92 days to fall: The joy of working in coffee shops

On Thursday, right around the time a short line of students, faculty, and the college president were about to process into our campus gym for the 20-something-th commencement of the week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear a mask indoors to protect themselves from COVID-19 (the disease, not the virus). Our college president let out a quiet hooray while looking at her cell phone screen. HOORAY, indeed!

This eases my mind about many things, including our ability to safely return to classrooms in August, as is our current plan. It makes eating out in restaurants again a viable option, and it makes hugging my vaccinated friends and family members not just possible, but absolutely necessary (until further notice).

It wasn’t until about 72 hours following the announcement, though, that I had the epiphany my restless spirit had been longing for since March 2020:

* If fully vaccinated, that is. Terms & conditions apply. See store for details.

I’m charging up my devices and mentally taking note of upcoming projects that are well-suited to coffee shop ambience. (Near the top of the list: Taking all of our research from the spring and assembling our new faculty handbook via libguide, a task sorely overdue for my attention and time.)

I’m thrilled. Actually, thrilled doesn’t quite capture my elation at this return to ‘normal’ (ish). I’m beside myself.

What’s so special about working in a coffee shop?

My husband doesn’t say this out loud every time I wax poetic about time spent working at Starbucks (the closest option), Be Caffeinated (my favorite in Chattanooga), or the just-opened Walnut Hill Coffee Co. down the mountain in Winchester (I haven’t been yet, but hear it’s delightful, and the space is a known-to-be-gorgeous entity)… but he thinks it in his head. What’s the magic of working elsewhere?

As a confirmed homebody who has thoroughly delighted in the pandemic-era guidance to stay close to home, Doug has never quite seen the appeal of working outside the house. And I get that; home has comforts and books/technology handy for those times when you need to grab something to reference, or something you hadn’t realized you were going to want/need during your time working.

But there’s just something about the just-right level of background noise and hustle of a coffee shop that really triggers my ability to get work done. During the pandemic, people have recommended ambient soundtracks from coffee shops (like this one or this one), but it’s just NOT the same.*
* Having said that, the comments on these — with people noting odd conversational moments from these real-life coffee shop recordings — are GOLDEN and hilarious. But definitely not good for trying to, you know, do actual work from home.

It’s not just me who thinks this, though. It’s science.*
* Ok, maybe not rigorous science. But science-ish.

For example, the BBC shares that researchers have found “the stimuli in [coffee shops] makes them effective environments to work; the combination of noise, casual crowds, and visual variety can give us just the right amount of distraction to help us be our sharpest and most creative.” This even has its own Wikipedia page, the Coffeehouse Effect.

No less than The Atlantic has covered this trend; Conor Friedersdorf writes in his 2011 piece, “Working Best at Coffee Shops,” “Over the last decade, I’ve done a fair amount of work in traditional offices, where I am least efficient, various apartments, where I tend to work longer and more productive hours, and a string of coffee shops, the places where I’ve turned out the most usable words per working minute.” That’s not nothing.

This scene from You’ve Got Mail shows Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly enjoying a cup of coffee on the Upper West Side.

For those of us so inclined, it seems we may be on the cusp of a world in which it’s both permissible and not scandalous to take our work to the nearby coffee hang to sip (in the words of Joe Fox, F-O-X) legally addictive stimulants and let our fingers roam across the keyboard in a flurry of creative energy.

Come back soon for more installments of the #100DaysToFall series. In the meantime, thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @liznorell.

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