Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Integrating Technology in Co-working Spaces: Benefits and Challenges

Coworking spaces offer unrivaled levels of flexibility and freedom for employees transitioning to in-person and hybrid workplaces after years of remote work. Their many benefits include 24/7 access, amenities such as kitchens and exercise facilities, and custom furniture tailored to employees’ physical needs.  

However, the social nature of these spaces creates many privacy, security and workflow challenges. Recent advancements in data encryption, access control and smart technology help solve these problems, creating safer and more productive environments for coworkers.

With so many departments and organisations working in the same building, large amounts of data are handled over the networks of coworking spaces.  Much of this includes sensitive information, such as banking and medical records. 

Without secure encryption, this data can be accessed and leaked by hackers. The legal consequences of data breaches can be disastrous for businesses.

In recent surveys, 31 percent of employees claimed that cybercriminals targeted their companies despite continuous improvements in cybersecurity.  

Fortunately, coworking spaces can incorporate various encryption tools, including WPA3, virtual private and local area networks and personal passwords, to protect users’  confidential information.  

More organisations in 2024 are predicted to implement new preventative cybersecurity measures to detect risk, such as network monitors and smart technology systems.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

While WPA3 encryption and a secure password offer a single layer of protection against cyberattacks, they leave vulnerabilities easily exploited by hackers.  

Even personal mobile hotspots contain vulnerabilities, which mobile data providers use for marketing purposes. Nearby rogue cell towers disguised as private mobile networks may also collect users’ personal information through metadata and the content of calls and texts.

For true privacy, coworkers should use Virtual Private Networks to change their IP addresses, encrypting their virtual location and hiding their identities from hackers. This prevents data breaches and minimises the damage when they occur. 

VPNs also protect laptops and office computers from malware and ransomware attacks while hiding employees’ personal details from others using the WiFi. 

Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs)      

Many coworking spaces are segmenting their networks with VLANs to provide workers with more flexibility, since they allow users to move between rooms without losing connectivity.  

VLAN segmentation also increases security as operators can group devices and servers within a single network based on user credentials and in turn restrict users’ access to specific parts of the network. This ensures that only authorised employees can access confidential information. 

You can also install different antivirus software and firewalls on each network segment to minimise the damage when a data breach occurs, as only the data on one segment will be compromised.  

By reducing unnecessary traffic from each network segment, a VLAN will also improve your network performance and eliminate the need for most network upgrades, saving your organisation money over time. 

Network Activity Monitors

Network Activity Monitors also provide an additional layer of protection and assurance. These tools monitor traffic, detecting anomalies and patterns in network usage and allowing administrators to spot and investigate potential cyberthreats as they occur. This also enables them to notice vulnerabilities early and prevent data breaches.

Network monitors include reporting tools  which allow operators to track equipment performance, such as the availability and response speed of routers, as well as analyse inbound and outbound traffic.  These include dashboards, alerts and troubleshooting guides when network issues occur.

Access Control

Coworking spaces are increasingly replacing traditional access control measures, including physical and keycard locks with recent advancements in wireless technology. Up to 67 percent of organisations planned to install modern access control systems in 2023 which utilise mobile credentials and biometric data. A further percent indicated a desire to streamline their access control administration at the end of 2022.

While Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) locks and keycards are cheap and easy to use, they can cause some inconvenience and security risks. Firstly, RFID locks detect keycards from their magnetic strips, which fade over time from repeated use and eventually need replacing.

When the cards are lost, outsiders may find and use them to enter the premises and access sensitive information, compromising coworkers’ privacy and safety.

Modern access control systems solve these problems by giving members more individualised credentials to access spaces which are harder to spoof.  They also record people entering and leaving the premises, allowing operators to monitor and manage access remotely. This eliminates the need for operators to always be onsite and enables them to investigate any unauthorised entries. 

These systems also provide analytics about who is using the space and when, including the credentials of everyone entering and leaving at a given time, which can inform any adjustments you make to suit your employees’ needs. This also helps administrators investigate theft and recover stolen items

Electronic door locks  also avoid the drawbacks of physical and RFID locks as they provide employees one-time access codes to enter the space, which can be equipped with lockout mechanisms, such as locking after repeated incorrect codes or for a set period between each attempt. 

As they are wireless, they also save businesses time and money by eliminating the need to install wiring.  However, a skilled hacker can easily crack them by shimming or eventually guessing the correct combination.

