Why do so many people work in cafes?

White Noise

Have you noticed how many people seem to work or have meetings in cafes? It seems to be growing. I am sure they are not all people who have no formal workplace. I did it myself – and seemed to have greater productivity there. But why?

The workplace evolved
Corporate workplaces have had open plan designs for some time. Looking at recent refurbishments, they seem to still be in vogue. Even some universities and professional services firms have transitioned to these designs. They vary from spaces with work stations in hubs, to long benches of people sitting side by side.

The latter is the preference for “hot-desking” arrangements. Each day, employees choose where they want to sit to work. They take their laptop and other requirements from storage and install themselves at a work desk. At the end of each day, everything is packed away again.

Maintaining your focus
Part of the challenge of these workplaces and the nature of work in offices, is too many demands on your attention. It is not so much the sounds that disturb, as the conversations we get drawn into with others. These distractions impact our productivity.

So how is a cafe better? Apparently a certain level of ambient sound (minus the distractions) is conducive to creative thought (Burkus,2017). Apparently the right amount of background noise ie not too loud,  not total silence, boosts creative thinking ability. The optimal amount of background noise results in our imaginations wandering – yet still able to focus. This is suggested as optimal for working on creative task.

The colour of noise?
This is sometimes referred to as “white noise”. White noise gets its name from “white light”. White light is all colours or frequencies of colour, combined (Green, 2016). That means all the frequencies that a human ear can hear, combined at a similar level. It all blends together rather than hearing all the different tones.

Some suggest white noise blends into a “hissing” sound. One organisation I worked in, moved into new offices with open plan arrangements. They had to introduce white noise to the environment to mask other noise and help people cope with the changed acoustics.

There are other colours of noise too – pink and brown. They vary in their frequencies. Pink noise is a deeper hissing sound – a deeper pitch version of its white counterpart. Brown noise is deeper again, often sounding like rushing water.

Where can you find white noise?
There are a variety of sources of white noise that you can access. They may be on an MP3 file/CD that you can listen to at your desk. Alternatively, there are free online sources or you can purchase a white noise machine (Green, 2017).

Or, you can frequent the local cafe, and get a decent coffee at the same time! What’s your choice?


Burkus, David. 2017. “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office” in Harvard Business Review, 18 October 2017.

Green, Ethan. The Best Sources of White Noise, posted 13 October 2017 on www.nosleeplessnights.com

Green, Ethan. What Is White Noise & What’s All The Fuss About? posted on 2 December 2016 on www.nosleeplessnights.com

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