NDAs, Coworking Spaces, and Access Control

Access control to a coworking space dictates how you can implement Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with visitors.  In some cases, it may be impossible to do, which is OK, depending on the type of members you wish to attract and the culture you want to build.

Do I Need To Control Access To The Coworking Space When I Have NDA Between Members?

Another way to frame the question is:

Do Visitors Need To Sign An NDA When They Visit My Coworking Space?

The answer depends on the physical layout of the coworking space, as well as the type of culture you want in your space.

Some coworking spaces have a reception area and a receptionist where visitors need to wait until a member receives them and walks them back to a conference room.  With these types of procedures in place, you can probably implement a click-through agreement, especially when you have an automated notification system – such as a touchpad interface in your lobby.

Where there isn’t a well-defined and controlled entry way into the coworking space, you are less able to control who comes and goes, so it is harder to make sure every visitor has signed something.

The culture that you are setting with a rigidly controlled access may or may not be what you want.  My experience is that when I visit a coworking space with a receptionist sitting in front of a touchpad is usually quite poor.  The receptionist often doesn’t even greet the visitor, and when I introduce myself, the receptionist just points at the touchpad and I spend the next five minutes typing all kinds of information into the pad.  As an aside, I rarely put my actual email address or other real information into those things.

The overall experience is humiliating to the visitor.  They are forced to navigate some user interface, type in all kinds of pointless information, get their picture taken, and so forth.  It feels awkward and embarrassing, especially when you are already nervous about your upcoming meeting.

All that aside, having stringent controls for visitors may be what the members want.  Without entry controls, random people can come and go, and the overall work environment may be more like a coffee shop than a place where serious work gets done.

Strict access controls might be good or bad depending on the members.  Members who are working on highly sensitive projects that they want to keep under wraps will appreciate the limited access from outsiders.  Other members who frequently receive visitors might like the strict access controls, as it changes the power dynamic – making their visitors wait.

From a collaboration standpoint, having strict access controls means that members can generally trust that anyone in the space has signed an NDA and has the same expectations for respect for intellectual property.

The price we pay for having less access control is that members may need to be more careful about their conversations and how they protect their IP in the space.  This is because more people who have not signed an NDA may be wandering around the space.

Even with an NDA, it makes sense to always protect information that you want to keep private.  Do not discuss private information in a phone call in an open area.  Make sure you lock your computer screen when you walk away from your desk.  If you think you want to protect your IP with a patent, trademark, or copyright – do so.

No matter how effective an NDA is, the cold hard truth is that the best way to protect your information is to avoid sharing it.  This is part of the trade off between working in your garage where nobody sees your information, and working in a collaborative environment like a coworking space.  There is a risk of exposing your IP in a coworking space, but we balance that with the benefits of collaboration.

From a coworking manager’s perspective, the key is to let every member know what to expect and allow the members to adopt to the systems and culture that you build.  Spaces with restrictive access will have a different feel than more open access spaces.  You need to decide what type of members you want to attract and what type of culture you want to build.

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