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Coffee shop working - can it make you more productive?

Coffee shop working - can it make you more productive?

Written by

Abbie Dawson


February 20, 2023


Latest research

Due to the pandemic, millions of us changed the way we work. We’re more flexible with working hours and locations, and for many this includes frequent work from places like coffee shops. But are there reasons behind this choice?

We all love a coffee shop. The smell of fresh coffee beans, the background sound of milk frothers and the buzzing noise of conversation. But what once were settings exclusively for a quick catch up are now frequently make-shift offices. 

Due to the rise in home working, self-employment and freelancing, coffee shops are now so important to British workers that it is estimated 70% of people work remotely from a coffee shop once or twice a week. For those of us who work from home, a trip to the local cafe can be a way of getting some social time in and not feel so isolated. And for those who work in an office, a break from the office environment to grab a coffee with your team can break up the day.

But can working from a coffee shop actually be beneficial?

Why did the shift happen? 

A big reason as to why more people are working from coffee shops than ever is technology.

In the past, those of us who worked in a traditional office might’ve needed a full desk set up to do our job. Now we’re all armed with modern laptops and smartphones, the flexibility we have to work from anywhere has shot up. 

Now with the majority of establishments offering free WiFi, there’s no reason to be confined to a stuffy office (with no lovely cake on offer). 

The pandemic demonstrated that so many of us don’t have to be restricted to a traditional environment to get great work done - if anything, it can be the opposite. Shifts in mindset towards working flexibility has contributed to more of us working from other locations. 

Less distractions - the impact of background noise

It sounds strange to say this, with busy coffee shops being quite noisy at times. But the background noise and general ambience can actually help you to focus on the task at hand.

There’s a reason why videos like this have millions of views - the background sounds of a cafe environment can help us focus.  

This has been coined the 'Coffee Shop Effect' - Onno van der Groen, a neuropsychology researcher from Edith Cowan University, has legitimised it. 

His research shows that a coffee shop is filled with a productivity boosting element that scientists call “stochastic resonance”. Essentially, background noise. 

Van der Groen’s studies show that background noise stimulates sensory signals in the brain, and those triggered brain signals enhance mood, making you see, hear and feel better. His more recent research in 2019 even shows that background-noise-induced sensory signals help the brain break out of a mental rut to see things from new perspectives. 

To back this up, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that a low-to-moderate level of ambient noise in a place like a cafe can actually boost your creative output. 

So although it’s nice to get a fancy latte, that’s not the only reason working from a coffee shop is positive. It can actually make you more productive. 

A collaborative work space

Ever been sat in a stuffy board room meeting feeling burned out? You may have given in and said, “let’s go grab a coffee and re-group”. 

Although the formal environments are traditional, they can sometimes feel stifling. And even though you’re surrounded by co-workers in an office, desk dividers and large settings can sometimes mean that the team is isolated. 

Because of the nature of the way coffee shops are laid out, sitting around a table in a cosy, warm and positive environment can help with communication and encourage teams to work together and come up with new ideas. It can make intimidating meetings and huge tasks feel more casual and collaborative. 

A change of environment 

Whether you work from home and are tired of staring at your living room wall, or work from the office and can’t stand the sight of that dead plant on the windowsill (has anyone EVER watered it?) - a change of environment to something like a coffee shop can actually spark creativity. 

If you’re someone who works from home, the temptation to quickly fold your laundry or clean that tea stain you just spotted on your coffee table can be distracting. And in an office, the constant water cooler questions can kill your focus. 

Routine can be the enemy of creativity - switching up your surroundings can help to stimulate your brain and keep the ideas fresh. 

Is it just coffee shops?

With the popularity of working from coffee shops, and higher bills working from home, an increasing number of pubs are trying to encourage people to work from their establishments. 

For example, microbrewery pub chain Brewhouse and Kitchen, which operates in locations including London, Cardiff and Bristol, offers a popular “workspace” option with WiFi, quiet spots and power sockets, unlimited hot and soft drinks and even printing for £10 a day. 

With a laid back atmosphere (and great beverages), perhaps working from the pub is the way forward. 

How to get the most out of it

If you’re going to work in a coffee shop, there’s a few things you can do to make the most of it. 

Firstly, where you choose to sit makes a difference. Don’t sit near the door as the temperature changes can be distracting, and don’t sit too near the cash register where the flow of traffic is. The atmosphere created around you is so important. 

For etiquette, make sure to buy something in the cafe. If they’re giving you free WiFi, a warm place to work and increased productivity, it’s only fair to spend £3 on a coffee. 

Make sure your devices are charged - not all tables will be close to plug sockets, so make sure your phone and laptop are topped up. And don’t forget to bring headphones - nobody wants to hear your work call out loud while they’re trying to enjoy a panini. 

Music for coffee, for tea, for takeaways and talking tables, for refills and rushes, for cakes with jammin.

"Finding our brand sound has been an exciting and interesting journey, and the help that we've had from the guys at Startle has been super valuable. We have to hand it to them, they nailed it from the get-go and we've been happily bopping away to these playlists ever since!"

Hattie Shaw, Bear Coffee

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe? Or get in touch here.

Coffee shop working - can it make you more productive?

Abbie Dawson

Marketing Manager at Startle. I'm in charge of our marketing activity, making sure to spread the word of Startle to as many brands as possible. When I'm not working, you'll find me vinyl shopping to add to my collection or working out at the gym (usually making enemies with a punching bag).

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Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

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