Are you doing anything about a drone policy in your workplace? Maybe you should be

As civil aviation authorities grapple with developing drone regulations in short order, tech-centric workplaces are also being forced to consider new policies on drones as they become cheaper and more ubiquitous in the tech world. 

If you’re a coworking space or a company working in the startup sector, there’s a good chance you’ve already had a drone, or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), show up in your workplace… lord knows we’ve have more than a few at BizDojo. They’ve gone from being a little known military technology to an increasingly common part of the vernacular in conversations across a wide range of sectors - from innovative tools to deliver humanitarian relief to new ways to engage kids with nature and the outdoors (see: moose v drone). Callaghan Innovation is in the final throes of the C-Prize, which has them investing up to $110,000 plus development resources to the finalists, with a particular eye to improving the technology specifically for the film sector. And at the consumer level, you can pick up a basic model for under $50 USD. 

It’s that last sentence that is of particular relevance here. I imagine that our reaction at the BizDojo to drones in the workplace likely mirrored the reaction of civil aviation authorities, municipalities, local law enforcement, and neighbours: it was a gradual one. (The US has only recently started regulating civilian drone operation; Canada has had laws on the books since 1996 but is being forced to tighten them with their growing popularity.) Curiosity gives way to benign novelty; novelty fades to mild concern over environmental impacts; and finally, as stakeholders increasingly vocalise their stands on the tiny buzzing instruments over their heads, an event happens that forces you to put guidelines in pace around this new, increasingly accessible, technology. 

For Texas lawmakers, that event was a man shooting down a drone flying over his backyard. In LA, it was a massive power outage when one went head to head with a powerline in West Hollywood. For us at the BizDojo, it was a drone getting stuck above the ceiling panels in Auckland. What was meant to be a singular, brief demonstration of the drone’s flying capability resulted in the flying robot making a beeline for the roof, triggering a potential health and safety nightmare scenario as we debated ways of retrieving the wayward drone. Needless to say, it was time for us to enact a framework for drones in the Dojo. 

I never like to assume that my opinion on something I don’t use is a universal one, so I took the question to the community: what were the possible perks of being able to fly drones inside? Does it contribute to the sense of the Dojo as an interesting, stimulating, experimental place to work? Conversely, were there any drawbacks we weren’t already aware of (noise clearly being the biggest issue, with health and safety a close second)? Was anyone worried about privacy?

The result was surprisingly uniform. Surprisingly (to me), the drone users were the first to suggest that drones shouldn’t be flown inside. We want the BizDojo to remain a space where people can test the latest gadgets and prototype their own, but we are also conscious of the fact that not everyone is happy to work in a makerspace - so when we turned it over to the community, we took their lead. We now have a line in our House Rules specifying that drones are welcome, but only in outdoor areas - and the Respect Rule, as with everything, applies. (We have yet to write a don’t drink and drone policy.)

Now if only it were so simple in the real world… 

Sarin Moddle is the Community Manager at the BizDojo Auckland. Follow her on Twitter