More businesses are utilizing smartphone credentials as an access control tool for increased security. Employees in some spaces can now open doors with their smartphones using apps, QR-code scanners, and proximity technology such as Bluetooth and Near-Field Communication.

Access based on mobile credentials, such as email links and passwords, also allows coworkers to enter specific rooms by entering this information on their phones. User credentials and access rights are typically stored in a cloud, allowing administrators to grant or deny access as needed. 

 Since smartphones are rarely lost and most users protect them with passcodes, this approach reduces any risk of unauthorized entry. However, cybercriminals can hack and access personal information from phones, especially if their software is outdated. Coworkers are also less likely to use VPNs on their smartphones, making them easier targets for hackers

Internet of Things (IoT)

Advancements in smart technology are transforming coworking spaces. More businesses are taking advantage of IoT in 2024 to provide flexible and personalised working conditions for their employees and manage resources efficiently. 

This includes a focus on environmentally sustainable practices such as reducing carbon footprints and energy efficient lighting.

Two popular uses of IoT involve the regulation of lighting in an area using motion sensors and coordination with local weather to regulate room temperatures.

IoT monitoring systems work by detecting changes in the environment with motion sensors and responding with automated actions, such as turning lights on as people enter a room and off when the space is empty.  They can also be programmed to open and close windows and curtains in response to changes in temperature and brightness, maintaining a comfortable and well-lit workspace for your workers.

These systems also include smart meters and alerts which warn operators of high energy usage and blown bulbs.  This can help operators significantly reduce their energy consumption and electric bills, saving money and helping the environment.

Clean air is also essential to coworkers’ health, comfort and productivity. IoT air monitoring systems can maintain air quality by measuring its temperature, humidity and concentrations of oxygen, carbon dioxide and  any VOCs inside your space.

When certain levels are reached, the IoT sensors automatically open windows, activate air conditioning units for ventilation and send you smartphone notifications.

This creates happier employees, who consistently breathe in clear air and work at a comfortable temperature. It also protects coworkers using communal kitchens and in cities with greater air pollution. 

Collaborative Tools

Many studies show that the relaxed, social atmosphere of coworking spaces encourages effective collaboration and team building. Project management tools which reflect this atmosphere and support effective communication are becoming especially important for coworkers in shared spaces

According to recent research, 67 percent of employees believe collaboration tools are essential for productivity, while 85 percent are more likely to feel happier when using them.  

However, It is important to choose one which suits your business size and needs. In a recent survey, 59 percent of coworkers complained that their organisation’s collaborative tools do not reflect their team’s preferred work style and 64 percent believe that their features do not align with the organisation’s processes.  

Here are two examples of project management tools designed for different types of businesses and projects.

If you are running an SME or start-up business, Trello is an affordable and efficient project management software to help organise your team’s workflows and support employee collaboration.

Trello allows coworkers to record various tasks, and relevant information such as data, resources and comments in a shared Kanban board.

These project lists appear on the interface as cards and can be allocated due dates and marked as completed, to-do and in progress. Email integration allows employees to make comments on these cards which are forwarded to their colleagues’ emails. 

However, Trello lacks many important features for larger organisations and workflows. Adding too many projects to a board can also result in a cluttered appearance, reflecting the platform’s suitability for general task management only. It also lacks the communication features of other apps, including chat functions and video conferencing integration.

In contrast, Miro is a multipurpose collaboration software with various integrated apps and features, with plans tailored to both small and large businesses. Coworkers can use mind maps, flowcharts and timelines as well as Kanban boards to manage complex projects. 

Integrated video conferencing platforms including Zoom and Slack can be used to record meetings for remote and hybrid workers, while coworkers can communicate using discussion boards and private messages with Webex and Microsoft Teams. This allows coworkers to record meetings and communicate in various modes, making it a great choice for teams who cannot all meet in person.

You can integrate numerous technological advancements in your coworking space to improve your employees’ wellbeing and productivity, and ultimately your business’s success.  These will become critical in 2024 as more spaces utilise them for a competitive advantage.

Data encryption tools, access control and intelligent monitoring systems can alleviate your employees’ privacy and security concerns, while providing them with a healthy and comfortable work environment. 

A task management software which suits your employees’ and business’s needs will also foster effective collaboration between coworkers, potentially leading to innovative solutions.

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Tim Ward

Tim Ward

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