The daily grind: are coffee shops the workplace of the future?

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It interests me (I was going to say fascinates me, but that sounds a bit over the top) how different people work differently, in different environments.

I love working in a busy office. I guess a lot of people would prefer silence so they can concentrate, but that has the opposite effect on me. The buzz of everything happening around me really motivates me, I think it’s an important part of working in the creative industries. Overhearing things that spark your imagination, bouncing ideas off each other, and the jokes and funny conversations flying around all help me produce better work.

When I’ve freelanced in the past I’ve always asked to go and work in the office of the company I’m freelancing for. This probably seems odd to most people, I’m sure the thought of working from home – sitting in your underwear and working whenever you want, is really appealing, but I’d just procrastinate (yes, that says procrastinate).

However, there are times when a busy office is a distraction even to me. If I need to concentrate for an extended period, or focus in on something from start to finish, losing my train of thought can have a big impact. It can take ages to get back to where I was. Whether it’s a question from a colleague that I need to properly consider before answering, or a conversation that I just can’t ignore, like why Back To The Future is clearly the best film ever made, there are times when a busy office works against me.

But I still couldn’t work from home in this situation. I’m not actually wanting silence. In fact, I definitely don’t want silence. No noise at all distracts me more. I still need something going on around me, I just need it not to directly involve me. I need distractions that don’t distract me.

I usually find the optimum working condition in coffee shops, preferably reasonably busy coffee shops with lots going on. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes coffee shops so ideal. I don’t think it’s (just) because I’m a wannabe hipster. I don’t even think it’s because of the fact that I love coffee and cake (I don’t always have cake).

I couldn’t work just anywhere with stuff going on around me, like McDonald's, or the reception of a Travelodge. Maybe it’s the fact that a coffee shop naturally has a relaxing feel. In years gone by I’ve enjoyed sitting and doodling in coffee shops; I feel like I’ve had a lot of my best ideas in this setting. Is that why I find it easier to work there now? Or does that setting just naturally lend itself to me working better?

I don’t seem to be alone in my opinion (which is rare) that coffee shops are a great place to get some serious work done, as lots of people do it. Yes, these people are more often than not creative types who look more like they’re trying to show off their new MacBook than do any real work, but there’s got to be something in it.

It would be lovely if the reason for this was that a coffee shop is simply a super inspiring and comforting place. Sitting there surrounded by a cross section of society who are going about their business, catching up with friends, having meetings, reading, or just relaxing, is such a stimulating experience that you can’t help but do your best work. And perhaps that is the reason.

But there’s one thing that everyone in this situation has in common, and I suspect it could be the reason: We’re wide awake, we’re focused, nothing can distract us, we’re buzzing, ideas are being formed faster than they ever would in the office, because…we’ve just had a bloody strong coffee.

Sam Walsh is creative director at SteadyGo.

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