Remote Workers: Why I think WeWork are missing a trick

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?

You can take the boy out of the North West, but…

Last week, a record was released to help raise money for The Christie Hospital in Manchester, a tribute to the life and memories of one of it’s more famous patients, a certain Anthony H Wilson, music impresario, tv journalist, and “Mr Manchester”.

It’s not supposed to be a floor-filler, but more of a fond eulogy, a modern poem, that’s been set to an arrangement of New Order’s “Your Silent Face”.

“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come round, because something that’s lost cannot be found…”

The first time I saw and heard this I really was teary-eyed, with a lump in my throat.

Not only was it set to a favourite piece of music, but many of the faces staring back at me out of the screen were, like Tony Wilson himself, those from my own upbringing in the North West.

I was never lucky enough to meet him in person, but I was one of those people that grew up in the age of Tony Wilson, the music of his bands on my walkman, his face on my TV. Not only did he run a record label and a nightclub… but he read the news too. Was there anything this man couldn’t turn his hand to? Best of all, he was from the North and vociferously for the North.

It also made me think of a more innocent time in my own life. When I had my whole life ahead of me, when I felt I could do anything. When we’d get the train into Manchester and visit places like Afflecks, and if you’d asked me where Granada was I’d answer “Quay Street”, not Spain.

New Order’s Bernard Sumner wrote about Tony, “He always seemed so young and enthusiastic in spirit, he had the attitude of a man in his 20’s…”, and it was with this enthusiasm Tony made those around him believe that Manchester and the North West could do anything, if only they tried… “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

When I graduated from University, I chose to move South, where I’d been offered a job. South to follow the money. Ravaged by 17 years of London-centric Tory policies, the North West didn’t look so attractive to someone in their mid-20’s with a freshly minted degree, I guess.

I found myself wanting to dig inside me for something that I’d become worried might have been lost from so many years in the London rat-race, my own Twenty-something spirit, that bit of me that lives for today, that thinks it can do anything, my own inner Northerner. Was I worried it was buried under a metaphorical jam of red London buses? I needn’t have been.

I looked and I’ve found it. It’s bruised and battered, but it’s still there.

Try as the world might, you can take the boy out of the North West, but you can’t take the North West out of the Man.

One day, I’ll stop wandering. One day I’ll come home.

Those who know me will know that my own family has twice already been touched by cancer. There’s a 50% chance everyone in the UK will need to be treated for cancer in their lifetime. If you liked “St Anthony” you can buy it, and if you didn’t, you can still donate money to The Christie Hospital in Tony Wilson’s memory and help others in the future. Give, and give generously.

Premier Inn Wifi – If only it were consistent.

I recently heaped praise on Premier Inn for providing a good wifi service in one of their hotels.

Sadly, this is not consistent across all their properties. I’m currently staying in another Premier Inn just down the road from the one with the good wifi (which was already full for this evening).

The wifi performance here isn’t great at all…

This is as good as it got. Fail.
This is as good as it got. Fail.

It does have sensibly laid out 5GHz and 2.4GHz spectrum like the other Premier Inn, so it seems the wifi architecture is sound, however what’s different here is the backhaul technology.

The other property was on what appeared to be a VDSL line from a more specialist business ISP. It also had the advantage that it was only shared between about 20-odd rooms.

This Premier Inn is much larger, but based on the ISP (Sharedband) it is likely to be using a link-bundled ADSL2 connection, and is shared amongst many more users – about 140 rooms. I’ve noticed several other Arqiva-managed hotspots using Sharedband as the backhaul technology, and these all have suffered from very slow speeds, high latency and signs of heavy oversubscription and congestion.

Notice the “star rating” on the Speedtest above. One star. Lots of unhappy punters?

I’m currently getting better performance on a 3G modem. (No 4G coverage on my provider in this area.)

It would be great if Premier Inn could offer a more consistent experience in it’s wifi product, and I mean a consistently good experience such as the one I enjoyed just up the road in Abingdon, and not the lowest common denominator of the congested barely useable mess here.

They aim for a consistent product in the rest of their offerings and for the most part achieve it, however if I was only staying here in this property, I’d be asking for a refund for the wifi charge.

Update at 1am in the morning, after the fire alarm went off around 11.30pm and caused the hotel to be evacuated…

I can just about get 3Mb/sec down (and less than 256k up) out of the connection here now, and I assume the large majority guests are sleeping. Still less than great. This is very obviously based around oversubscribed link-bundled ADSL stuff.

Driving in Malta – signs of madness?

Number two on the list of things not to do in Malta, according to my guidebook, is drive.

To a Maltese driver, it seems that road markings, signs, signals, and speed limits are advisory rather than mandatory. This means you need your wits about you.

That bit I actually found easy to cope with by reading the road, anticipating well ahead and driving assertively myself, or assertive as I could be in a tiny Kia with a sewing machine of an engine. Hills, of which Malta has many, meant changing down to 2nd and flooring it, thanks partly to the two suitcases in the boot. Fortunately, many natives also go for the small car too, so you know they are almost in the same boat as you. However, the locals have one big head start… Continue reading “Driving in Malta – signs of madness?”

