The latte is great and the environment convivial but a coffee bar is hardly the right place to discuss confidential information. Anecdotally, those bent on industrial espionage are now less interested in hacking in to your network when, for the price of a cup of coffee they can sit in your local coffee bar and wait…
A few weeks ago I was 30 minutes early for a meeting in the city of London so I took the opportunity to grab a flat white and a brief sit-down at a well-known coffee chain. I couldn’t help but overhear the people on the next table talking through a number of computer security issues and happened to glance over and see (to my surprise) that they were poring over a fairly detailed IT infrastructure diagram from a major financial firm.
Not every coffee shop customer has a degree in computing, but it happens that I do, and it was very clear to me that I really shouldn’t be able to see what they had laid out in front of them. It’s far from being the first time that I’ve seen (or heard) something like this and when I mentioned it at a conference recently, one of the delegates told me that some firms now have compliance officers doing the rounds of the local coffee shops to try and crack down on this.
Making sure that staff are aware of the dangers and introducing policing measures are natural steps to remedy the symptoms but it’s probably worth thinking about what the causes of the problem are. Traditional offices mainly consist of only two types of workspace, work-stations built around desks and formal “meeting rooms”. As firms strive for efficiency (believing their space to be under-utilised) there is a marked tendency to try and decrease the former whilst rigidly controlling access to the latter.
The modern worker has a need for space that exists between these two extremes for precisely that kind of less formal collaboration that doesn’t work at a desk and doesn’t really justify the booking of a scarce resource like a meeting room. Or to put it another way, just the kind of space that a coffee bar provides.