Coworking spaces offer remote workers a comfortable and productive atmosphere, but they may be unsafe. A recent survey from Clutch showed that 23% of coworking employees said they face safety and security issues in their workspace.
A coworking space is an area where employees from various companies can come to work independently. In exchange for a monthly fee, people can have a place to work instead of going to a traditional office. They offer the convenience of working from home without distractions.
Tools like videoconferencing and cloud computing have led to an increase in remote workers. Many of these employees use coworking spaces, and the numbers are only increasing. While only 21,000 workers worldwide used coworking spaces in 2010, the figure has exceeded 2 million today.
With so many people using these spaces, the fact that nearly a quarter of them feel unsafe is alarming. When you look at the structure of coworking spaces, it becomes clear why they may pose security risks too.
Coworking Security Risks
The most obvious downside to coworking spaces is that they're public. In a traditional office, you don't have to worry much about people seeing or hearing your work because everyone works for the same company. The same is not true of coworking spaces, where most of the people in the building are strangers.
If someone were to leave their laptop or notebook unattended, nothing is stopping someone else from peeking at it. Similarly, people can listen in on others' phone calls. If anyone's working with sensitive or proprietary information, it could be at risk of leaking.
Within a coworking space, people often share office equipment like printers and scanners. With multiple workers from different companies all using the same printer, it's easy for people to mix up or lose physical documents. The comfort of the work environment could lead people to be complacent about how they use these machines.
Perhaps the most severe issue facing employees' data in coworking spaces is the use of public wifi. Nearly 40% of public wifi hotspots in the U.S. are not encrypted, and your average worker may not understand the risks that come with that. Anybody in the area could easily hack into workers' devices and obtain sensitive data.
Unlike in an office, workers in coworking spaces don't have quick access to an IT department. Most of these employees probably don't know how to monitor their data security or what to do if something goes wrong. They may not realize there was a data breach until it's too late.
Security Measures for Coworking Employees
Thankfully, there are multiple steps workers can take to secure their data in coworking spaces. With the right training and tools, coworking employees won't have to worry about cybersecurity threats in their workspaces.
If companies have workers using coworking spaces, they could provide them with cybersecurity tools. If remote employees had access to better security, such as AI or deep learning security systems, they could operate with the same safety as an office.
Even simple software solutions such as VPNs would vastly improve security within coworking spaces. Only 17% of internet users in North America use a VPN despite 95% of Americans being concerned about their data. If companies provided VPNs or encouraged their workers to use them, coworking employees would be more protected.
Requiring two-factor authentication to access a company's network would also make coworking workers more secure. This simple step both protects users' identity when logging in and the data that they're accessing. Password protection like this is prevalent in office spaces, so it should apply to remote workers as well.
Coworking spaces can be an asset to remote or independent workers, but only as long as they take steps towards security. The same cybersecurity strategies that businesses use to secure their offices can help these employees.
Kayla Matthews journalist & writer