Working in Cafés: What We Think

By Sarah Hewitt

We were just discussing this popular article over… you’ve guessed it – a cup of coffee – when we thought we might approach its subject from an environmental psychology point of view.

The article is a summary of research done on productivity and creativity in working environments, both very hot topics at the moment. Due to the rise in home-working, self-employment and freelancing, many people are now working in coffee shops rather than offices. What the studies found was that noise levels in coffee shops can help to increase productivity, but only if the noise levels are at a certain ambient level. Anything higher than ambient, or about 80 decibels, was likely to have a negative impact on productivity. The research also looked at the many visual distractions that working in a busy local café can also produce, and these tended to make the negative effects of the noise even worse.

From an environmental psychology point of view, what is going on here is environmental stress. All environments, whether they are offices, supermarkets, play parks and beaches will have some form of stressor. They could be noise related, they could be smell-related, they could be sensitivity to over-crowding or to light conditions. What’s more, different people have different tolerances to these stressors, depending on the environment in which they occur, the combination of stressors present, the activity you need to do in the environment and individual personality type!

The article makes the point that, although the noise issues can affect many of us, not everybody minds working in a noisy café, and some people actually thrive in a buzzy situation. So how do we know if an environment works for us? Well, it can be a bit of trial and error, and working out what kinds of things you are sensitive to.

From our point of view, we always try and incorporate a range of settings into the design for a new workspace, so that there are dynamic areas suited to people who want a bit of buzz around them, but also calm retreats for people who need some peace and quiet to get on with their work. Flexibility and variety are key to providing the best workspace for everyone.

For the previous blog post, click here.

Photo Credit: Alejandro Pinto, licensed under Creative Commons.