Over the past decade, laptop squatters have become a common sight. With the rise of remote work, freelancing and digital nomadism, more people are working outside traditional office spaces.

Coffee shops and cafes, with their cosy atmosphere and free Wi-Fi, have become popular alternative workspaces.

Laptop squatters often include:

  • Freelancers: Writers, designers, developers and other freelancers looking for a change of scenery.
  • Remote workers: Employees who aren’t tied to a traditional office.
  • Students: Studying for exams or working on assignments.
  • Travellers: Digital nomads who work while exploring the world.

The impact on businesses

At first glance, laptop squatters might seem like a win-win for cafes. They bring in steady business and create a lively atmosphere. But the reality is a bit more complicated.

Pros:

  • Consistent patronage: Squatters can ensure a steady flow of customers, especially during off-peak hours.
  • Free advertising: Seeing people working in a cafe can make it look inviting and trendy.

Cons:

  • Table turnover: Squatters occupy tables for long periods, reducing turnover and potentially driving away other customers.
  • Resource strain: They can consume a lot of resources, like Wi-Fi bandwidth, electricity and toilet facilities, without contributing much to the bottom line.
  • Noise and disruption: Some customers find the presence of long-term squatters disruptive, especially if they hold meetings or make phone calls.

The business response

Businesses have had to get creative in managing the laptop squatter phenomenon. Here are some common strategies:

Time limits: Some cafes have implemented time limits for how long customers can stay, particularly during peak hours. They only allow customers to stay for two hours before they must make another purchase or leave.

Wi-Fi policies: Many cafes have introduced Wi-Fi policies, such as providing a password that changes every hour or offering free Wi-Fi only with a purchase. Some have even gone so far as to ban Wi-Fi altogether during busy times.

Dedicated workspaces: To cater to both laptop squatters and regular customers, some cafes have created designated workspaces. These areas often have more power outlets and stronger Wi-Fi signals, while the main seating area remains reserved for short-term customers.

Co-working partnerships: In a unique twist, some cafes have partnered with co-working spaces. Customers can enjoy a few hours of free or discounted access to the co-working space with a purchase from the cafe.

Banned laptops: To solve the problem completely, a few cafes around the UK have banned laptops from their coffee shops.

The future of laptop squatting

As remote work continues to grow, the laptop squatter phenomenon isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. The pandemic has accelerated the shift toward flexible work arrangements and many people have discovered they enjoy working outside the traditional office environment.

Businesses are becoming more savvy about managing this trend. The goal is to find a balance that works for both laptop squatters and other customers. This might mean more hybrid spaces that combine the best elements of cafes and co-working environments.

Tips for responsible laptop squatting

If you’re a laptop squatter, here are some tips to ensure you’re a welcome guest:

Buy something regularly: Don’t just buy a small coffee and stay for hours. Make regular purchases to support the business.

Be mindful of peak times: Avoid squatting during busy periods when the cafe needs turnover to accommodate more customers.

Clean up after yourself: Keep your workspace tidy and be considerate of others.

Use headphones: If you need to take calls or watch videos, use headphones to avoid disturbing other customers.

Follow the rules: Respect any time limits or Wi-Fi policies the business has.

Conclusion

Laptop squatters are a reflection of our changing work culture. While they bring both benefits and challenges, the key is balance. By understanding the needs of both businesses and laptop squatters, we can create spaces that work for everyone. Next time you set up your laptop in a cafe, remember to be considerate and support the local business. After all, a good work environment benefits everyone.

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