Customers are fed up of workers taking video calls in coffee shops

Resentment is brewing as customers complain about poor remote worker etiquette in coffee shops.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

As today’s employees take advantage of flexible working perks, many have begun working remotely in their favourite coffee shop. But while freelancers and office workers enjoy loud, latte-fuelled meetings, a new survey shows customers think they’re taking the mocha.

According to a YouGov poll of 5,195 Brits, just 8% of respondents think that video calls, such as meetings held over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, are acceptable behaviour when working in a café. Among over 65s, the figure falls to just 3%.

Video conferencing has changed the rules when it comes to meeting etiquette. Now, those conversations have moved beyond the office walls, as manager catch-ups and public presentations make coffee shops go cold to hot desking.

Coffee shop etiquette

Remote workers have become a regular customer in coffee shops since post-COVID, as people take advantage of having a free workspace for the day for the low cost of a cup of coffee. But, as the YouGov poll shows, some enjoy it more than others.

38% of people surveyed by YouGov said they thought video calls were entirely unacceptable in UK coffee shops, with older generations most likely to disagree with the practice. 

48% of respondents said loud video calls were acceptable if the remote worker is using headphones, suggesting that noisy coworkers are getting office employees in trouble.

Londoners were least likely to see a problem with the issue of loud video calls. Just 24% of respondents based in the capital said it is unacceptable. This could be due to the many free workspaces in London, which have made public calls a common occurrence for café-goers.

Coffee shop bans laptops

YouGov’s findings come off the back of a series of PR crises for remote workers in coffee shops. Last week, the Canterbury-based café Fringe and Ginge announced it was banning laptops after workers reportedly began telling other customers to be quiet for their meetings.

Many restaurants and coffee shops are struggling to stay afloat thanks to staff shortages and crippling minimum wage rises

The majority of hospitality businesses told Startups they are unable to raise pay as a result of the cost pressure. In this context, the idea that firms would actively remove paying customers might surprise other small business owners.

However, Fringe and Ginge owner Alfie Edwards revealed that, while the decision had been tough, it was ultimately necessary to avoid souring more valuable customer relationships

“We had some really bad experiences with people, asking us to turn music off so they could do Zoom meetings,” he told the MailOnline.

Other cafés have described the downsides of the office worker invasion. Many stay for an entire workday and pay for just one cup of coffee. They’ll also plug in laptops and mobile phones, adding to the café’s electricity bills.

Most concerningly, Edwards adds, the focused atmosphere of a library was killing his shop’s buzz. ‘[After the ban] it’s just so nice to have people who were previously strangers that now chat regularly” he said. “We just realised we wanted to take hospitality back.”

Where can I work?

Of course, most remote workers are not hoping to bankrupt their local joint. They just want a calm, relaxing environment to complete their work in, away from distractions like loud neighbours, flatmates, or children.

Many are also freelancers or sole traders who can’t yet afford to lease their first office space. The loud meetings they are conducting might be annoying — but they could also be leading to a big career break or startup breakthrough.

Coworking spaces can service that in-between period of business growth. Providers also offer casual lounges with free tea and coffee, meaning employees can replicate the grind of a coffee shop, without annoying fellow customers.

We’ve listed the best cheap coworking spaces for remote workers and sole traders below. And if you’re still not convinced, one final piece of advice: invest in a solid pair of earphones.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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