It’s not just about the Coffee.


The BBC recently published a piece on its website to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Ridley Scott’s movie Alien and what it could tell us about office life. One of the interesting points raised in the piece was how the depiction of the workplace conditions on board the spaceship Nostromo did away with the gloss and swish of previous visions of the future, replaced by grime, exposed services and strictly utilitarian interiors. The environment was one of the characters, a trick Ridley Scott later repeated in Bladerunner.

Alien, it is often said, is a Freudian film about sex and reproduction and the fears that come with them. But it’s also about the camaraderie and irritation that come with being stuck in a confined space with your fellow staff members. It’s about the pecking order, the salary disputes, the grumblings about canteen food, the remarks about who is sitting in whose favourite chair. And it’s about the coffee – always the coffee.

It’s an interesting observation because it illustrates how important such issues are for the way people perceive their working lives and the cultures of the places in which they work.

Ask office workers what they look for in an ideal working environment and three items that will be close to the top of the list will be comfort, good coffee and reliable WiFi. What the best working environments offer to deliver this trinity is a combination of work, interaction and relaxation that makes the space both more attractive and productive. It’s a conduit for many of the most desirable objectives for the organisations, including personal wellbeing, recruitment and retention, serendipity, the development of relationships and the exchange of information.

In fact, the more general research into such issues backs up the idea that what most people want from their working environment is pretty straightforward. They want daylight, fresh air, rest, hygiene, flexibility, control, comfort, heat, socialisation and coffee. These might be basic needs, mostly free at the point of delivery, but it often takes a sophisticated approach to the culture, design and management of a workplace to offer them to people.

We have looked at the issues surrounding the creation of new café culture in the workplace, its benefits and the way it might be delivered. In particular, it will consider how, just as work has colonised coffee shops and other public spaces, so too has the coffee shop influenced the form and function of the workplace. Find out more in our Workcafé series.


Mark Barrell – Boss Design 2019