There’s a name for that holy-crap-I-hate-snow-and-darkness-and-where-is-the-sun syndrome that those of us in colder climates get between the months of January and March, and it’s called seasonal affective disorder (appropriately shortened to SAD.) I don’t know about you, but as a business owner working sometimes from the wee hour of the mornings right back into the other wee hours of the morning, after an 80-100 hour work week, our beautiful new Berkshires office can sometimes seem like a dark abyss. Even the bright mandarin orange and lime green doors on our cabin offices seem to be snickering at me.
A few years ago in our Providence office, we decided to switch up work hours so that our team wouldn’t be spending so much time in the dark and we all mutually agreed we’d alter our 10am-6pm schedule and work from 7am to 3pm to get a little more daylight in. Towards the summer, we readjusted and moved to a basic 9-5. Thank god for the towering windows in our office, or we all might have melted into a pool of seasonal hopelessness disorder (I find that more accurate, although SAD makes more sense.)
This year our editorial team went remote when Patrick and I moved out to the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts (if you’re new here, that’s my husband and co-boss). When we first opened our Providence office a few years ago, we thought it was the best idea ever. Human interaction, yay! But once we went back to being remote (most of the team, anyway), we decided that was now also the new best idea ever. When you’re a writer, being tied to the same location and being constrained to a 9-5 work schedule isn’t exactly a creative juice booster. Our team is overjoyed, as you might imagine.
But whether you run a remote business, or work remotely just part of the time, or even if you have a central office like we do, it’s easy to burn out when you’re working long hours. Even when you love your job, screen time is hard on your body and brain over time. I’m sure there’s a study out there showing entrepreneurs take as much time off their lifespan by overworking as smokers do by smoking cigarettes. Maybe there isn’t, but I bet it’s true.
And especially when you’re working remotely, or alone, you can lose your mind without human interaction if you’re an extrovert (I’m at about 26% going crazy right now, that’s a running average for me and only because we do have an office and human interaction.)
So one thing we’ve implemented is weekly Coffice workdays (that’s coffee-shop office, by the way). I didn’t make the term up, but I like it.
Finding a good coffice location
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the ambient noise in an average coffee shop (70 decibels) actually improved productivity in test subjects by 35% compared to working in a more quiet setting. I’d be a hack to omit the fact that louder coffee shops (85 decibels) made subjects way less productive, but I think we all know our own tolerance for ambient noise. For me, once I’m in the zone, there could be a parade walking by and I wouldn’t notice—just ask Patrick, who spends half of his life trying to get my attention during the work day. (Oops.) Silence totally bugs me, I even have a sound machine, and ambient noise apps. True story.
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And for Patrick, he uses headphones when we’re out in a coffice environment to control his level of ambient noise. What we can both agree on though, is that we get a ton of work done when we’re out. Switching up environments has a therapeutic effect (and I drink decaf, so I can’t credit the caffeine.)
I’d suggest finding a Coffice that isn’t shitshow. You know what I’m talking about. If there’s a coffee shop near you where you’re about 90% sure you won’t find a seat because it’s always packed, that’s probably not a great place to work. Try the quiet coffeeshop / bookstore combo down the street (Montague Bookmill, I love you) or somewhere moderate in traffic.
And go to a place that has ample outlets. However, some of my best work gets done when I sit down with my computer and no power cord. I say, “hey lady, you’ve got until this computer dies to finish x, y, and z. Now GO!” Maybe that works for you, or maybe it only works for me, but try it out!
How working from a coffice can help you cope
According to New Scientist, “We’ve known about the audience effect – that having a small audience improves performance – for close to 100 years. Similarly, it’s also well established that we perform better when we have someone to compete with. A study showing that cyclists go faster when there is a speedy pacemaker was published back in 1898.” They also note a recent study that suggests “mental effort is contagious – simply being around people who are working hard is enough to make us work harder ourselves.”
You could say this all applies to an office environment as well, but office environments can be distracting. We built “quiet cabins” in our Providence office just so people could have a place to go and close the door when there was too much chatter. How is that different from the ambiance of a coffee shop? Who knows. Maybe it’s the jazz music, or the constant sounds of coffee beans grinding and shuffling, and milk being steamed.
Or maybe it’s the change of environment that works. I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. Psychology Today reminds us that “coffee houses played a significant role in the enlightenment period of 17th century Europe, serving as accessible environments for influential thinkers to gather, debate, and learn from each other.” They note that coffee shops are a place of social safety, where you can go out and meet new people and network, or you can work in total anonymity. I’m usually the anonymous type, but Pat likes to eavesdrop and butt in on stranger’s conversations. That’s why I’m the writer, and he’s the biz dev guy.
So I’d love to hear your experience working from a “coffice,” not to be confused with “coffin” which is how an office feels to me deep into the winter months of February. Scroll down to leave a comment below. Where are your favorite spots to work out in the wild? What makes them magical productivity portals? What do you look for in a coffice?