Some of you will be aware I’m a remote worker. My employer’s corporate HQ is in the US, our EMEA HQ is in London, while I’m nominally on a “work from home” contract, where home is in Manchester. I work with an International team, based all over the world.
The lease on our London office expired recently, and the company took the decision to move our EMEA HQ into a dedicated private office space in a WeWork building – I’m assuming folk reading this know what a WeWork is, if you don’t, it’s a serviced office, but just not beige throughout.
The upsides to being located in a WeWork are pretty good.
Modern offices with up-to-date decor, meeting rooms of various sizes, on-site WeWork staff to handle all the faff such as maintenance, cleaning, etc., for you, including a mail-room function so you never have to wait in for a parcel again, and all the fun things more usually associated with massive tech companies and start-ups, such as espresso machines, table football, free beer in the afternoons, etc.
The things you might expect at a Corporate HQ location, but now available to people working in the smaller satellite offices too.
So much so that we’ve done that with a number of our smaller regional offices of late. So we do put significant business (for us at least) in WeWork’s direction.
Because I had access to our old London office, that meant I became a member of the WeWork building we moved into in London. This means in WeWork’s eyes, our London EMEA HQ office is my “home” location. I have 24×7 access there. I need to come and go from there for face-to-face meetings and the like, so that makes sense. All well and good.
But you’ll remember, I live in Manchester.
As it happens, there are two (soon to be three) WeWork locations in Manchester.
I can spend 1 credit (a credit is how WeWork account for additional services, such as booking meeting rooms, and use of non-“home” workspaces) from the company WeWork account to book a “workspace” in one of the Manchester locations for the day, and sometimes I’ll do that, so I don’t go berserk working from home and staring at the same four walls all the time.
Yes, outside! People! Conversation! Change of scenery! Free coffee! Free beer! Air-conditioning on sweltering days!
Sounds great that I can use my company WeWork membership to get access to the more local facility and get out of the house, doesn’t it?
I’ve been trying this for a couple of months, I’ve found there are some downsides:
- The “workspace” you get for your WeWork credit is basically a form of guest access to that building’s communal areas. These are areas with the kitchen, barista, coffee machines, foosball tables, ping-pong, background music, and beer.
- So, unlike the amenity of your home location – proper desk, proper work chair – for your credit you get access to some sofas, high tops, and if you’re lucky (because it’s location dependent) some desks intended for short term use (i.e. tables and non-adjustable hard chairs). The good spots – with the more comfortable chairs and power outlets – are a) often more “cafe style” and b) coveted, tending to go really quickly.
- Also, because you’re in the communal area, you’re basically using the same space that the building’s resident members use for coffee breaks, to eat their lunch, chat, and have informal meetings which means it can get loud.
- Finally, because you’re not a regular user, you’re basically left feeling a bit like this rando that’s invading the other peoples’ space. You don’t really feel like you belong.
Bluntly, working as a visitor in a WeWork other than your company’s own location is actually not a great work environment if you need to concentrate, or intend on spending any length of time there.
It’s fine for short-term getting online, grabbing a coffee, checking emails, and maybe the odd informal meeting or chit-chat, or just a change of scenery – basically the things you might otherwise do in a coffee shop.
The other problem is that unlike one’s “home” location, your credit only buys you access while the WeWork location is staffed – 9-6pm. It’s also an “automatic lock-in” – very much like the cult Channel 4 gameshow The Crystal Maze, but far less entertaining when you nip out to the loo and your keycard is automatically deactivated. You’re on one side of the door, while all your stuff is on the other, and now you’re looking for someone to let you back in.
This becomes a challenge when you’re working across multiple timezones where conference calls running into the evening – especially in that 4-7pm sweet-spot where the time isn’t hugely anti-social in California, Boston, and the UK – aren’t unusual. Work days just don’t routinely finish at 5.30pm anymore!
Now this is where I believe WeWork – as a huge global co-working organisation, with offices all over the place – ought to understand this better, and are missing a trick with remote workers such as myself: people who do need access to their organisation’s corporate office, but at the same time may have a WeWork closer to their home location that they might like to use once or twice a week, and somewhere they feel they have a connection with.
Indeed, WeWork consider their “Global Network” as one of their upselling points, but the way it’s organised at the moment, each individual location feels like a separate “franchise” of WeWork. My opinion is this is where the Global Network falls down.
What would I propose they offer people such as myself?
- The ability to nominate a “secondary location” – this would be your choice of WeWork closest to your home, space permitting – at which you have 24×7 walk-in privileges, other benefits as though it’s your home location, and access to the communal areas (effectively this is an “add-on” Hot Desk membership at the chosen secondary location).
- The ability to book a “proper” desk in an open plan area or small (1/2 person) office at your nominated secondary location on a day-to-day basis using credits – effectively the same as you can book workspaces or meeting rooms now, except it’s at an actual desk, with an actual work chair.
Yes, I propose that WeWork deliberately hold back a handful of small offices and open plan desks in each location, and set them aside for upgraded hot-desking.
How many credits would a desk cost? The cost of a UK WeWork credit is £20 (I know it’s $25 in the US).
Most co-working spots I know of that offer an “occasional user” membership (i.e. aimed at 5 days a month, but not religiously policed, could be 8-10 half-days) will charge around £100-120+vat a month, but for that you do get a proper desk with a proper chair, and you’re not working out of a sofa or from a high-top in a corridor all day.
At WeWork, the closest thing that gets you a proper desk is a Dedicated Desk plan, and those currently run to £330/month in Manchester, they are more expensive in other locations. If you assume 22 days per average work month, it’s £15/day. (Or 261 work days in 2019, so 330×12/261 = 15.17)
So let’s say that 0.5 credit will get a “secondary member” a proper desk in the open plan office area for the day. Remember, your organisation is already paying WeWork a small fortune back at “home base”, so why shouldn’t they get a good deal in the other branches?
What about a private office? In Manchester these start from £460/month, depending on which building.
I’d suggest private offices are offered from 1 credit per seat for the day in cheaper buildings and maybe 2 credits for the busier and more expensive cities and buildings with higher demand.
I know I could technically book a small meeting room, but again these aren’t intended for you to get dug-in for a full day’s work. They are designed around being comfortable for relatively short periods of time, and encourage turnover so other WeWork members can use them. Plus, using them during peak hours chews through credits.
So that’s where I think WeWork are dropping the ball the most, at least for annoying people like me with non-conventional work locations and patterns.
I’ve not even gone into detail here about their online systems and app, through which you do have access to their “Global Network”. Despite the growth of WeWork, it’s still centred around the assumption that you’re really only interested in and attached to one building (and therefore one WeWork “community”) at a time – which enhances the feeling of being a bit of a rando if you’re in a WeWork other than your “home”, or if you change to follow your “secondary” location means you become disconnected from your Company’s main base.
As ever, please leave a comment, or tweet me with your thoughts: Are you a remote or nomadic worker that occasionally needs a good bolt-hole? Are you disappointed by the WeWork “global” offering? Are you aware of some “secret menu” of WeWork membership that does exist and will actually do what I’m looking for?