What can workplace design learn from café culture?


There has been a perceptible shift in what the ideal workspace should be now that we have adapted to different ways of working during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. Whilst have we learnt to value the comforts and (sometimes!) quiet that working from home allows, many have also missed the social environment in the office that fosters idea creation.

For those offices that have a ‘traditional’ office feel (visualise soulless, uniform rows of desks and screens), employees may choose to utilise coffee shops and relaxed spaces outside of the office. You only have to explore the diverse coffee shop offer in London (as some of our team did very recently) to see how popular working in these spaces can be – for the bustle, relaxed feel for meetings, community vibe, and above all, the coffee! Recent data from SAP Concur found that their staff were holding a staggering 10,000 meetings per month in Starbucks [1], which is enough to suggest that coffee shops are doing something right to lure in office workers.

Some of our team explored London’s diverse cafe culture with clients – getting inspired, finding hidden gems and of course, lots of coffee…

Café culture itself has a social history. The first coffee shop was a stall opened by Armenian-born Pasqua Rosee in 1652 near the Royal Exchange, London. It was so popular with the merchants of the city’s commercial centre as a place to meet that he opened a store. By 1663, there were 83 coffeehouses in London that carried on the first store’s culture of places to meet and discuss politics and new ideas – so much so that King Charles II attempted to ban them in 1675 because of the free exchange of thoughts they encouraged. [3]

The coffeehouse community feel and the exchange of ideas and shared experience increased their popularity and growth in the 18th century and beyond. In fact, the attraction of a ‘community, collaborative feel’ is used by coworking spaces that include cafes and communal areas within their spaces. [4]

And so, more than ever, it is essential to reassess how the workplace functions for its employees. What elements of modern café culture can influence workspace design?

Recently turnerbates completed the first Business Lounge concept for international real estate organisation, Vastint, in Riga, Latvia. These spaces form part of the Business Garden office complexes and are a new benefit for its tenants and visitors worldwide. Not only do they encourage tenants to work outside the confines of their office in a more relaxed and flexible way, but turnerbates also designed the spaces with our experience designing restaurants and cafes in mind.

We needed to make this space significantly different from what is a typical office environment. It had to be a lot warmer, a lot more inviting, giving a sense of a crossover with a hospitality type of spaces. We aimed to bring that feel there, making it a place where you want to be, where it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re at work.

Howard BatesDirector, turnerbates Design & Architecture

Much like coffee shops that allow flexible working, the Business Lounges are divided into different areas, including a kitchen area to chat over coffee, breakout zones for relaxed working and project rooms for group brainstorms. In these varied spaces, Business Garden employees can adapt their ways of working to increase their own efficiency, creativity and happiness at work.

If we have learnt anything in the last year or so it is that the ‘traditional office’ is a thing of the past. Looking forward, it is clear that the workplace of the future will have to adapt to its employees needs and wellbeing. Taking inspiration from the collaborative, relaxed and creative feel of café culture, historic or otherwise, may be one way of achieving this.

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Zonal spaces that have different areas for different types of working

Variety of seating (to indicate change in zones)

Biophilic elements (for employee wellbeing)

Employee engagement and wellbeing – company culture encourages use of spaces

Warmer, welcoming feel that is sometimes lacking in office environments
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