Espresso Blog

The Daily Office Crowd, Part 1: Why Coffee Shops Are Great for Productivity

by Julie Beals on April 30, 2019

In today’s business world, ambitious employees are often in hot pursuit of productivity and creativity as much as they're looking for healthy salaries and competitive benefits. The hardest of these to maintain are creativity and productivity, and the surprising solution can be spending time away from coworkers at relatively noisy public places.

Why coffee shops are go-to remote offices.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that a certain amount of ambient noise (between 50 and 70 decibels—on par with a typical coffee shop) disrupts the mental process in a positive way, helping people score well on a word-association task. Study participants scored much better with coffee-shop-level noise than they did in silence, or when exposed to noise levels around 80 decibels (the sound of a garbage disposal, for instance), which made it hard to concentrate.

The right level of background noise disrupts patterns of thinking just enough to allow our imaginations to activate—without taking away the ability to focus. This type of “distracted focus” is apparently perfect for working on creative tasks.

It sounds counterintuitive, but your "noisy" coffee shop can help your customers be more productive than in an office because being surrounded by coworkers inevitably means being interrupted. A UC Irvine study revealed that interruptions happen every 11 minutes on average (for every worker!) and that they reduce productivity significantly: it takes 25 minutes for a person to get back to where they were before being pulled away from their work. The coffee shop environment combines anonymity with the hum of activity. And unlike working at home, where solitude can lead to procrastination, a coffee shop provides the stimulation of human interaction without having to weigh in on a coworkers new shoes or a proposal that isn’t due until next month.

Other studies have also shown the detriments of workplace interruptions:

- Employees in open floor plans are interrupted 29 percent more often than those in private offices, the same UC Irvine study found.

- Even after an interruption that lasts less than 3 seconds, people's error rates doubled. And if the distraction is 4.5 seconds, their error rates tripled according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

- Workers who are frequently interrupted report 9% higher exhaustion rates according to the International Journal of Stress Management.

- Interruptions cost an estimated $588 billion a year in the U.S. in 2005 due to reduced productivity, energy and work satisfaction, according to research done by Basex. That number is probably much higher today given the distractions of social media and overall economic growth.

Even if a person isn’t regularly interrupted at work, a noisy office can be distracting because overheard conversations might affect them. That’s why they may be able to focus in a noisy coffee shop, but are barely be able to stay on task in a noisy office.

Now that you know just how valuable your coffee shop can be to the workforce—how are you going to harness that power without letting it take over your entire business model?

Related post: The Daily Office Crowd, Part II: What’s Your W-Fi Policy?


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