Let’s set the scene: you’re off to run some morning errands and decide to stop into your favorite coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up or a bagel for the road. Whether this is a one-off occurrence or if you’re a regular, you’ve certainly come across at least a few people a day who are tucked away in a corner, diligently pattering away at their laptops.
Or maybe you’re one of them.
There’s been a huge surge in the amount of people who take to their local coffee shop to “get some work done” on their personal or professional to-do list.
While it’s become something of a trend, the tendency to congregate in coffee shops can be traced back hundreds of years. Take Lloyd’s of London, which first opened in 1688 to quickly become a place of trade and networking for shipowners, insurance brokers, and merchants.
Whether you work from home, occasionally work outside of the office, are “funemployed,” or just really love hanging out and drinking coffee, you won’t find yourself alone.
More People Are Working Remotely
The surge in coffee shop workers can be partially attributed to a growing number of remote workers. According to Gallup, 43% of employed Americans in 2016 said they spent at least some of their time working remotely – and more employers are embracing the shift.
Gallup notes that since 2012, a rise in remote work has been observed in several industries, including transportation, finance, insurance and real estate, computer and information systems, and retail.
Image credit: NYT
What this translates to is more freedom from the office, balanced with a need to stay focused while making sure their day doesn’t get too boring. Cue the coffee shop.
What’s Everyone Working on?
Andrew Parr and Tristan de Montebello wrote an interesting (and even a little inspiring) piece on Medium called “What are people working on in coffee shops?” You might be able to guess what it was about.
They went into a Venice, California coffee shop at around noon on a Tuesday and asked everyone what they were up to that day. They then shared some of their favorite answers along with some interesting stats from their survey/experiment.
Some people think that most coffee shop workers are writers. Funny enough, while there were a lot of writers present, more than one-third of the participants in their survey disclaimed – without any prompting – that they weren’t.
Image credit: Medium
Some of my favorite curveball answers included:
- I’m a student who also started a non-profit to get grants for acrobatic gymnasts who need money for training. I’m currently helping my friend with his bio.
- I’m messaging friends. I work in tech, and I basically never work in coffee shops.
- We are doing social media work for a travel agency we own in Canada.
- I created a company that manufactures and sells TV remotes for the elderlies. I’m currently expanding into Australia and working with a fulfillment center to get everything properly set up.
- I’m a musician and I’m currently invoicing for royalties.
- I manufacture green building materials. I’m responding to emails and chillin’ out. (I hope they’re using SaneBox for those emails.)
The diversity of these answers just goes to show that if it can be done online, there’s probably someone doing it in a coffee shop.
The Psychology Behind the Trend
What is it about a coffee shop that’s so appealing? There’s a fair amount of research to back up some of the top theories. One theory says that low ambient noise like white noise or the murmuring in a coffee shop can impact cognitive flexibility, or the ability to use diverse thinking to solve problems and learn concepts. There’s even a thesis that refers to this phenomenon as “the coffee shop effect.”
Another study shows that a moderate level of noise can improve creativity, but a high level of noise impairs it. These findings are mirrored by the number of headphones that seem to magically increase during the morning or afternoon rush.
It might sound counterintuitive, but a bit of noise might actually help you focus better. There’s a reason that sites and apps like Coffitivity exist for those who can’t make it out of their cubicle. Instead, you can stream recordings from different types of cafes and lounges around the world to fit your mood for the day. (I’m leaving Coffitivity open as I write this article… for research.)
Even outside of the science behind noise, you’ll hear a lot of different reasons for why someone might feel more productive and comfortable in this environment:
- Getting a mental recharge from a fresh change of scenery
- Escaping from their monotonous routine at home or in the office
- Holding meetings and interviews, so they don’t have to have them at home
- Tapping into the lively energy of the café’s hustle and bustle
- The ability to network and make friends during work breaks
- Motivation to actually wear pants on a Monday
Tips and Considerations for Doing It Right
If you’ve never tried or have only dabbled in the thought of working in cafés, take a look at some things to consider:
Bring noise-canceling headphones if you like the idea of working outside of your home or office, but you’re easily distracted by too much noise. You can also try and avoid the rush hours – shoot for around 1 to 4 p.m. This also helps with finding a good spot and having decent internet speed, since you don’t have to share with 50 strangers.
That said, don’t save your most internet-heavy tasks for when you get to the shop, unless you’ve been before and can vouch that the connection is fast and the shop doesn’t impose too many limitations like a 30-minute time limit. Buzzkill.
Proper etiquette says that you should buy something, like a snack or – gasp! – a coffee. After all, you’re taking up their customer space. To offset the costs, try limiting your visits to once or twice a week and skipping out on the swanky downtown hipster café with $9 cold brews.
Never skimp on data security best practices when using public wifi. Use a firewall and disable sharing on your laptop, including AirDrop if you have a Mac. Make sure your software is up-to-date, including your anti-virus program(s). Use a VPN like Encrypt.me, which can prevent your data from being stolen in case there’s a hacker on the network. Save your banking and other highly-sensitive data tasks for when you’re back home.
Sip, Type, and Conquer
There’s a growing trend of getting some work done in coffee shops, and it’s partially fueled by a steadily increasing number of remote workers. It’s also fueled by the world’s crippling caffeine addiction, but that’s another story for another time.
Coffee shop workers are enjoying benefits like enhanced creativity, a fresh change of pace from their sterile home or company office, and the ability to socialize and network with like-minded peers and potential partners.
Whether you’re working from home or you’ve managed to escape the office for a day, check out what all the craze is about at your favorite coffee shop. You might be surprised by how a little bit of distraction can turn into a lot of focus.