Virtual offices, shared office spaces, and coworking locations can have their advantages. Especially for small businesses and startups with limited resources, shared workspaces can give you and your employees access to office services, a social network or like-minded entrepreneurs, business development workshops, and, in some cases, even health insurance.
Coworking spaces can also have their downsides, like, according to one lawsuit, an "entitled, frat-boy culture" that engenders sexual assault. Ruby Anaya, a former WeWork employee, is suing the shared workspace company, claiming she was assaulted by two other employees at separate corporate events and that the company took no action against her assailants.
So how do you keep that frat-boy culture from invading your working environment, and what can you do if one of your employees is harassed by someone sharing your workspace?
"The sexual harassment and assaults of [Anaya] did not happen in a vacuum," her lawsuit claims. "They are product in part of the entitled, frat-boy culture that permeates WeWork from the top down." Anaya was WeWork's Director of Culture at the time of both assaults, which occurred at company "summits," which she claims are "a huge, three-day, alcohol- and drug-laden party for all employees at the company." Anaya cited mandatory happy hours and tequila she was offered in her interview as evidence of a pervasive drinking environment at We Work. Both of her alleged assailants told HR they did not recall the sexual assaults, with one claiming he "was black-out drunk" at the time.
So how do you prevent a possibly dangerous party vibe from affecting your employees? Choosing the right virtual office is obviously the first step. While location, appearance, and confidentiality are all chief concerns (along with price), you want to make sure whoever you're leasing space from and sharing space with is a culture fit for your small business. And training your own employees on recognizing, reporting, and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace is essential. You may also need to implement some policies and protocols unique to your working environment, either limiting contact with other businesses or making sure that contact and communication is clearly monitored.
You should also make sure the coworking space has clear and concise rules and procedures in place for responding to incidents of sexual harassment or assault. If not, that might be a red flag to consider before joining up. And if you're already in the space and an incident occurs, the lack of a harassment policy may mean you need to take matters into your own hands, by talking to an experienced employment attorney.