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How Coffee—And Cafés—Improve Productivity At Work

01/12/2016 9:08 AM IST | Updated 15/12/2016 1:59 PM IST

Disclaimer: I have not been hired by any coffee brand to extol the virtues of the beverage or of cafés—I'm only writing about what I observe and experience!

It's so true that a lot can truly be achieved over coffee. But why? That's the question I want to explore today. So many people have told me how coffee is an integral part of their lives; some go into proper raptures over the stuff. Others say they can give up anything, but not their coffee. And it's not just the beverage itself; some folks get their kick out of being in a coffee shop and they do their best work there. In the middle of a tough day, what do people do to recover their mojo? Yup, a coffee break.

Research done by Tad T Bruyne of Tufts University has found caffeine consumption to have a positive impact on cognition.

Here I have looked to scientific research to find answers to coffee-related behaviour and how things get achieved around it.

That morning tonic

Many people cannot begin their day without a shot of coffee. They are addicted to that morning jolt to the system. So, what makes coffee such a potent drink? This is actually a physiological phenomenon wherein a shot of coffee makes the person more alert and less tired or drowsy. The caffeine travels to the brain and stops the production of receptors for the chemical adenosine that makes us feel drowsy. Caffeine also stimulates the production of adrenaline and gets one charged up and ready to jump headlong into the day. So now you know why you need that caffeine kick in the morning.

Coffee breaks to stimulate teams

Your team members have been neck deep in work and they feel saturated, their ideas have run out. So, what do they do? They take a coffee break. Once they are back, it seems that they have replenished their energy and drive. Why so?

Research done by Tad T Bruyne of Tufts University has found caffeine consumption to have a positive impact on cognition. It improves vigilance, mental alertness and gives a feeling of arousal. And of course, there's the adrenaline factor I mentioned earlier as well—it affects our bodies by increasing heartbeat, increasing blood pressure and releasing sugar for extra energy. Caffeine acts as a stimulant. So the next time your team members want a coffee-break, go ahead and grant it. They may come back rejuvenated.

Why are some people more productive in coffee shops?

Those who work from home often report that when they feel unproductive they head over to a café to improve their performance. In fact, I too have experienced this: I was struggling with completing an important presentation for two days and finally decided to try my friend's suggestion of working on it in a café. Surprise, surprise, the presentation that I was struggling with at home got done in a mere two hours.

Why does this happen? Psychology is at play here. According to a recent study, mental effort is contagious—which means that when you are with people who are working hard you tend to increase your own efforts. This probably happens because the subtle cues that one receives on posture or breathing from those around us. It sure makes sense to me. Many of us studied best for our exams when we were in a library rather than at home.

Note, however, that the coffee shop effect happens when the venue is one where people tend to congregate for work. If it's full of people socialising, you might just get distracted.

Why organisations are adopting "coffee-shop culture"

In the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, coffee shops in the UK were hotbeds for innovation and great new ideas. They brought in eminent people, inspired great ideas and made Britain the envy of the world. These coffee shops were thronged by intellectuals, merchants, scientists, playwrights and professionals. They were hubs of collaboration and cross-pollination of new ideas. The first shares were traded in a coffee house, the first marine insurance was sold in a coffee shop which later morphed into Lloyds of London, physicians used coffee houses as consulting rooms etc. As a matter of fact Newton even dissected a dolphin in a coffee shop!

Many global companies such as Google and Mars Drinks are creating coffee-shop-like workplaces that facilitate inspiring conversations, collaborations and innovations.

In today's world we have multiple coffee chains and cafes that provide a great ambience to socialise, interact and collaborate. This is the dynamic that some organisations want to tap into at the workplace. They are creating stimulating workspaces with the comfort and relaxing vibe of a coffee shop but which also have ergonomic and technological standards of a world-class office for comfortable working. The workplace becomes like a magnet wherein employees like spending a lot of time, the smell of coffee and cookies enhancing their experience of work. The aim is to have a warm and cosy environment where people can work and collaborate in a relaxed manner. Many global companies such as Google and Mars Drinks are creating coffee-shop-like workplaces that facilitate inspiring conversations, collaborations and innovations.

A place to open up

As a boss next time you have to talk to your subordinates or team members on a pesky issue, take them to a coffee-shop. When you have a conversation in a coffee-shop you are in a non-threatening, informal and friendly environment. Employees find it easy to open up as they now don't find their boss speaking from his usual pedestal. In a coffee shop all are sitting at the same level and no one is dominant. In such a context the employees find it safe to share what bothers them. In an office setting there is a bit of rigidity and a boss may unintentionally dominate the conversation out of habit. Also what happens is that with a cup of coffee to sip, the boss has no choice but to keep his mouth shut and listen to others!

So, the next time you want to have a conversation with your colleague or a subordinate wherein you want him or her to open up. Just tell them, come on let's have a chat over coffee at the local café.

Do you have any more ideas around coffee? Do share with me!

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