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'Coffices' take off as the work place goes mobile

Wednesday, 6 Nov 2013 | 10:01 PM ET
Eagle Waves Radio

What do you get when you cross a café and an office? The answer is a Coffice and it's a trend that's gathering pace in Australia and other parts of the world.

Easy access to the internet and the widespread use of smartphones means that working habits have changed and it's no longer unusual to see coffee shops used for both social and business purposes.

Eagle Waves Radio, a radio station based in a café in Sydney's Central Business District, says that 15 percent of small business owners in Australia prefer to work in a cafe, or even a hotel foyer, for the ambiance and convenience.

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Angela Vithoulkas, who launched the radio station inside her café earlier this year, estimated that about 85 percent of her customers use the space for work.

"I've been a café owner for 27 years and what I've seen is that with the onset of the internet and increased technology, people are no longer tied to their office," she said.

"That said, the GFC [global financial crisis] in Sydney really changed the way everybody worked, simply because many people lost permanent jobs and had to adapt," Vithoulkas said.

(Read more: Australia keeps rates unchanged at record low)

She added: "So a lot of people started up small businesses or became independently employed. They don't want to go to the expense of hiring an office, why should they? They meet clients at the closet café and that is often a casual but creative way to conduct a meeting."

Australia's unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in 2008 just before the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers sparked a global crisis, hitting a peak of 5.9 percent in July 2009. Data on Thursday showed the unemployment rate at 5.7 percent last month.

Vithoulkas pointed to surveys from U.S. universities showing that working in a café could enhance workers' creativity.

A study by the University of Illinois published in The Journal of Consumer Research last year found that a moderate level of ambient noise often associated with coffee shops enhances "performance on creative tasks."

(Read more: Asia tablet makers take a bite out of Apple)

"For my business I just need to be online with a laptop to use email or make a call, so working from a coffee shop gives me the flexibility," said the owner of a recruitment firm, who declined to be named, saying he spends a lot of time in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

"Working culture has changed because people use email so much more, are online more and use instant messaging. So a lot of business now is about responding quickly and keeping the momentum going. You can do that from a smartphone but typing from a laptop in a coffee shop is better," he added.

The term Coffice meanwhile has become part of modern vocabulary partly generated by the growth in new technology.

(Read more: 'Selfie' and 'phablet' added to the English dictionary')

According to the website www.urbandictionary.com, a Coffice is a combination of a coffee shop and an office or a "coffee shop one makes into an office where non-coffee shop work is performed."

"I would say a lot more wheeling and dealing takes place over a coffee now than a beer or golf as used to be the case," said Vithoulkas at Eagle Waves Radio.

— By CNBC.com's Dhara Ranasinghe; Follow her on Twitter @DharaCNBC

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