With a pile of work, no Internet connection at home and a bustling agile office environment, I found myself at a serene and surprisingly productive pay-as-you-go work space: Ziferblat. I’d heard about this place after reading this Guardian article late last year and had wanted to visit ever since. Today, I finally made it (just! it’s difficult to find), and found the atmosphere extremely conducive to a productive day’s work.
The analogue and retro fittings, which are so common in Shoreditch, felt like they had a real purpose here; they represent a time when life wasn’t so fast. The old clocks presented to their ‘guests’ upon arrival symbolise this perfectly. Being surrounded by board games and record players feels a million miles away from the relentless stream of email and the ocean of information constantly demanding your attention. It does have wi-fi and power supplies, and yes I quickly got connected, but I felt much more relaxed and ready to work than I normally do at the office.
The atmosphere created by it’s owners is a nice antidote to the sterile, noisy and relatively unproductive modern office environment. Ziferblat is small and so it’s easy to create an intimate vibe. The music was, unsurprisingly, very cool. The tea, coffee and toast was free, nothing elaborate but homely. They promote a sense of belonging and community by encouraging a sharing/gift economy for snacks; people bring their favourite jam or biscuits for everyone to sample. I quickly felt comfortable at Ziferblat, their were no boundaries or restrictions and the host was very friendly and helpful. The key ingredient is that they monetise the business by charging for the time you spend there; 5p a minute to be precise. In a standard coffee shop it’s easy to feel pressured to leave after finishing your coffee. At Ziferblat the coffee or snack is not the product. By paying for the time spent in this space, the uncomfortable pressure is removed. Ziferblat is not a coffee shop, but it is also not the typical shared work space either; it sits somewhere in the middle and that’s a refreshing change.
At Ziferblat, where time is the product, there are two ways of using that time. On the one hand, you can read a book, watch a film (with headphones) or write a report and feel no pressure to leave. On the other hand, as your paying for your time there it’s in your interest get your work done quickly to reduce your bill and beat the rush hour home. I found myself so productive I finished my work quickly, but instead of leaving, I stayed longer and caught up on some reading.
My experience at Ziferblat began by feeling reluctant to pay for the time and space to work, think and read. The intangible is always a more difficult sell than the tangible. But for me life is fast and time, specifically productive time, is hard to come by either at home or at the office. But, by the time I had clocked out, it felt perfectly natural even if I cannot afford to visit everyday.
Image: Thomas Litangen