Over the past decade, the co-working industry has gone beyond enabling the entrepreneurial spirit. It has made the logistics of operating a small business possible along with all trappings of a full-fledged organization. For the price of a small piece of real estate, co-working members receive familiar office environment standards such as conference rooms, telecom systems, and wi-fi service. Other pluses include post millennial perks like gourmet coffee, snacks, and in some cases even adult beverages served in common areas for company events. As a result, the space-as-a-service industry has exploded and now accounts for approximately 18,000 worldwide co-working spaces according to global real estate consultants, Knight Frank, an increase of up to 8,000% since the early part of the 2010s.
With all those attractive extras, you’d think there’d be nothing missing to keep any startup fully operational; however, since companies headquartered out of co-working spaces tend to be entrepreneurial in size and function, IT support for a handful of employees has historically been a DIY proposition.
It doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, more co-working companies keen on maintaining the current growth trajectory are upping the ante by extending in-house IT support to their members. Of course, it helps to have a Managed IT Services Provider already on site or at least one familiar with the building, layout, telco room or data closet routers, switches, firewalls, Wi-Fi access points, and internet service provider. It also helps when that MSP understands the unique aspects of a shared space IT environment and can make recommendations that fit that space and how it’s being used.
First Things First
Before opening a new office, MSPs need to architect the network to have the ability to scale. Successful co-working environments see rapid growth and along with that comes rapid bandwidth utilization. Ensuring that the network is designed to be able to scale up to higher capacity is vital to the business objectives of the co-working platform.
Next, having a functioning internet is kind of a thing. Putting it mildly, co-working without the internet is like Starbucks without coffee. If it’s unavailable, why would customers even bother showing up? So it’s crucial for the MSP to have redundant networks in place and ensure the internet is up and running at all times. Designing a network with multiple internet connections enables near perfect uptime via different points of ingress/egress, with separate points of failure.
Understanding The Open Co-Working IT Environment
As any IT professional supporting a co-working IT environment will tell you, an extremely high percentage of ongoing support tickets are driven by the BYOD policy common in the community. Since shared spaces don’t have control of the devices being connected to the network, there is no standard for managing those systems. “It’s a lot like going to a local Starbucks except you have a slightly better security back end,” says Shawn Sumner, TechNoir’s Director of Client Operations, continuing the theme. “The only standardization is the network, but the devices themselves are potluck. So end users introduce consumer grade equipment to an enterprise network without fully understanding why they experience connectivity issues. That’s where we come in.”
Though IT needs tend to be fairly similar to those of a corporate environment, wireless network security in a co-working environment by nature has to be more flexible than in a hardened environment, because there are no standards for connectivity and devices have varying authentication methods. The network also needs to be more scalable to prioritize certain types of traffic to ensure people are getting the best experience whether they’re conducting extensive web-based research or using a business application. Either way, co-working MSPs have to be a little more proactive with the network antivirus and security because you never know who’s going to introduce an unknown device and all its inherent risks to the network. Co-working networks walk the fine line between being open and being a secure corporate environment.
In addition to network security risks, many co-working IT environments experience network performance issues related to bandwidth usage. When networks aren’t fully locked down with adequate firewall settings, end users may take unauthorized advantage of the wi-fi services with peer-to-peer file sharing such as torrents. To mitigate this vulnerability, co-working managers need to consider a solution such as Meraki that sets device policy and guards against unauthorized activities. Another solution is SonicWall Bandwidth Management (BWM) which offers an integrated traffic shaping mechanism that can be configured to block peer to peer sharing. Without such tools in place to regulate against bandwidth hogs, network performance suffers, and co-working members become vocal about the noticeable crimp in their productivity. So in, addition to designing and implementing the appropriate firewall solution, how end user activities are monitored and managed going forward is an equally worthy part of the discussion.
To summarize, the top 5 common ongoing support issues more prevalent within a co-working IT environment include the following:
- BYOD device incompatibility with all services running on the network
- Network performance (i.e. bandwidth usage) issues due to an open network environment
- Network security (i.e. virus risks) due to an open network environment
- Wireless and wired network connectivity issues
- BYOD device incompatibility with printers and drivers due to unsupported operating systems
Imagine having an MSP that understands all of these issues at your desktop in a matter of minutes. While access and connectivity issues can easily be resolved with remote instruction from the co-working space’s help desk team, being able to shoulder tap a favorite tech, laptop in hand, or have them quickly dispatched on site provides an additional level of reassurance that phone support can’t as adequately convey. So now when co-working community and sales managers give a tour of available office space to potential members, they can throw in end user help desk support along with the free coffee and wi-fi. With an IT services team behind them and ready to help, co-working community startups and small businesses really can have all of the trappings of their corporate counterparts, minus the overhead.