In today’s corporate environment, career-minded go getters are chasing productivity and creativity as much as they seek healthy salaries and competitive benefits. The hardest of these to maintain are creativity and productivity, and the surprising solution can be spending time away from coworkers at relatively noisy public places.
That’s where your business comes into play.
One study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that the right amount of ambient noise (between 50 and 70 decibels—the average noise level of a coffee shop) gently disrupted the mental process and helped study participants perform well on a word-association task. Participants performed significantly better with coffee-shop-level noise than they did in silence, or when exposed to noise levels around 80 decibels (the sound of a garbage disposal, for instance), which proved too disruptive for information processing and made it hard to concentrate.
Apparently, the right level of background noise disrupts normal patterns of thinking just enough to allow our imaginations to wander without eliminating the ability to focus. This type of “distracted focus” appears to be the optimal state for working on creative tasks and finding inspiration.
It sounds counterintuitive, but your bustling coffee shop can be less distracting for your customers than working from an office because being surrounded by officemates means being interrupted. A study done at UC Irvine showed that interruptions happen every 11 minutes on average (for every worker!) and that they kill productivity (it takes 25 minutes to get back to the point where they were before being distracted). The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of activity. Unlike working at home, with the ever-present black hole of solitude and procrastination, a coffee shop provides the stimulation of human interaction without having to switch gears and talk about a coworkers new haircut or a report that isn’t due for another two weeks.
Several other studies have shown the impact of frequent workplace interruptions:
- Employees in cubes are interrupted 29 percent more often than people in private offices, the same UC Irvine study found.
- Even after a 2.8-second interruption, subjects in a study doubled their error rates. And their error rates tripled after a 4.5-second distraction according to the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
- Workers who are frequently interrupted reported 9% higher exhaustion rates stated the International Journal of Stress Management.
- The effects of interruptions on workers’ productivity, energy and work satisfaction cost an estimated $588 billion a year in the U.S. in 2005, according to research done by Basex. That number is certainly much higher today given the distractions of social media and overall economic growth.
Even if a person isn’t regularly interrupted at work, a noisy office can be distracting because the conversations going on around them very well might affect them. That’s why they may be able to focus in a noisy coffee shop, but are barely be able to stay on task in a noisy office.
Now that you know just how valuable your buzzing coffee shop can be to the workforce—as the perfect atmosphere for getting important work done—how are you going to harness that power without letting it take over your entire business model?