Role of Technology

The offices and floor plans of many businesses around the world have evolved drastically from the cold, impersonal designs of the past. Long rows of cubicles spanning the length of a large office floor are becoming less and less frequent as they give way to offices that are open and more inviting. Coworking spaces are at the forefront of using innovative design and technology solutions to boost both profitability and productivity. In this guide we'll cover the technology tools that coworking spaces need to operate smoothly and remain relevant to members.

Technology Tools Needed

A common misconception of coworking spaces is that they're only for startups and entrepreneurs in the tech industry; however, that's not the case. People in many sectors, from blue collar workers to artists, designers and stay-at-home parents are driven to coworking spaces for one reason or another. A large part of this is because of the superior technology and services that coworking spaces offer, which can't be found in traditional offices or at home. Technology has become a catalyst for coworking businesses—that's why it's imperative to have the right tech tools onsite to effectively manage your coworking space.

But where to start? Getting a frame of reference among the endless lists of apps and tools available can be daunting. And the lists of tools that target coworking spaces specifically are getting longer and longer. That's why we've broken down the basic technology that all coworking businesses should start with, along with our top recommendations. The essential tech stack for a coworking space comes down to four categories:

  1. Coworking Space Management Software
  2. Access Control
  3. High-Speed Internet and WiFi
  4. Visitor Management System

We'll delve into each category in greater detail throughout the guide, but first, it's crucial to note that how you choose the tools for your space often matter more than the tools themselves. Choosing the wrong software is usually a result of having unclear goals or not enough insight into the pain points of your space that the technology should address. This can be detrimental in the long run, not to mention expensive.  

Coworking Space Tech

The rise of coworking spaces around the globe has led to sweeping changes in the infrastructure of many buildings and offices. Coworking spaces are characterized by an advanced IT-infrastructure, one that can provide fast, safe, and reliable internet, tools and software that automate processes and eliminate the friction between co-workers that are usually found in normal offices. Starting from the ground up, these are some of the challenges managers must think about when planning to run a coworking space. It's also critical to have a good understanding of various kinds of coworking space tech to pinpoint how they can help differentiate your coworking space from your competitors. One of the ways to do this is to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. This category of tech was created to make buildings and businesses smarter and streamline processes that were either manual or very tedious in the past. Embracing tools from this subset of technology can be a catalyst for your coworking space.

Cost-Efficient Technology

As a coworking space stakeholder, you might be wary of how expensive all this new technology can be. Fortunately, there are ways for coworking space managers to use reliable technology while keeping overhead costs to a minimum. A great way to minimize costs (or at least streamline them) is to focus on technology that integrates many of the tools your space needs to operate. Ideally, this technology provider will be able to overlap all the different layers of technology that are needed to run a coworking space. If so, they can create packages of software and hardware that will be cost effective for you in the long run as opposed to outsourcing your tech needs to multiple companies.

If you plan on managing multiple coworking spaces, then it's equally important to make sure your singular technology provider provides a scalable approach and one that can be mirrored in your other locations.

Despite the intimidating lists of specs and features found on technology review sites, building your coworking tech stack doesn't have to be a scary thing. Doing just a little research ahead of time, focusing on the necessities, and being open-minded will maximize the potential of your growing coworking business.

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Management Software

This article is written by Coworking expert, Jana Greer. Jana's experience as a Community Coordinator and Technical Support Lead for the coworking Franchise Venture X has led her to start Colliding Clouds. She consults with coworking spaces at all stages of growth and development, to help them with operations, software, and support.

Coworking management software has evolved tremendously over the past seven years. As more options become available, it becomes increasingly difficult to select the right one for your space. In my experience operating a space and working as a consultant, there are are four key points to pay attention to when you make your selection:

1. Find Out How Long the Software Has Been Around

As newer and seemingly better software platforms emerge, the opportunity to hop on to all the latest developments can be very alluring. However, newer platforms also bring along challenges of their own as they continue to improve, fix bugs and and develop their systems over time. Time-tested software often bring the best rewards and value to your space.

2. Evaluate User Reviews

After doing years of software research, the best way to learn about different software fast is to either search online for reviews or gather feedback from space managers and users. Functionality is often best known from coworking space members and managers who interact with the product daily. Space operators who already have feedback from the rest of the space are good people to approach to find out more about a product too.

