What is a workplace? In Australia, the easy answer is “wherever work takes place”. This seems sensible and logical but think about it and the impact on businesses and community will be large. The Sunday Age newspaper reports on one business that is setting down some ground rules for those who are running businesses from their cafe or, what the article describes as “coffices“.
Some Australian cafes are beginning to provide workplace amenities such as meeting rooms (this occurred in the United States some years ago but gained attention as a concept in at least one article in early 2010) but this blurring of workplace and restaurant raises many significant issues of public liability. If someone working on their own business in a public venue is injured, first aid should be immediately available but which insurance option should the worker pursue for compensation and reparation? This issue was discussed in an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article.
The Sunday Age article includes a photo of “Coffice Etiquette” that is not included online. The etiquette rules are:
- “Make sure you order – at least one drink an hour.
- Choose the smallest table you can fit at.
- If you’re holding a meeting, don’t rearrange the furniture without asking.
- Use battery power so you don’t have power leads snaking across the cafe.
- Mute the sound on your iPad or laptop.
- Don’t hog bandwidth by downloading large files.
- Leave a tip.”
The rules show a mix of courtesy, business economic reality and workplace safety. Is this enough?
The open acknowledgement that some people are using your workplace as their workplace is a major start. The rules above may be enough if the relationship stays positive but if something goes wrong, the relationship could get messy. For instance, what if a dispute occurs between the visiting worker and a client and violence results? What if the wi-fi link is abused by downloading, not only, large files but porn? What if a chair breaks and the visiting worker is injured?
There are a range of “back-end” scenarios that need to have some more formal resolution process. In fact the cafes may want to look at the type of relationship serviced offices have with transient clients. Serviced offices have more details about who it is using their facilities, principally, for financial reasons but also for the type of legal matters postulated above.
Coffices will always have workers drop in to use their facilities, as happens frequently at the moment in hundreds of Wi-Fi McDonalds restaurants in Australia, but it may be wise to establish a more formal relationship with cafe regulars.
The Brooklyn Based blog has already established a review of coffices in its local area. The criteria applied in the reviews (“Vibe, Layout/Aesthetic, Wifi, Outlets and Coffee”) illustrate the basic needs of coffice users.
In Australia, where new workplace safety laws will change our understanding of what is a workplace, it seems that the definition of a workplace is again a work in progress.