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Brussels cafes take measures to turn away remote workers

09:02 19/10/2022

Remote workers looking to break the monotony of working out of their home offices or living rooms often turn to cafes for a change of scenery with the added benefits of wifi, coffee and perhaps a tasty pastry.

But amid soaring energy prices, cafe owners are looking at these customers and their permanently-plugged-in devices differently.

“We're going to block access to the wifi for some of the computers present – this is the only way we can reduce the number of computer users,” one cafe owner told RTBF.

“We're not doing this out of spite, not at all, we want to keep our customers. But if we don't act, we sometimes don't have a table available for other customers who come to eat at our place at lunchtime.”

Indeed, at this particular popular Saint-Gilles cafe, patrons who come for a bite on their lunch break will often find that all tables are taken, and many by remote workers who camp there all day long.

“[Lunch] is the most profitable time for an establishment like ours,” the cafe owner said. “And a lot of workers on their computers don't eat here. They don't eat much.”

Remote workers who work out of cafes can sometimes sit at a table for hours on end, accessing the establishment’s toilet facilities and using its electricity to power their devices while not purchasing very much.

This results in increases in water and energy bills that are not compensated for by purchases made, according to some cafes.

In addition to cutting off wifi, another measure being deployed by some cafes is increasing the volume of the music played.

“It's true that we like loud music,” one owner explained. “It annoys people a bit, but it's part of the plan.”

The idea is that a place with loud music is unappealing for those looking to work remotely or participate in meetings and make work-related phone calls.

Other measures include lowering the temperature in the cafe and blocking access to power outlets.

Cafe owners expect that the number of remote workers will only increase during the winter months, as people look to lower their own energy bills by working elsewhere.

In other words, remote working will only become more expensive. One in three Belgians has already decided to change their work-from-home habits in response to increased energy costs, according to a survey from coworking-space company Silversquare.

Half of survey participants said they plan to go to their corporate office more often, while three out of five remote workers would use a coworking space and would like their employers to help facilitate that solution.

A third (32%) of Belgians already work remotely at least one day a week, according to recent data from FPS Mobility, a figure four times higher than in 2018.

But now that energy costs have shot through the roof, many teleworkers are looking to adjust their habits: almost half of those in Brussels (44%) plan to, and 23% and 31% respectively for Flanders and Wallonia.

Of the Belgians who aim to change their working habits, 51% plan to return to the office more often, so as not to have to heat their homes.

Similarly, 61% of those surveyed would choose coworking as an alternative if it were offered to them by their employer, and 62% would even demand that it be paid for by their employer.

Written by Helen Lyons