3. Ensure Scalability of Your Software

You want to be able to use the same software for your location as the number of members in your space increases. One oversight coworking operators commonly have is that they do not consider the scalability of their software. When one location becomes two and more, you want your software to be flexible enough, allowing fluidity between members traveling from one location to the other. For example, you would want the same access control system to be used throughout all locations so one manager can control all of it at once.

4. A Good Dashboard Overview

A solid member login page is a critical part to a space management platform. This portion of the software should not be overlooked. A member log in should be a place where your members can see their invoice history, book conference rooms, see upcoming events, add additional available products, and even connect with other members through a chat board or directory. The more concise and functional, the better. Always try a free trial or request for a demo before you commit to a service.

Recommendations

While this list is a great place to start, there is more to choosing your space management software. In today’s market, you can easily find one platform that integrates with your door access, manages Wi-Fi connections, handles conference room bookings, auto-billing, newsletters, and your CRM. Narrowing it down to the right one suited to your needs, however, takes time, research, and a good knowledge of software operations.

To help facilitate this process, we recommend comparing the features of several platforms before you decide.

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Securing the Space

Coworking spaces need airtight security systems in order to monetize specific areas. They ensure quick and seamless access, as well as smooth operations for all members. One tool that enables this agility is the most recent security technology, keyless access control, which allows members and clients to enter the space with no hassle and secures coworking spaces in a way that gives both managers and members more freedom. Here is a short breakdown of how access control is a prime solution for tracking and monitoring members as they move throughout a coworking space.

Common Access Control Methods for Coworking Spaces

Keyless access control became possible because of magnetic stripe cards, smart cards, proximity reader cards, key fobs, Wiegand cards… and, of course, smartphones. Confused? Here's a simple explanation:

A key card is an alternative to the traditional metal key and will open an electronically-powered door if you swipe it (swipe reader), tap the card on it (proximity reader), or insert it (insert reader).

Magnetic stripe cards are checked by the reader of the magnetic stripe, providing access once it gets verified and accepted; however, these cards are not very secure because they can be easily broken or duplicated.  

Smart cards possess a microchip, which is difficult to duplicate, so they provide a higher level of security than the magnetic stripe cards. Such cards do not require contact with the reader and are popular among laptop owners and office staff.  

Proximity cards are also contact-less due to a wireless antenna embedded in the plastic. They’re as safe as smart cards.

Wiegand cards provide the identification information of each staff member in the wires embedded in the plastic; however these cards don't offer the most secure option since they can easily be hacked.

Key fobs look more like plastic keys rather than cards, but they also allow keyless locking and unlocking of coworking spaces.

Moreover, members can use their mobile phones to gain access, using biometric data, to keep security at the same high level.

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How Does Mobile Access Control Work?

A smartphone can support keyless access control with the correct system in place. Members of coworking spaces can unlock the building using a mobile app that ensures cloud-based control of all doors and entrances. In most cases, whether the unlock occurs within an app or through a highly-secure connection via Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication) technology, it offers the most modern facility security. Certain access control companies can integrate member management software for coworking spaces, like Optix, Croissant, or Nexudus. There are many reasons space owners use access control to manage their facility, for example coworking owners can use their cloud-based access control system to ensure that members are current and don't have outstanding payments, they can deny access to outstanding members, reduce staffing, like a receptionist, at the door, integrate access control with their visitor management system, and monetize different areas of their facility—like conference rooms. Access control systems also lessen the burden on community managers—allowing them to grant remote access to the facility from anywhere in the world, create multiple admins to monitor the space, issue instantaneous guest passes for visitors and check real-time reports on a dashboard.

Why Keyless Access Control is Essential

Freelancers working from home often voice the concern that members of coworking spaces enter and exit the building quite often; however, implementing mobile technology for keyless access control ensures much higher security than a traditional metal key or simple smart card. It’s more convenient — the only thing members need is a smartphone, fob, or whatever uniform access card the manager chooses for the space. No more lost keys or cards for management to replace. Second, owners can save time and costs related to the production of the cards and key fobs; therefore, switching to mobile access control will help to reduce plastic waste and the time and energy of the staff can be devoted to community engagement.

Cloud-based access control is also easily integrated with other security solutions. Say you want to take security even farther than just locking doors. Some of the leading access control systems integrate with security cameras and smart alarms to create a truly intelligent monitoring system that can be controlled from anywhere in the world. This flexibility eliminates the need for a 24/7 onsite IT person, which can cut costs in the long run. As mentioned before, these kinds of integrations not only allow a space to scale to multiple locations without a disruptive overhaul, they also allow for extra protection.

