Mobile Entrepreneurs Meet Clients at the Coffice

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     Wendy Nakamura, left, and Kimberly Miyazawa Frank work
     amid the amneties  of the Pacific Club. Despite the club’s
     fees, both women say they save thousands by working at
     the club and scheduling meetings there instead of leasing
     office space.
     Photo: Rae Huo

It's Monday morning and Melissa Chang has gathered her laptop and smartphone, and is on her way to her "coffice," a comfortable setting like Blue Hawaii Lifestyle, Burgers on the Edge or Good to Grill. There she can settle down with coffee, free Wi-Fi and her daily work sending client news into the Twittersphere.

The laptop is loaded with everything she needs, the phone makes her constantly available, and the hip cafes of urban Honolulu offer the buzz of people and activity she likes.

"There's a Twitter account called 'The Coffice.' That's a place where you can get coffee and free Wi-Fi and just set up office," says Chang. "It's not a total super-raging trend yet, but it's becoming more common with more independent practitioners, like Realtors or other people on the go."

By the end of 2011, there will be about one billion mobile workers worldwide, according to Runzheimer International Inc., which provides mobile business services. The "mobilocracy" includes independent businesspeople like Chang and others who work for a company but are not tied to an office.

The May 2011 iPass Global Workforce Report found that 91 percent of these mobile workers check their smartphones during nonwork downtime and 61 percent sleep with them within reach. The iPass study estimates they work, on average, 240 hours more a year than their office-bound counterparts. Chang agrees with that assessment of mobile work. "On one hand, it's flexible, but I think you work more hours because you're always plugged in."

While there's nothing new about loving mobility and independence – or working from home – technology is making it much easier. The recession made mobility even more desirable as a way to trim expenses and customers are more comfortable nowadays with businesspeople who don't have a traditional office.

"Basically I work from my laptop," says management consultant Kimberly Miyazawa Frank. "If I'm working with other people, we can work virtually. We have virtual teams and partners."

On a typical morning, Miyazawa Frank heads downtown by 7 or 7:30 a.m. – once her daughters are off to school with dad, and her son's babysitter has arrived. She's not going to an office but to the Pacific Club, where she'll sit beside a tropical garden and meet clients, work on her laptop, eat lunch with associates, finish and print a project in the library, and, at day's end, relax at the pool with her children.

Despite club dues and monthly charges, Miyazawa Frank says she saves about $45,000 a year by dispensing with an office, a secretary and the tech support all that implies.

"Most of my work is done either in the client's office or can be done anywhere, like the club. I did look at office space, but I kept going back to: 'But it's really just me.' "

Wendy Nakamura discovered the same thing. "I found I wasn't really in need of an office," says Nakamura, president of Foresight Consulting and another Pacific Club regular toting laptop and smartphone. Eight years ago, when she and her husband moved back home to Hawaii and she started her business, she made Starbucks an unofficial coffice. But soon it was more convenient and enjoyable – both for her and clients – to meet at the club or the clients' offices and homes.

     Melissa Chang multitasks at Yogurstory, where the Wi-Fi
     and electric outlets to charge laptops are free to customers.
     Photo: Rae Huo

"I was moving around town going to different client offices. As my business grew, I considered hanging a shingle somewhere, more to legitimize the business, as it were, and talked to several clients and asked if it would make a difference if they came to my office. They said, 'We like that you come to us,' so I decided not to open one. And there are certainly a lot of cost savings I can pass on."

While the fields and job descriptions change, what's similar for so many of Hawaii's mobile workforce is the desire for flexibility, the choice to be independent, the quest for a job that works around family schedules and the need to keep costs down. There are as many additional benefits as there are individuals.

For Ulrike Cutter, it's important to sit at her jewelry artist's desk at home and gaze at mountains, palms and the lights heading up St. Louis Heights for a sense of calm as well as artistic inspiration.

For accountant Sean Kleeman, it's about fitting client meetings around time to help home-school his children, take them on excursions and coach track each afternoon at Punahou School.

For organizational development expert Cynthia Kitagawa, president of Insight Consulting & Training, it's about finding solitude in the spare bedroom lined with bookcases and fitted with a topnotch color laser printer and scanner.

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