The co-working space revolution is booming – and employees are loving it, according to a recent report by JLL1. But as companies clamour to emulate this success, it’s important not to lose sight of the importance of health and safety in co-working facilities.
Positive impacts on employee engagement and productivity
The JLL report found that more than 60% of employees find access to external co-working spaces has a positive, or a very positive impact on their engagement and productivity. With 34% of employees using a ‘third space’ such as a co-working space at least one a month, this is a powerful statistic.
Another report by Accenture2 highlights the value of open innovation to business performance. How can open innovation work? Co-working of course!
Collaborative workplaces are often beautifully designed to enhance and encourage communal working. Nevertheless, health and safety in co-working spaces remains a business critical consideration.
What is a ‘co-working space’?
Co-working spaces give entrepreneurs, start-ups and freelancers access to modern, flexible office space, without needing to make an expensive or long-term commitment. They work alongside likeminded professionals in fully serviced offices, where they become a ‘member’ and have access to shared facilities such as kitchens, coffee bars and meeting rooms.
Many corporate organisations also utilise co-working space to support their own flexible working initiatives, in order to:
Embrace collaborative working
Encourage open innovation
Streamline and manage real estate costs
Attract and recruit top talent.
Companies are even using their own office space to open co-working spaces with access for external members.
Here are some of the things you should look at in terms of health and safety in co-working spaces, if your organisation is considering setting-up a new environment.
Carry out a risk assessment to identify significant hazards (i.e. what might cause harm) and evaluate if the steps you are currently taking are enough to reasonably prevent harm to members. It should identify any aspects of the co-working space that could lead to an accident or ill health, determine what is being done to prevent this, and decide whether further action is needed.
The standard approach to risk assessment includes 5 steps:
Identify the hazards, i.e. the things that may cause harm
Decide who might be harmed, and how
Evaluate the risks (what are you currently doing, and do you need to do more?)
Record the risk assessment
Review the risk assessment and update it periodically or when things change.
While the process of carrying out a risk assessment should be straightforward, the person carrying it out has to be competent to identify hazards, and know about the relevant legislation for health and safety in co-working spaces.
Fire and first aid
Fire is a significant hazard in most working environments, so you need to carry out a fire risk assessment for your co-working spaces. In addition to the approach described above, fire risk assessment should specifically:
Ascertain what may cause a fire to spread
Decide if hazards and fire spread are suitably controlled – or what more is needed to manage fire.
Again, remember that the person carrying out the risk assessment has to be competent.
As for any workspace, you’ll also need to think about how you can help co-working space members if they are ill or become injured at work. There is plenty of guidance available on providing first aid at work, however what can often be forgotten is the ongoing management of first aid. This includes: monitoring first aider requalification; checking first aid supplies; the first aid request process; and ensuring professional medical help is summoned when needed.
Desks, seating and equipment
One of the benefits of a co-working space is that members can just turn up, laptop in hand and they’re ready to go. Creators will usually provide a wide range of furniture and equipment, including desks and chairs, as part of membership.
Member comfort should be considered, particularly when people are using desks and seating all day. Seating should be adjustable and suitable for computer work, and desks should provide enough space for people to work from.
Having a variety of furniture helps people move about and change posture more regularly, which is a good thing. Siting of equipment should also be thought out: placing scanners and printers next to desks can cause distractions, and poorly sited equipment can clog up walkways and emergency exit routes.
Inclusivity and accessibility
It’s important that disabled people can share in the benefits of the co-working space revolution. When planning a space, accessibility should be a core part of the design agenda, not addressed as an afterthought when a disabled member raises a concern or is unable to access a service.
Getting specialist, competent people involved at the design stage can help avoid pitfalls and remedial work. If the space is already designed, an access audit will identify potential improvements.
Don’t forget to address the accessibility of related online services for co-working space enquiries, bookings, payments, advertising and so on. Being confident in advertising a co-working space as accessible – and ensuring disabled people can use the website – could help attract more members.
Facilities and events
Many co-working spaces offer members facilities and benefits such as all singing and all dancing coffee machines, onsite showers, yoga classes, beer and pizza evenings and professional workshops. Don’t forget to include such facilities and events in the risk assessment process.
For example, if you manage showers for your members, you’ll need to make sure the legionella risk is managed too. If you provide exercise classes or workshops, you should carry out some due diligence checks on the class provider. And if you provide coffee machines, you need to pay special attention when it comes to maintenance and testing.
Communicating with members
It’s important to communicate with members about health and safety in co-working spaces. Tell them about the controls and precautions in place, and set out any expected work or behaviour standards.
Communicating health and safety related information needn’t be boring or over-long. As a minimum, cover:
Hazardous areas, including plant rooms that should not be accessed, or any asbestos if it exists in the building
What to do in fire and emergency situations
How the seating provided can be adjusted
Accessible features of the building and space e.g. lifts, accessible toilets and hearing loop facilities
Operating times, security arrangements and when maintenance teams will be working
How concerns, accidents and incidents can be reported
Creator contact details for help and advice.
Health and safety in co-working spaces: that’s not all, folks!
Just as it’s important for individuals to choose the right co-working space for them to join, those adopting corporate membership arrangements must consider the needs of their employees. Think about issues including:
Accessibility for disabled people
Telling co-working space creators about any equipment and substances used that could impact other members (noise, fumes etc.)
Making sure members can use the equipment and facilities supplied, as instructed
Sharing health and safety information received with your employees and visitors.
Properly consider the design, health, safety and accessibility of co-working spaces, and you will be able to provide thriving places for people to work and develop, while reducing any negative events and poor feedback. All of which supports your business and membership growth, and increases employee satisfaction.
Addressing health and safety in co-working spaces involves a range of specialist skills and knowledge, including carrying out a variety of risk assessments, furniture selection, premises and website access auditing, supplier due diligence checks and staff engagement. We provide experienced consultants in each of these areas, so please get in touch if you’d like expert support.