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Internet and WiFi

Coworking spaces need reliable, secure and fast WiFi for members to work at their best. One of the main things that coworking professionals look for is top-tier connectivity. WiFi for business is as important as utility power, heating/cooling and running water for modern businesses. High-speed internet (not just run-of-the-mill service) is considered a must-have in the industry. High-speed internet helps your bottom line because your customers will have a good reason to renew their memberships and give you good reviews.

1. Subscription-Based WiFi

Many owners or managers of coworking spaces find it hard to determine the optimal WiFi capacity. As your coworking community grows, so should your bandwidth. However, the problem is that traditional contracts for business WiFi solutions offer static bandwidth for one to three years.

You need a flexible WiFi contract that matches your flexible business model in which a new member may be onboarded to the network and their internet access controlled for the exact amount of time that they need it, from an hour to weeks to years. For that reason, your coworking space should go for subscription-based internet contracts that match your contracts with coworking members.

2. Investing in a Future-Proof Network

Buying and installing a coworking WiFi network from scratch is risky because the equipment may soon become obsolete. If you're new to operating a coworking space, buying and setting up a complete WiFi system can be a costly, complex undertaking. Buying WiFi for a 10,000 square foot coworking space with more than 200 members isn’t as easy as buying and setting up WiFi for a small office or home. Coworking spaces need multiple access points, controllers, switches and firewalls.

You need to be knowledgeable about the right equipment to buy a future-proof solution. Once they become familiar with the real cost of setting up a complete WiFi system from scratch, many coworking space operators realize that they are better off subscribing to WiFi as a service because it’s cost-efficient and requires minimal maintenance.

3. Round-the-Clock Support and Network Monitoring

If your space is like many other coworking spaces, you may not have enough capital to hire a dedicated in-house team of experts to run your WiFi for business. The good news is that you can still access 24/7 support by subscribing to an established enterprise WiFi service. In addition to support, you can get 24-hour network monitoring and regular updates on your network health.

4. Scheduled Network Refreshes

Professionals sign up for a membership at your coworking space because they believe it’ll be easier to work from there while connecting with the professional community. They no longer have to worry about the hassles that come with managing their own office or the distractions of working from home. These include permits, furniture, insurance and connectivity, among others.

Coworking space owners stand to benefit from using that same approach when it comes to business WiFi solutions. Identify an internet service provider with an enterprise WiFi solution that makes it easier to operate your coworking space. One of the perks you should expect from a good enterprise WiFi service includes scheduled network hardware refreshes.

When coworking space operators plan for their WiFi capacity, many overlook community growth and updates to the operating systems of mobile devices. Failure to address these two issues can lead to your wireless networking infrastructure quickly becoming obsolete. Subscribing to a coworking space WiFi solution, that offers scheduled hardware refreshes, ensures that you keep up with your members’ needs.

The Bottom Line

Besides high upfront costs and marketing, setting up high-speed WiFi is one of the challenges that coworking spaces have to navigate. The owners and managers of these shared workspaces need to put a lot of thought into the WiFi solution they buy because it has a huge direct effect on the experience of community members.

Make sure your coworking space thrives by setting up an enterprise WiFi service that is scalable and future-proof. Give preference to internet service providers that offer 24-hour support and scheduled network hardware refreshes so that your network operates at its peak.

Visitor Management

Visitor management ensures that when a member or new client comes in, they experience the coworking space in a smooth, welcoming way, with little to no friction in navigating where to go or how to find people. In the past, companies typically used log books and a full-time receptionist to keep track of their visitors. Today, many spaces opt for advanced visitor management systems to eliminate the need for a full-time receptionist and dedicate more resources to empowering a community or operations manager, whose positions generally involve less mundane work.

What is a Visitor Management System?

Modern visitor management systems provide complex, secure solutions that allow creating customized badges, pre-register visitors, set their user permissions, take photos, automatically notify employees of visitors, and much more. With a visitor management system you can build a positive image for your brand, ensure additional security and automate processes that would otherwise be time-consuming. Such systems prevent worker interruption, especially in offices with no permanent receptionists available, enhancing overall productivity.

