An Argument for Working From Coffee Shops

For those of us that work for a distributed company like Chromatic, we get to enjoy the benefits of working where we want, when we want. Without the daily burden of commuting to an office there is real opportunity for increased productivity.

My colleague Larry, has already written about the benefits of working from home, but this isn’t the only option when it comes to being effective as a remote worker.

That Coffee Shop Buzz

I’m a big fan of working from coffee shops. Not only does it add a break to the routine of working from home, but the hustle and bustle of the people and the low hum of the baristas working, gives me a certain "buzz" that isn’t related to that $7.00 latte. I always find that I’m more effective while working from a coffee shop. Is it in my head? Is it a placebo? I can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels real to me. Also, there’s a dozen other folks who are doing more than just drinking coffee. My guess is that they’re getting a similar "buzz".

A Study To Support My Claims

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, looked at how different decibel (dB) levels affected people's level of productivity. They demonstrated that when moderate levels of ambient noise (70 dB) were present, people performed better on creative and innovative tasks. Lower levels (50 dB) were also effective at enhancing performance, but not as much as the moderate level. As you might have guessed, too much noise can be a bad thing. High levels (85 dB) hurt performance on creative tasks.

So why does a moderate level of noise help creativity? According to the researchers, when you work in a quiet environment, you can sometimes get too focused on the problem and have trouble seeing the bigger picture. When a moderate level of noise is added, it helps your brain avoid becoming hyper focused on a problem and subsequently allows you to think more broadly.

It just so happens that a busy coffee shop has just the right ambient noise level, around 70 dB. Coffee shops hit that moderate sweet spot, which according to this study, boosts creative and innovative thinking. While the study never uses the word ‘productivity’, I know that with a creative boost, I can more effectively move through a list of complex action items.

Help! I Can’t Get To A Coffee Shop!

This all seems great, but not everyone can get to a coffee shop. What about the people who do not work for distributed teams? That’s where a tool called Coffitivity can come in:

Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.

In short, it's a web app that plays clips of coffee shop ambience. They recreate that decibel sweet spot!

Coffitivity isn’t the only place where you can find this stuff. A quick search on Youtube for ‘coffee shop sounds’ yields pages of recorded background noise for your free listening pleasure. It’s clear to me that there is a cohort of people out there that believe the power of moderate ambient sounds increases their effectiveness to complete work tasks (that or people have way too much free time).

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

This isn’t a one size fits all solution for increased creative juice, but there are plenty of people who prefer to work in complete silence, and I would bet a quick Google search would yield plenty of articles proving the opposite of what I just told you. While I’ll never understand how anyone can work like that all the time, I can appreciate quiet moments. Ultimately, you have to do what is best for you.

As far as what works for me? I’ll be heading to the coffee shop.