoramic views of Honolulu.
With laptops, cell phones and blackberries in hand, an increasing number of employees are working outside of the office rather than in it, and some have given up the bricks-and-mortar office altogether.
Among them are: A photographer, a foreign exchange stock trader, and a marketing and public relations professional, all of whom work for themselves.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Kahala Mall food court has become a mobile office for some people. Above, Steven Onoue, a foreign-exchange trader, regularly eats lunch there and then does sessions with students on stock reviews and analysis. Watching the market in real time with Onoue is Annette Nagatoshi.
Mobile workers who spend more time on the road or on-the-go than inside an office today run the gamut of professions -- from attorneys to architects, real estate agents and mortgage brokers.
Many of their secondary offices have become the car, cafe, restaurant, mall or park, in addition to home. As Wi-Fi through various providers becomes more readily available across Hawaii -- more and more of it at no cost -- doing business outside of the office becomes more viable.
Taking care of business
Where people worked over the last month
24.6M Customer or client's place of business
24.0M In the car
20.2M Cafe or restaurant
17.8M Hotel or motel
11.5M Park or other outdoor location
10.6M On airplane, train or subway
9.1M Airport, train depot or subway platform
Source: World at Work 2006 survey conducted by Dieringer Research Group. Available at www.workfromanywhere.org
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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Charles Barclay, center, worked on a business proposal recently at a Starbucks on Oahu. Wireless Internet access has made coffee shops a popular gathering place for those seeking a change of scenery or an alternative to the office cubicle.
The office of today is not a tiny cubicle tucked away in the confines of a concrete building, nor the coveted corner room with a door and panoramic views of the Honolulu city skyline.
Today's office is most likely a seat in a neighborhood cafe with a laptop computer and a cup of mocha java, or anywhere that one can set up a workstation. It might be at home, but it also can be in the car, the mall or a public park.
Working away from the office is a growing trend on the mainland as it is in Honolulu, where an annual study on highway congestion estimated travelers waste up to an extra 24 hours sitting in traffic at a loss of about $14.60 an hour in vehicle-operating costs.
But as more remote access technology becomes available via cell phones, blackberries and laptops, the traditional office is becoming a thing of the past for a small minority of workers -- most of whom work for themselves.
True, many old-fashioned human-resource directors would keel over at the thought of letting their employees work remotely, but it was staid IBM that set the trend among large corporations by deploying its mobile work force more than a decade ago.
"Hawaii is as far along as anyone would want to be technologically," said Jeffrey Hall, research director for CB Richard Ellis, adding that file-sharing and remote access to company networks are becoming more readily available. Many professionals in high positions often do work out of the office, even out of the country in some instances, he said.
That translates into companies needing to pay less rent to use less space.
Hall had no readily available statistics of telecommuting's impact on Honolulu's office vacancy rate, and said he doesn't think it has made a significant dent -- yet.
Between 2004 and 2006, the number of employers allowing people to telecommute at least once per month grew 63 percent, according to the nonprofit association of human resource professionals, World at Work in Scottsdale, Ariz. The term "telecommuting" is actually outdated, according to some work experts, as is the concept of the "homeworker," which has been replaced with "Web worker" or "mobile worker," even "agile worker" as Techworld coined it.
People who work outside of the traditional office today run the gamut of professions -- from attorneys to architects, accountants, engineers, graphic designers, marketing representatives, Realtors and mortgage brokers.
College students, employees of the future, are also more inclined to be crunching numbers or writing up term papers in a cafe with an iPod plugged in their ears than in a quiet library.
The Starbucks office
"I come from a large family, and I like noise," said Anthony Calleja, a professional photographer and self-avowed coffee addict who has used Starbucks
outlets across Oahu as his offices since they first opened. "I could work from home, or I could work from my truck if I wanted to. But I just like to hang out at Starbucks."
He's become such a regular that the baristas all know his drink -- a triple grande Americano in a tall cup.
Calleja, who shoots portraits, fashion, art and weddings, does image editing, checks e-mail and updates his Web site at Starbucks. He meets with his assistant there, as well as with clients anywhere from Kapolei to Koko Marina, Manoa, Ward and the North Shore.
He pops into the cafe in between photo sessions, sometimes borrowing the wall around the corner to take a mug shot.
Likewise, Eric Takahata of A.link, a marketing and public relations company focusing on clients from Asia, has worked mobile since he launched his own company seven years ago.
He once worked in a traditional Japanese office, but today spends most of his time out of the office.
The difference is that nowadays, finding Wi-Fi access is more readily available and free in many venues, reducing costs.
Takahata's preferred office of choice on-the-go is at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. He uses it to write up press releases, do translation work from Japanese to English, and meet his clients at their convenience.
"The benefits are that it makes everything a lot quicker," said Takahata. "I punch it out and get it done. You can avoid traffic and service your customer a lot quicker. You also spend more time with your clients versus being cooped up in your office."
He's equipped with a laptop, a PC and blackberry and says that's all he needs.
"I just think the way business is being done all over is changing," he said.
For real estate agents today, being mobile makes sense.
Kay Mukaigawa, principal broker of Primary Properties, says most of her agents work out in the field rather than in the office at the Topa Financial Center in downtown Honolulu.
They work from laptops and, in most instances, also carry a portable printer, which gives them the ability to look up properties or write up offers on the road and on the spot.
"Because we're in a service industry, our clients dictate where we go and what we do," she said. "With technology, we can do it."