Industry Leading Visitor Management Systems

Let’s take a look at the top software on the market now and what it offers:

Envoy has proven to be a reliable paperless solution for managing clients. Its chief advantages include easiness of use and setup, and many useful features including pre-registration, badge printing, e-mail notifications, unlimited number of guests, document signing and more customized options with a premium account.

Another top company is Proxyclick, chosen by big companies such as Audi, Airbnb, Acer, and PepsiCo. This software streamlines visitor management by allowing guests to check in, sign an NDA agreement and take a picture by themselves. This thoughtful app is available in 8 languages so you don't have to worry about foreign visitors having problems. With Proxyclick, there’s a free option with 44 features available. Similar to Envoy, the software is iPad compatible, however, there is no Android version available.

SwipedOn is yet another trusted visitor management software that allows quick and efficient check-ins as well as accurate guest-tracking services. Apart from its useful features such as badge printing, customization and instant notifications, the software is easy to set up and is more affordable compared to its competition. However, some clients have given feedback that there are not enough templates for badges that can help categorize contractors and visitors separately. It is also not compatible with Android systems.

Why Coworking Spaces Need It

No matter the size of the space and number of visitors, these tools can streamline operations and enhance security with minimum costs and installation efforts. Most times, the hardware for a visitor management system consists of a set of iPads and stands, pre-installed with the required software. It allows the space to track visitors in real-time, differentiate between clients, delivery men, contractors, and check visitor history if required. These systems can also integrate with broader coworking management software and access control systems, allowing operators to build a cohesive tech ecosystem for members.

So if you value time, safety and security, streamline your company's visitor management to make your daily operations simpler.

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Other Tools and Apps

While the above categories are the ones we deem essential, there are many categories not covered in this guide. There are hundreds and even thousands of lists containing apps and tools that can help businesses in general, but coworking spaces in particular can always benefit from dedicated tools that help members streamline their work day. We emphasize these tools last because they can oftentimes be included as integrations or add-ons to more specialized coworking software as mentioned above. Here are categories of software that, while they may not be "essential" to get your space up and running, they may come in handy down the road when the business gains some stability.

  • Accounting: This is often included with a coworking management software on some level, but depending on the size of your memberships and whether you have a large amount of services to manage, you may need a dedicated accounting software that will help manage memberships, staff payments, business fees and taxes, and organize reports.
  • Billing/Payment: A dedicated billing service will be useful in organizing the fees or expenses that come up in the business partnerships that you create, particularly with vendors that you let into the space. Billing software is essential for any business, but again, this may be included in your existing coworking software.
  • Communication: Communication platforms can be useful in connecting members to each other and making a real professional network out of your community. In-house communications apps aren't always included in coworking software, or they may be available for an extra fee. Either way, you should research how a messaging app will impact the coworking space and whether there is a white label option to brand the app according to your unique coworking style.
  • Email Marketing & Sales: Marketing platforms can boost your space when you're ready to expand, particularly with mass emailing features and the ability to gather large amounts of data and insights from your existing contacts. Selling memberships could become a lot easier with a dedicated marketing tool like Hubspot or Pipedrive.
  • Website Builder: Every business needs a website, and if you don't have the budget to hire a full-time web designer, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives (Squarespace, Wix, Wordpress) that can help you build a beautiful and simple website without a professional programmer. Keep in mind that as your business scales and as you add services, these hosting sites can outgrow their usefulness.
  • Video Surveillance: Everyone wants their space to feel open and welcoming, however you may want to employ more extensive measures to properly secure your space. There are many camera brands that can provide unobtrusive, inexpensive cameras that can integrate with access control platforms. While this is usually an added expense, they can be used to draw even more insights on how your space is used.
  • Smart Thermostat: Smart thermostats do for your facility what cloud-based access control does for your doors—it lets you seamlessly control the space on a mobile dashboard, either remotely or onsite, and best understand how the space is used.

Check here for more info on these additional tools.

Many software tools in the above categories have free or discounted trials that you can test in your coworking space before fully committing. This is extremely important since the basis of your tech stack will likely take up most of your budget in the beginning. Before paying for any of these tools, it's worth it to consult with the software platforms that you already have. They may have a more efficient solution available or an upgrade in services that will solve the particular problem you want to address.

In the end, it all comes down to knowing your business and prioritizing the pain points of your unique space. Pay attention to your community and what your members need from their coworking experience. Conducting research and getting regular feedback from members will inform the smaller additions you make to the essential coworking technology in place.