Matisse @Tate Modern: Nuit de no-light

The Tate Modern are currently staging a fantastic exhibition of work from later in Henri Matisse’s later life – his Cut Out era.

Some of the works are really quite amazing, from the classic Matisse use of colour, through to the sheer scale of the work, filling whole walls.

The exhibition culminates in the famous collaboration with glass craftsman Paul Bony, “Nuit de Noel”, or “Christmas Eve” to you and I.

However, having slowly unwrapped this “present”, layer on layer through the previous galleries, this amazing piece of art felt like an anti-climax, sat in it’s darkened room, with it’s one-dimensional backlighting.

It certainly wasn’t how Matisse must have imagined it: to be constantly changing due to the vagaries of natural light, and the way that it should cast it’s coloured patterns back into the room.

I wonder why the Tate didn’t try to exhibit Nuit de Noel with some sort of intelligent and programmable LED backlight that can emulate natural light, and how the light source would move with the day and with the seasons?

Nuit de Noel was originally commissioned by Time magazine to be put in it’s reception at Rockerfeller Centre. Would it have been lit by the low winter sun, shining down the “alleyways” of Manhattan skyscrapers? Surely we can make that happen with modern technology?

Apparently, according to @gogo and @AmericanAir this blog is adult themed.

Well. If you ask American Airlines or GoGo Inflight Wifi, this blog is blocked because it contains “adult-and-pornography”…

Apparently, you're looking at pr0n
Apparently, you’re looking at pr0n. Right now.

A reader just contacted me from Flight Level 330 to let me know he couldn’t read my blog. (Well, I suppose people need something to help them sleep…)

Looks like it’s the attack of some overzealous content filters, or maybe GoGo Inflight didn’t agree with my opinions on implementing event and public wifi?

Ken Morrison – A simple business philosophy

Recently the UK supermarket chain Morrisons has been in the news, regarding the state of the business, potential job cuts, and a lambasting for the Board at the recent company AGM from former chairman and straight-talking Yorkshireman Sir Ken Morrison, son of the company’s founder.

While CEO of the company, he was known for reportedly “skip diving” on visits to his Morrison’s stores – sifting through the bins to see what was being thrown out and wasted. Sir Ken has a simple philosophy to the supermarket business – “shop in your own shops, get to know your customers and don’t make presidential visits“.

It seemed to work well for him, for Morrisons was profitable for good number of years, until, in 2004, Morrisons acquired Safeway UK (by then already independent from it’s US namesake), a company who I used to work for as a teenager.

One of the things which used to irk me about the way that Safeway was managed was the way that the senior management conducted visits of the stores. When it was known that the regional manager was visiting, significant amounts of overtime became available. The store would be scrubbed top to bottom, the normally messy behind the scenes stockrooms would be tidied up, the shelves would be neatly filled and faced up, and almost every checkout would be open.

This resulted in the management not seeing the real experience, but some sort of show, or “shop in a bottle”.

The very “presidential visits” that Ken Morrison speaks of.

To borrow Sir Ken’s turn of phrase, they left with a “bullshit” experience of what shopping in one of their stores was like. They thought it was okay, and didn’t suck.

Even on short notice “unannounced” visits, somehow the store was tipped off, either by other local managers or by more junior flunkies of the regional managers, fearing for their own jobs if a shop was seen in disarray. Of course, overtime was rapidly offered, and 90% of the time you would take it because you wanted the money.

It seems that Morrisons’ management have picked up this behaviour along with a number of other bad habits from the Safeway acquisition.

One of my own pet hates is the way they build-out the aisle ends with free-standing stacks of items on promotion. This narrows the aisle width, reducing circulation area, and making it harder to manoeuvre your trolley, for fear of knocking over this teetering pile of products.

Obviously the idea is you take something from this wobbly pile to reduce it in size!

Tesco still aren’t much better. It’s a confusing environment of bright yellow price tags, contradictory “special non-offers”, and shouty shelf-edge “barkers”. It’s just a meh experience, and that’s after you’ve battled your way in past all the TVs, clothes and other crap they sell in the big stores.

Also, you’ve got to look if the business model is wrong? Are Morrisons working to a growth-centric business model? In a saturated market such as grocery shopping, the growth most likely has to come from stealing market share from a competitor. This likely comes with a higher cost of sale, as you’ve got to do something to make that fickle customer choose you today. Should Morrisons instead be looking after it’s own customers and working to a retention-based business model?

Rather than providing an unpleasant and stressful experience, do something to make your customers want to come back. You can’t compete on price alone or Aldi and Lidl will take your business away, and the niche high-ends are dominated by the likes of Waitrose and M&S.

I can’t help feeling that devouring Safeway was a meal that still gives Morrisons indigestion to this day, and they would maybe do better following Ken Morrison’s three simple tenets by which he ran the business for many years: good staff, good suppliers, loyal customers.

Read the BBC article and watch the interview with Ken Morrison