Friday, November 5, 2010

Coffeeshop Design and Workshifting

I've noticed recently when spending extended periods of time at coffee shops doing work of various kinds the difficulties of staying focused with all of the acoustical distractions.

I avoid going to certain coffee shops because of their poor acoustics and lack of variety of casual seating options.  Usually there is a scattering of tables and loose chairs and coffeetables, easy chairs but there isn't much variation in regards to openness versus privacy, lively versus quiet spaces.  I find making calls very frustrating  with the barista machines sucking and whirring, people chatting and registers ringing.  Usually the floor, walls and ceilings have extremely hard, durable and cooling looking surfaces.  Then there's the sound systems pumping the sounds of the week echoing through the space.  Great for keeping the shop clean, maintaining a crisp appearance but not so great from an acoustics standpoint.  Does this sound familiar to you?  Can you hear me?   Didn't think so. What were you saying again?

I know coffee shops are retail establishments and its important to move customers through quickly, thus the ever present design balance of providing visually comfortable yet not so really comfortable seating areas.  What if these environments were designed more appropriately for work shifting teleworkers?  What would a coffee shop like this look like?  Immediately what comes to mind is a broader mix of seating options with small tables, booths with distinct separation from each other.  Maybe acoustical wall panels on walls, carpet square floor coverings near seating and maybe more variation in the ceiling plane, possibly lowered ceilings over booths with higher ceilings by the high counter.

Then you might ask are coffee shops really meant to be workplaces?  I guess the same thing goes as my wife says, with Libraries.  Do you drink coffee in libraries?  Not really. But it's easier to focus on quiet dedicated work there but noisy talking, meeting, collaborating doesn't work at least out in the open reading rooms.  Good libraries have something called team work rooms, project rooms and so called phone booths for teaming and super focused work.  There's something to learn from all of these kinds of spaces when thinking about designing your work environment.  It's important to find the right balance of physical space design for the kind of work patterns which best support your team and their work.

I think of Panerra Breads as an interesting hybrid chain where all kinds of spaces are offered like I'm describe above.  I think the variety of spaces offers a great example where there's something for everyone, especially in the coffee shop which doubles as a workplace and vice versa.

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