How to hot desk safely in London

How to safely hot desk in London (RODNAE Productions / Pexels)
How to safely hot desk in London (RODNAE Productions / Pexels)

Whether you mostly work from a central office or a laptop balanced on your kitchen table, everyone can do with a change of scenery once in a while.

And, with London teeming with quiet and comfortable shared-working environments, from cafés and pubs to libraries and co-working spaces, you certainly have plenty of options.

But working in public means exposing yourself to certain risks that simply aren’t a factor in familiar surroundings. So here’s how to hot desk safely in London.

Update your laptop ahead of time

Before you even start scouting places, make sure your laptop is completely up to date: browser, operating system, antivirus software — the works.

This is for two reasons: firstly, because you don’t want to be met with an urgent update the second you arrive at your workspace, and secondly, because using a public-internet connection can expose you to security threats you just don’t face at home. If your computer is already protected from known hacks and vulnerabilities, you’ll be starting from a safer position.

Find a quiet time to hot desk with Google Maps

There’s nothing worse than travelling to a promising-sounding cafe and finding every table and plug socket in use by others with the same idea.

The good news is that you can plan ahead with a little help from Google. Just search Maps or Google itself for the place you have in mind, and the information box will tell you how busy you can expect it to be and whether you’ll need to make alternative plans.

Seeing if a venue is busy in Google (Google)
Seeing if a venue is busy in Google (Google)

Be wary of public WiFi

If you’re working in a public place, you’ll probably have to rely on public WiFi, which is inherently less secure than your own or your employer’s. You don’t know who set it up and who else is using it.

You can dodge this altogether by sharing your phone’s data — more on that in a moment — but there are some steps to take to make it safer, if not completely safe.

First, use the actual WiFi network supplied by the venue you’re in, not a random unprotected network which could have been set up by anyone. This isn’t guaranteed to be safe, of course, but is safer than connecting to any old unlocked WiFi network, for obvious reasons.

When you’re browsing the web, stick with https sites. Without the ‘S’, anybody on an unsecured network can see the data that travels between you and the website.

Finally, use a VPN — or Virtual Private Network. This encrypts data coming from your phone and roots you via a secure server, making it harder for your dealings to be snooped on. Not all VPNs are created equal, though: avoid free ones at all costs, and consider a reputable brand, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN.

Consider using your phone as a Hotspot

Even if the WiFi is safe as houses, you may encounter another problem: speed. In short, more people sharing a connection can lead to painfully slow speeds, especially if your neighbouring hotdeskers are data hogs.

In that situation, you can always tech/how-to-use-phone-wifi-hotspot-b1035966.html">use your phone as a WiFi hotspot and take advantage of your own (hopefully faster) 5G signal.

There are definitely reasons not to do this — you may have limited data you need to save and laptops gobble this up faster than phones — but, if you’re struggling with café WiFi, it may be wise to take matters into your own hands.

Keep an eye on your laptop at all times… but be prepared for theft

Obviously, you shouldn’t leave your laptop unguarded — it’s just asking to be stolen. But you should always be prepared for the worst: whether it belongs to you or your company, your computer contains sensitive files, and you don’t want these to be accessible to a thief.

Ensure your laptop is password protected and, if your laptop offers fingerprint protection, then use that, too.

Get in the habit of locking your PC if you step away but, if you’re on Windows 10 or 11, you can also have this happen automatically if your phone strays out of Bluetooth range (enable Dynamic Lock under ‘Accounts’ > ‘Sign-in options’.)

Remember, not all threats are remote

While cybersecurity threats are certainly important, let’s not forget the more basic risk of working in public: people with a direct line of sight to whatever sensitive documents you’re working on.

Use your own commonsense here: if it’s top-secret, mission-critical stuff you’re working on, then don’t have your screen facing the entire café.