How to WFCS (Work from Coffee Shop)

Olivia O'Neill image
Olivia O'Neill
March 30, 2023

Working at ChatterBlast has a lot of perks. Perhaps one of my favorite, though, is its flexible remote schedule. 

Even in a sort-of-maybe-depends-who-you-ask post-pandemic Philadelphia, I work from home at least 95% of the time. Part of that is due to distance: I’ve moved out of my parents’ house and am further from the office. But even when I was more local, my nearby Starbucks was my saving grace when it came to getting shit done.

Adapting new work routines is common in order to spike productivity throughout the day, and I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. In 2015, the “Coffee Shop Effect” was coined, giving name to the common occurrence when output actually increases for people out of the office, away from a desk, and in none other than an aromatic coffee shop. 

I know, sounds a little counterintuitive, right? Work should be for work, not sipping $7 cappuccinos and eavesdropping on the table next to me.  

But whether it be at my parents’ house or my own new apartment, I found myself hitting a slump again and again, always after spending 2-3 days working from home. Soon enough, I’d start scrolling TikTok for too long, searching for snacks, or online shopping (not that I ever do any of those things while working, of course)—all due to staying in one place. 

Sure, there are caveats with working at a coffee shop as well. Being on the client side of things here at ChatterBlast, there are times when 50% of my day or more is just Zoom meetings, which is a huge coffee shop no-no. Take that with a shop that has slow AF WiFi and… you’re screwed.

That’s why you can trust me, though. I’ve been coffee shop-hopping for two years now. I’ve seen the worst of the worst and the best of the best. I am THE expert, so if you’re wary of the Coffee Shop Effect but aiming to boost your creativity at work, here’s what you need to look for: 

Good WiFi 

There’s nothing worse than getting comfortable somewhere only to realize the WiFi might as well be dial-up. If I have a day with some leeway in my schedule and I want to try a hot new java spot, I give the WiFi a 10 minute test run. (Pro tip: this includes holding a fake Zoom call with myself to see if it can withhold the beast that is video conferencing.) If it fails, I walk over to my tried-and-true haunt, The Hive. 

Strong Coffee

Never, and I mean never, try out a shop for working if you haven’t tasted their coffee first. (I do it sometimes when I’m feeling bold, but again, I’m the expert here.) The absolute worst thing you can do to yourself in this situation is end up with a weak or burnt cup of coffee. If I don’t feel that caffeine boost nudging up my energy, that shop is getting slapped on the “Do Not Return” list quick. 

Natural Light 

As already mentioned, my current favorite coffee shop is The Hive in Hoboken. It’s on a corner, and basically all windows on one side of the building. No matter where you’re sitting, you’re getting natural light on you, which according to a recent study at Cornell, can make a huge difference in productivity: “workers exposed to natural light experienced an 84 percent drop in issues such as headaches, eyestrain, and blurred vision. Because those symptoms can lead to increased fatigue, workers exposed to less natural light were more susceptible to other health issues.”

So, you heard it here first, folks. Working at that beautiful corner coffee shop with the doors swung open is actually better for your health. Think of it as a way to work outside without risking your laptop overheating in the sun!

People Watching

This might be a hot take, but I do like when a coffee shop is buzzing and has other people working/socializing around me. It helps me feel productive seeing other randos also being productive (or at least giving the illusion that they are). “How’s this different from an office environment then, Oliva?” you might be asking. In this case, I’d say the office is more distracting. When my coworkers are around, I want to chit-chat with them, not focus on work. At the coffee shop, we’re all in our own zone, but not feeling like a hermit huddled up in our home offices. 

But buyer beware: don’t find yourself somewhere that’s too hoppin’. The Hive, for example, has a play area for kids, something that’s typically a huge red flag. I’d rather not have a child randomly staring at me, but in some ways it actually encourages me to chug through my to-do list because at the end of the day, I wanna gtfo out of there. 

So at the end of the day, yeah, distractions abound no matter where you are. But going to a coffee shop allows me to try new vanilla lattes (three shots, oat milk—yes, they all taste different), get out of the house, and work in new spaces that inspire creativity and productivity. Now let’s see if I can write-off those lattes on my taxes…