Is working remotely from a coffee shop a good idea?

Is working remotely from a coffee shop a good idea?

Various studies and articles we’ve read indicate working in a coffee shop is great for productivity, at first this may seem counterintuitive (it certainly did for us) and whilst there isn’t a guaranteed % productivity improvement and it does seem to vary for each person/task the science seems to be true, although with a big caveat that if the settings aren’t just right it backfires massively. In this article, we discuss the science plus give a list of etiquette tips for success.

Are these productivity gains the result of something special about cafes, or is it simply because there are fewer distractions when working remotely? Does the ambient noise help drown out your inner critic that keeps telling you to check social media? Or is it better to go to a quiet place where you can concentrate without being distracted by other patrons? Unfortunately, unless you choose the right kind of environment, there is a good chance that whatever benefit comes from working at a coffee shop will be lost. You’ll have to weigh this against the possible benefits of escaping your regular surroundings.

Many of history’s most renowned individuals have done their finest work in coffee shops. Pablo Picasso, JK Rowling1 or Bob Dylan all produced groundbreaking works while sitting at a table in a café. Whether they’re painters, songwriters, philosophers, or writers throughout the world and through time, people have tapped into their creativity by working away at a table in a café.

How quiet or loud is too much?

According to researchers from the University of British Columbia2, 70 decibels of ambient noise – the same as in a crowded coffee shop – has a positive impact on creativity and productivity. At the same time, 50 decibels of a quiet noise environment (e.g. something the same as something like moderate rainfall) as well as anything above 85 decibels (e.g. a blender) has a negative influence on our performance.

This “distracted focus” seems to be the greatest state for accomplishing creative work, as the authors write,

“Getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”

Since the findings at 70 decibels were significant, the research suggests that having the right amount of background noise – neither too loud nor absolute silence – may actually boost one’s creative thinking skills.

The optimal level of noise that can enhance cognitive functions could be different for everyone. That might explain why some people perform best in noisy environments, while others prefer silence. 3

What do humans prefer?

According to a study by Buffer4, when employees work remotely from their primary place of employment, they are largely dispersed across a number of locations: 33% would rather work from cafés, 25% at home, 12% in a coworking space, and 11% at an office.

In order to enjoy the benefits of working from a coffee shop, you have to be sure not to work there all the time for too long. For some people, it can become a distraction instead of a productivity booster if you do it more than once or twice a week. You should vary your surroundings and limits your caffeine intake as well – having a lot of caffeine can make you less productive because it’s a stimulant that speeds up your metabolism. If you’re always going to cafes then prepare yourself for paying expensive prices for simple drinks and food – especially if it becomes part of your daily routine. Remember what they say about bad habits: hard to break!

In summary, our data showed that brain noise is a crucial part of human perception, decision making and being able to see from different perspectives. 5

Is it a permanent replacement?

If nothing else, at least consider going from time to time to a coffee shop or similar store. You might be surprised at the results, and will definitely have fun seeing all the different places you can go in your city. Just make sure not to wear out your welcome – it would be a shame if you ended up ruining a good thing for yourself because of overworking from an environment that was supposed to replenish your energies, not sap them away!

According to a study by Fuze, 83% of employees don’t think they need to be in the office to be productive, and 38% would enjoy their job more if they were allowed to work remotely.

Do I need to ask for permission before setting up for the day?

If you’re not sure, be polite and seek permission to take a seat before doing so. If the staff or owner appears to dislike the idea of remote workers using their facility, move on to another café that welcomes you. It hopefully goes without saying that you will need to be a customer to be there (especially for the whole day) so expect to buy drinks, snacks and potentially even lunch whilst you’re there to ‘pay for your right’ to be there. Consider leaving a tip for staff as well (this is an easy thing to do and might place dividends in the future).

Other tips for success:

  • Stick with one seat for the day, don’t start moving around every hour or so
  • Be cautious of being too chatty to others
  • Consider a VPN, headphones and privacy screen for your laptop to ensure you’re not accidentally sharing confidential details with someone behind you
  • Keep your table and area tidy
  • Don’t leave your items there other than for going for a quick toilet break
  • If the cafe gets busy and people are queuing for tables etc, consider moving on.
  • If in doubt simply ask.

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  3. Onno van der Groen – Research Fellow in the school of medical and health sciences, Edith Cowan University
  5. Onno van der Groen – Research Fellow in the school of medical and health sciences, Edith Cowan University

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