Security for Multi-Tenant Offices

Here are some tips on an issue that appears to be growing in frequency and complexity, namely the security implications of office buildings with many, often subletting, tenants, and non-traditional usage patterns like shared-space co-working.

Hybrid working is here to stay

A recent report from the Office for National Statistics found that a little under half of us had no from-home working in our lives in April 2022. This is about the same as a year earlier, indicating that the great post-pandemic return to the office doesn’t actually appear to be happening. New ways of working have bedded in, perhaps permanently.

For workers with non-traditional patterns, pure work from home has fallen, and hybrid working has risen, suggesting people are shifting from the former to the latter. The report concludes that “Most people who took up homeworking because of the pandemic plan to both work from home and in the workplace (“hybrid work”) in the future”.

The pandemic saw many companies that own or rent offices scrambling to sublet superfluous space, as home working kicked in. The report above clearly suggests this is here to stay.

Coworking: the flexible workspace option

Another new phenomenon is the rise in flexible workspaces known as coworking. This means office space that is given over desk by desk to individuals so that the person next to you likely doesn’t work for your employer. Traditionally, these spaces were used by the self-employed. Even before the pandemic, though, there were indications that this was changing, with large corporations meeting their office needs, in part at least, through this model. The UK has embraced coworking whole-heartedly, with more such spaces than any country except the US and India.

If you need to sublet excess space, or if your business is commercial property or indeed facilities management, the future is likely to hold complexity, as you juggle a mixture of different types of office space.

The importance of communication with multiple stakeholders

In the old days, whoever ran the building ran security, and perhaps liaised occasionally with others, but those others rarely needed to talk to one another. Today, it’s different. If you sublet part of your leased storey, the subtenant might be a firm that handles sensitive documents and requires a higher level of security than you, or it might be the other way round, with them wanting to avoid procedures of yours that they regard as red tape.

If you are in charge of the building, meet regularly with tenants – all together if useful. If done this way, consider formalising those meetings as a building security council. That way everyone knows and agrees on what everyone is doing, and is expected to do. If you are the tenant, suggest such a council to the building manager, if there isn’t one.

Access control and building management

It’s pretty standard for office buildings now to have access control software in use. It’s important to understand that this is logically separate from the barriers you use to enforce security.

Your actual barrier might be turnstiles, a simple door wired for RFID fobs, or something else. Entrance control hardware should be able to integrate with all of the major access control systems, as well as the standard building management systems – the software used to control heating, air-conditioning lighting, and so on.

If you’re the tenant, make use of all the ways these systems can integrate, and if you’re the building owner be aware of how useful tenants and prospective tenants may find this. If you can count the number of people moving through each control point, you can do many things beyond security, such as automatically adjust temperature, turn off unneeded lights to deliver increased building efficiencies.

The building owner should also remember that every security system is only as good as its weakest link. Your perimeter system generally establishes the maximum security any tenant can have.

If your main entrance has a robust security system, tenants might not require any additional layers of security. If they do, however, it is important to recognise that space may prohibit them from adding an entrance control system of their own such as turnstiles, so other access control systems could be an option.

Types of security barrier

Note that counting people isn’t something delivered by every type of system. Simple door-fobs don’t stop tailgating – several people going through at once. If you want to know who is where, you will likely need a physical or optical turnstile.

Optical means a horizontal infrared beam to count people accurately and detect tailgating. Fastlane offers more than one optical-only solution, but the most popular is the Door Detective, a compact unit suitable for internal as well as external doorways. The Door Detective Compact, in particular, offers a “barely there” minimalist design, with the smallest footprint in the Fastlane range.

Increasingly, turnstiles with a physical barrier have optical technology too. For that, we would generally recommend our Speedgate range, which replaces the traditional horizontal metal bar with a tall, see-through barrier that retracts the moment an authorised user confirms their status. The optical backup system prevents subsequent tailgating.

Determine your security needs

Each stakeholder then needs to decide what security needs they have. How much does it matter to you to control in-building movement by staff and visitors, including of other companies? Do you want to accurately count people as they move, for security or building management purposes? For internal doors, an optical-only system can deliver multiple benefits in a small physical housing, and without slowing down the flow of pedestrian traffic.

Some final points to bear in mind:

  • Think about how the system deals with garage entry visitors
  • Make sure there is a robust system of emergency procedures and drills
  • Watch how things work in practice – if the building owner / main tenant above you has a low-security concern, they may have slipped into a norm of waving people through to ease bottlenecks, for example

For expert advice from a knowledgeable security partner, contact us here.