If you spend your working days sitting at a desk in a sterile, stressful office, there can be something quite appealing about the thought of working from a café. The freshly-brewed coffee smell, the hum of music and chatter, the fact that you can buy a slice of carrot cake whenever you want: it all sounds pretty dreamy.
But there is, of course, a potential flipside. Would you actually get anything done – or would you just end up getting distracted?
A new study suggests that in fact, a noisy café may actually be a more productive place to work than a busy office – because the background hum of other people’s idle conversation is much less distracting than conversation between colleagues.
Japanese researchers asked volunteers to carry out a simple task on a computer, while two different sounds were played in the background: first meaningless noise, then clear conversations.
They discovered that important, work-related discussions were far more distracting than overheard snatches of chit-chat between strangers, the Telegraph reports.
“Surrounding conversations often disturb the business operations conducted in open offices,” said Dr Takahiro Tamesue of Japan’s Yamaguchi University. “Because it is difficult to soundproof an open office, a way to mask meaningful speech with some other sound would be of great benefit for achieving a comfortable sound environment.”
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During the experiment, participants’ brains were monitored to see whether they were able to ignore the noise in the background or were inadvertently trying to process it.
It was found that noises including music and meaningful discussions had a stronger effect on levels of “subjective annoyance” than meaningless noises and trivial conversation – and also led to a greater decline in performance on tasks.
“The experiments suggest that when designing sound environments in spaces used for cognitive tasks – such as the workplace or schools – it is appropriate to consider not only the sound level, but also meaningfulness of the noise that is likely to be present,” said Dr Tamesue.
But if you work in a hectic office and can’t quite see your boss letting you slope off to the nearest Caffe Nero anytime soon, don’t despair: there are ways of bringing coffee shop vibe to your cubicle.
Desktop coffee shop essentials
Cafedirect Machu Picchu Fair Trade Ground Coffee, £3.50, Tesco
Mimira mug, £12, Anthropologie
Barista & Co. 3 Cup Cafetiere Plunge Pot, £29.95, Trouva