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Are the rules of what is an office being rewritten by this Russian ‘pay per minute’ coffee shop?

A place to work and relax with free WIFI, and all the tea you can drink. This café where you pay by the minute rather than by the mug is changing the landscape of what constitutes a working environment

Coffee shops have been booming since the recession. Small companies and freelancers have been using them set up on-the-move offices, happy to pay the inflated price of fancy coffees to gain access to wifi, comfy seats and toilets. But seen from a distance this meta-economy is baffling. It’s a fundamentally inefficient tradeoff where neither party is buying nor selling the commodity that is changing hands: access to space. However all this might be about to change.

Hidden among the kebab houses and hipster hangouts of London’s Shoreditch, a new social experiment is taking place. The brainchild of writer Ivan Meetin, Ziferblat, (meaning Alarm clock in Russian) invites guests to enjoy all the tea and biscuits they can consume within its living room set up for free. Whilst refreshments are on the house, indirectly customers pay micro-tenancies of 3p per minute, and can stay as long as they like.

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Collecting an alarm clock as they enter the café, visitors may use the space as they wish – preparing food, picking a record to on the vintage decks or learning how to make a flat white. The project, which is furnished from visits to vintage furniture markets such as Portabello Road, hosts impromptu poetry readings, organised jam-making sessions and offers the potential for film screenings, exhibitions or any other idea that is put forward. Once guests have enjoyed all the café has to offer, their alarm clocks are used to calculate their bill for the day

This alternative model for today’s café culture stems from both Meetin’s frustration with the commercial agenda of our social hot spots and his desire for a space that extends beyond the walls of a building, into the community sphere.

‘It is based on a utopian idea that creative and interesting people can meet somewhere and share the life of the space,’ explains Meetin. ‘Eighty percent of our customers are regular visitors. And we enjoy the sincerity and openness of people when they visit.’

For small businesses unable to afford the expensive ground rents of the city or using café’s as an informal office, the social and financial arrangement of Ziferblat looks like a sensible place to head. Comparing it to other co-working spaces, such as Impact HUB which charges £90 for 30 hours (coffee not included) it would seem like the Ziferblat will not be short of visitors.

Since Meetin launched the idea in Russia two years ago, ten branches of the coffee shop have opened and thrive, suggesting that the pay-per-minute model works for both proprietor and visitors alike.

Ziferblat is transforming the coffee-shop office culture, where time rather than coffee becomes a commodity for its guests and is providing new impetus in balancing the live/work relationship between workers and the city.

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