Steven Onoue, a foreign-exchange trader, did away with a bricks-and-mortar office two years ago. Landlines were wasted overhead, he said, because most people now use cell phones.
Now he sets up his laptop at Kahala Mall, and meets with students there or at Kapiolani Community College to listen to Webcasts. Although he does have a home office, he's more often out and about.
"You don't have to be tied to an office any more," he said. "It's just not necessary."
Kahala Mall was one of the first malls to become a Wi-Fi hotspot, according to manager Ron Yoda. With the addition of the Apple Store to the mall, Kahala also attracts the Apple set, who sit outside and surf off its broadband with their iPods and iPhones.
Yoda said as long as remote workers borrowing the mall as an office weren't taking up too many tables during lunchtime, it's a welcome activity.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Scott Weeker, president and chief executive of Ambient Micro works at a Starbucks on Oahu.
Cafe owners' outlook
Cafe owners who offer Wi-Fi access at their businesses do it as a way to attract customers.
"We set ourselves up as the third place between home and work for people to either meet, study or read," said Jill Wheatman, Starbucks spokeswoman for Hawaii. "It's that consistent, comfortable place where customers know what to expect with a nice ambiance."
Sure enough, many business associates hold meetings and conduct interviews at Starbucks.
Wheatman recalls one company that advertised Starbucks as the meeting spot for its ad sales representatives to meet with clients. They set up shop at an outside table, buying drinks throughout the day. She said Starbucks is fine with that.
"It's set up as a gathering place and a meeting place, socially or for businesses," said Wheatman. "Is it set up for someone to sit in a corner all day and conduct business instead of an office? Probably not."
But a small percentage of people do it, according to independent cafe proprietors.
Liz Schwartz, the owner of Coffee Talk in Kaimuki, set up free Wi-Fi access about five years ago, and was one of the first in the neighborhood to offer it.
She has some clients who are at the cafe from morning to evening -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"We definitely have great customers who support the business," said Schwartz, "But there are also people who sneak in their own food and will buy one cup of coffee and stay forever."
Such customers are considered "squatters" -- they take advantage of a cafe for the free use of its Wi-Fi, air conditioning and electricity, and sit around for hours, while buying only one drink.
What Schwartz has learned is that sometimes what appears to be a packed cafe does not always translate into dollar sales volume.
But she's not going to stop offering the free Wi-Fi. She likes it that customers feel comfortable enough to work at Coffee Talk, and she's not about to police people on how many drinks they buy per hour of usage.
Like Coffee Talk, most local, independent cafes offer free Wi-Fi access to attract customers -- from Common Groundz at the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center to the Morning Brew in Kailua and the rRed Elephant in Chinatown.
Joey Wolpert, co-owner of the rRed Elephant on Bethel Street, sees architects, concert promoters and movie producers with their laptops, and big groups of students from Hawaii Pacific University.
He knows many of them as regulars. His cafe is one of the most popular spots for people to update their Web sites.
"We see all kinds of great things here," he said.
Adding a wireless router to the cafe's Internet service was not a huge cost, he said, and the plan was to draw more customers in with it. Though Kokua Wireless, free municipal Wi-Fi, is now available in Chinatown, he's going to stick with his private provider.
But some problems do come up from time to time. One customer was at the cafe up to eight hours, downloading huge files that tied up the bandwidth, creating system problems.
Another customer used the cafe as his office for up to 10 hours a day but hardly bought anything. He got so comfortable that one day he brought in his own tablecloth.
Wolpert said that was just too much.
"Here you are taking up my space, using my air conditioning, doing business on the cell phone -- and now you've brought in a tablecloth to mark your own table?" he said. "We said we couldn't accommodate him for that many hours of the day."
But Wolpert embraces the idea of a place like rRed Elephant being the office of the 21st century.
His goal, after all, is to get downtown Honolulu office workers to stroll over to his cafe for a drink and a bite to eat. Most customers are cool, he said, and respectful of the common rules of courtesy.
Cafe office rules of etiquette
The following unofficial rules of etiquette were gathered from cafe office workers and owners:
1. No squatting -- Do not save several seats and tables at the cafe for you and your friends for several hours at a time while buying one drink.
2. No outside food and beverages -- This is the pet peeve of cafe owners who welcome customers with their laptops.
3. No loud cell-phone conversations. If you have to yell, take it outside.
4. Be mindful -- of the business you're patronizing. If you're going to hang out for a couple of hours, get up and buy another drink or lunch. Don't ride on the cafe's air-conditioning, electricity and Wi-Fi for a $1.50 cup of joe.
5. Share your space -- If you've occupied a table for a long time, be willing to share it, and allow others to take chairs that you're not using.
6. Electrical outlet sense -- When using an electrical outlet, don't bring an extension cord and drag it across the floor to your laptop. It could pose a tripping hazard, besides being inconsiderate. A good way to find an outlet is to ask.
7. Do not download huge files. This may cause the proprietor systemic issues or hog up their bandwidth.
8. Don't make it your home -- Cafes are designed to be comfortable, but this is not your home. The cafe owner is paying the rent or mortgage -- not you. So don't set down your own tablecloth.
9. Buy clients a drink -- If clients are coming in to meet you, offer to buy them a drink. Don't use the cafe as a revolving office, where people come in and out without buying anything.
10. Keep the volume down on your conversations. Follow common courtesy rules that apply in any public venue.