Coworking Spaces & IT: What you should be asking

In recent years, the concept of co-working spaces has expanded and communal working environments have become increasingly popular amongst workers and businesses alike. As an IT services provider, we have seen this trend first-hand and helped many businesses relocate.

Evidently, for small or medium sized business there are numerous advantages to be gained from moving your business into such a location.

Generally, the ‘pros’ include greater networking opportunities, the introduction to support networks of similar sized businesses, decreased operating expenses, and in most situations, the provision of a range of basic infrastructure services. Services such as internet access, shared printers, and perhaps even a space to store your current server or NAS device containing all your data.

It’s sounding pretty good so far, yeah?

Yes, but there are some important things that you need to confirm before signing on the dotted line and leasing your brand new hot desk, permanent desk, or managed and/or furnished office.

In our experience, business owners are too quickly wrapped up in the excitement of fancy new office spaces, the generally great cultures they promote, and of course the cost savings. So much so that they forget to ask some very important questions that can have real implications for their business.

In most cases, when you have your own building, small office, or home office, you own and manage its infrastructure. That means that your data is going across YOUR network, and not someone else’s! That generally, you are not letting people that you don’t know connect into your network! That the people inside your business have devices that you know are protected by antivirus applications, and that their devices are secure.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case when it comes to co-working spaces.

So, to help you choose a new shared or co-working office while still ensuring the protection of your business, here are a few things to be mindful of when considering that fancy new communal space.

 

When they tell you:

“We provide you with unlimited internet access!”

You should be asking:

  • First and foremost, what speed do I get? They may be telling you that they have a Wizz Bang 10GB fibre connection to the building, but what actual speeds will you receive? Ask them to show you the speeds by visiting net.
  • Is that Wi-Fi, ethernet cable, or both?
  • Why does that matter? Because some Wi-Fi networks have limitations on the number of concurrent users they can support, and as such, your internet speeds can be slowed as more people join you in that brilliant shared office space. A well-structured Wi-Fi network should be able to support all the users in the office, without impacting on end user speeds.
  • Will I have individual user logins? All users should be given individual logins (username & password), and not simply receive a password to a generic “Guest” or “Building A” Wi-Fi network SSID that every man and his dog uses.
  • Can I see anyone else’s device on the network that I am on? The answer must be ‘No!’. If you have a PC, a quick way of checking is to open a command prompt window and typing in (ARP -A), and if you see a list as long as your arm, then you should probably keep looking.
  • If I get an ethernet port to connect into as part of my contract or agreement, is the network setup just for me on a private virtual LAN network? If you have both Wi-Fi and Ethernet ports as part of your package they should be on a network that is dedicated to you and not shared with anyone else.

Ok, so it might sound like you should be requesting your own hardware when you move in… Let us clarify, that is not the case! Core IT networking infrastructure is now, and has for a long time, been able to set up multiple (if not hundreds) of virtual networks on a single piece of hardware. A thorough and well-designed installation of this hardware in such an office should be a given.

 

Then, they tell you:

“You also get access to the fancy $150k multifunction printer, scanner, fax machine, that makes you breakfast in the morning including coffee just the way you like it.”

You should be asking:

  • What are the costs associated with using it? Do I get a monthly allowance? Is it per page? How much per page? Is there a difference between B/W and Colour print costs?
  • How do they track the printing for on-charging? Do I get a card? A code to key-in every time I wish to print?
  • How many printers do you have? What happens if someone wants to print the “Harry Potter Series” just as I’m running late for a meeting and need to URGENTLY get my proposal printed?
  • More importantly, can I access the fancy printer from my private network, or do I need to connect to the shared “Guest Network” to be able to print. (We have seen this happen before, if you want to use the fancy printer you need to disconnect from your secured network, and then connect to the shared Wi-Fi network to be able to print. This is a BIG NO-NO for the privacy and the security of your information and devices.)

 

Saving the best till last, they drop this one on you: 

“Friday night drinks includes an unlimited supply of beer on tap!”

Awesome, right? Why wouldn’t you sign-up right then and there?

Wellllll, what they forgot to mention is that;

  • They store the kegs for Friday night drinks in the same room that has two large server racks in it.
  • These two server racks are the ones that they offer you to keep your server or NAS safely in.
  • That the room does not have proper cooling (not even a vent on the door for a room that is 2.5m x 4m).
  • That the server racks are not locked, and that the door to the room is not access controlled.
  • That anyone that moves into the shared office is able to put their hardware in there themselves without supervision, ultimately giving them access every piece of hardware in that room.
  • That they have two power points, connected to multiple power boards, to connect to all the equipment in the server racks.

But hey, they have a fun culture and unlimited beer on a Friday night…

Now, you might think that we are taking the piss here. Unfortunately, we have seen this sort of thing happen.

Co-working and shared-working spaces are fantastic innovations, with plenty of positives to offer businesses big and small. But please, beware of getting caught up in all the hype! Instead, make sure that you take the necessary steps to keep your business and your data safe.