In recent years, coworking - the practice of freelancers and small-business owners working in communal spaces designed for that purpose - has risen precipitously in popularity. A survey of independent workers conducted in 2012 found that several hundred thousand Americans are working in coworking environments at least once per week, and that number seems to be climbing monthly.
It's no wonder coworking spaces are popular: the number of freelancers and independent contractors in the U.S. economy has increased dramatically in the last decade, and the Great Recession and its aftermath have only accelerated that trend. Coworking spaces offer a work alternative that solves the problems of isolation and home-office distractions that have plagued freelancers for as long as freelancing has been an option.
In addition, coworking spaces allow for creative collaboration among freelancers in similar or complementary industries, which can be beneficial to anyone trying to innovate or stand out in a crowded field. But if you or your employees participate in coworking, you should also be aware of the risks that come with this type of work environment.
Risk Management in Coworking Spaces
So what kinds of risks exist in coworking spaces? Read on for details about how your business could be in danger and how you can keep it safe when you're toiling away in one of these trendy activity hubs.
- Data breaches from unprotected WiFi: Public Internet connections are inherently risky for business owners. If you or one of your employees is working with customer data, you need to establish network security protocol to ensure that sensitive information isn't inadvertently leaked. In the event that a data breach or data theft occurs because of the use of public WiFi, your business could be slammed with a costly liability lawsuit - not exactly the best way to ensure steady revenue growth. (Read more about data breach risks in the article "Why Small Firms Are More Vulnerable to Data Breaches.")
- Intellectual property leaks: It may sound like something out of a spy movie to suggest that others in a coworking environment might overhear a conversation with you and a business partner or client and steal your ideas for a killer app - but keep in mind that even inadvertent idea theft is possible when discussing underground projects in public. To prevent unplanned leaks, reserve private rooms for sensitive discussions or have them on days you're not in a coworking environment.
- The cost of hanging out: Every coworking space is different, but most aren't completely free: workers have to either pay for access or buy food and drinks to sustain themselves through a day's work. While these costs usually aren't excessive, they can add up over time. If you choose to work in a coworking environment, make sure the cost isn't canceling out any benefits you get from the collaborative and social environment.
- Theft of equipment: While coworking spaces are perhaps safer environments to leave electronics unattended than your average coffee shop, you still run the risk of having your possessions taken if you leave them. Luckily, you can more or less eliminate this risk by befriending coworking "colleagues," taking your gear with you when you leave your seat, or leaving it behind the counter when you need to step away.
- Overcaffeination: Just kidding. You can't face a risk from a state of being that doesn't exist!
Have you or your employees used a coworking space in the past? Share your experiences or tips in the comments!
Writtten by Brenna Lemieux - check her out at Google+ or Twitter