What’s wrong with meeting in a cafe?

I love coffee. After  years living in Melbourne I have an appreciation for the sights and aroma of cafes and used to love nothing more than pretending I was a digital nomad and working from a cafe.  However, as we continue to navigate the pandemic and adjust to new work environments, I have come to realise that a quiet, distraction-free space is crucial for my productivity.  I am not alone in appreciating a quiet and familiar space for work. Why then do we conduct interviews and meetings in high sensory environments like cafes?

Many people, particularly those who are neurodivergent, struggle in high sensory environments like cafes, which can lead to poor interview or meeting performance and impact career outcomes.

For neurodivergent individuals, high sensory environments can be overwhelming and distressing. Sensory processing issues are a common characteristic of many neurodivergent conditions, including autism and ADHD. These individuals may have heightened sensitivity to sounds, lights, and other sensory stimuli that most people find tolerable. In a busy cafe, the constant chatter, clinking of glasses, and music can be overwhelming and cause sensory overload, leading to anxiety and difficulty concentrating. I have found this to be true for myself having struggled for years in ‘off site’ meetings that are intended to create a more relaxed atmosphere and break up the day. 

This sensory overload can have a significant impact on performance. In an interview or meeting, where it is essential to be able to concentrate, process information quickly, and communicate effectively. However, for someone who is struggling to process sensory input, these tasks become much more challenging. They may struggle to focus on the interviewer’s questions or to articulate their thoughts clearly, leading to a poor performance.

In addition to the sensory challenges, environments like cafes can also be socially overwhelming for neurodivergent individuals. Many people who are neurodivergent struggle with social interaction, particularly in unfamiliar situations. In a cafe setting, there are often numerous distractions and interruptions that can make it difficult to maintain focus on the interviewer or to pick up on social cues. This can lead to a breakdown in communication and further exacerbate the individual’s anxiety and stress.

All of these factors can lead to poor interview or meeting performance and, ultimately, unfavourable employment outcomes for neurodivergent individuals. The inability to perform well in an interview can limit their opportunities for employment and make it difficult to advance in their careers.

To address this issue, it is advisable to create inclusive interview and meeting environments that consider the sensory needs of all individuals. This could include offering quiet, distraction-free spaces for interviews or providing headphones or other sensory aids to help manage sensory input. It is also essential to recognise the power dynamic at play and work to create a more level playing field. This could include providing opportunities for individuals to ask questions and assert themselves or allowing them to bring a support person or advocate to the interview or meeting.

High sensory environments like cafes can be challenging for neurodivergent individuals and can lead to poor interview performance and employment outcomes. 

By creating inclusive interview and meeting environments that consider the sensory needs of all individuals and work to level the playing field, we can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace for all.

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