WeWork are on the brink of joining the likes of Uber, Instagram, Deliveroo, Monzo, and Airbnb as startups which challenge the stalwarts of their respective industries, exploiting the millennial generation’s desire to receive instant gratification, self-expression and streamlined services. WeWork has seen exponential growth in the past couple of years, with membership figures growing from 101 thousand in 2017 to over 466 thousand in 2019 throughout their global 45 million sq ft. of office space. But this raises a question for decision makers and HR executives, just why are so many millennials seemingly flocking to their nearest WeWork space? How can we derive the best elements and enhance traditional office design? In this blog we try to understand the secret behind the success of WeWork, boiling down the basic elements which could be incorporated into most businesses, regardless of industry to enhance recruitment and retention.
Harness the Power of Technology
WeWork is not your typical property agent but are rather considered by many to be a technology company. The rationale behind this is mainly due to their focus upon building a community through their app based professional network, placing great emphasis on promoting collaboration among WeWork space occupiers. One excellent quote from the co-founder of WeWork, Adam Neumann aptly sums up their technological service offering; “We happen to need buildings like Uber happens to need cars, like Airbnb happens to need apartments,’’ describing their company as being a “platform for creators.’’
WeWork’s mobile app could be considered as the modern equivalent to the employee intranet systems of old which allow for communication and the sharing of company news. Unlike these dated intranet systems, WeWork actively promotes collaboration and allows anyone to post a job for other freelance ‘WeWorkers’ across the WeWork community, providing access to specialist skills such as graphic design or web development. Furthermore, their app includes a booking system for a variety of meeting spaces but also includes news on the latest events taking place within the WeWork space. This should be a wake-up call to enterprises of old to look at how their outdated intranet systems can be reconfigured to encourage collaboration throughout their organisation, breaking down the barriers of communication between geographically and departmentally disparate colleagues. One idea would be to implement discussion board where employees can run ideas by other employees from different departments, accessing the expertise of many rather than a select few.
Build a Sense of Community
Building a means of facilitating communication and collaboration is certainly a strong starting point, however WeWork builds upon this in creating a sense of beloging for their members through some excellent community events, especially in their Manchester office. WeWork have nurtured partnerships with companies such as food delivery service Deliveroo and cocktail bar the Alchemist, exploiting the overlap in tastes of their key target demographics – millennials - who in turn offer free food and drinks at WeWork's many social events. Happy Hours are described as a community get-togethers where members can network, socialise and collaborate with their fellow 'WeWorkers' meanwhile making use of the free fully stocked bar.
Of course it would be unreasonable to expect a traditional business to go quite to these lengths and partnering with one of Manchester’s many bars and restaurants is likely to be an expensive endeavour, however many organisations could benefit from implementing a sports and social society open to all members of an organisation. Company wide events, such as going for meals, a post work drinks or even a team building day allows exposure to skills outside of an employee’s department and nurtures collaboration through cross-functional teams of people.
Opt for an ‘Instagrammable’ Office Fit Out
Designing an ‘instagrammable’ office might not be the most appropriate choice for a all organisations, however WeWork have seen considerable success in terms of both attracting members but also improving their member’s productivity through impressive office design. What can we infer from this? The millenial crowd are lured by intriguing, purpose built office environments with a high standard of office fit out.
Officeinsight were approached by delivery titan Hermes who were having difficulties in attracting the best software development in Leeds, recognising that creating a vibrant homely office where employees could socialise, collaborate and work was an important factor in the minds of the next generation of development talent when selecting an employer. One of the key elements of their design brief insisted that the space was ‘Instagrammable,’ a space where employees would be comfortable working but also a space where they were proud to work, which is a design philosophy which parallels that of WeWork. A high quality office fit out is considered by millennials to be more important than pay, with the most satisfied employees being those who had access to a variety of spaces, such as phone booths for quiet working and common areas for socialising and collaborating, therefore highlighting the importance of an impressive office fit out in the recruitment process.
Create a Healthy Work-Life Balance
One of the key reasons workers choose to rent a space at WeWork is the separation between their home and work lives. The typical WeWork member is a freelancer, often taking contract work in a field such as website development or graphic design, who Unlike full-time office based employees do not usually have access to a corporate office space instead having to resort to working from home. Working from home can have an abundance of adverse impacts on a person’s mental health which stems from the loneliness, the inability to unplug from work and the difficulty in maintaining motivation. WeWork offers something the home office can not, and that is community and a sense of belonging which is valuable in maintaining positive mental health of freelance workers.
Many large organisations recruit employees who will work from home, suffering from the adverse mental health concerns discussed previously. Mitigating these health impacts should be a priority to all organisations as happy employees are usually more productive than their unhappy colleagues. How can organisations look after their remote employee’s wellbeing? One option is to incorporate hot-desking into your office design. Allowing remote employees an option to work in the office for a number of days each week provides a sense of belonging to employees, allowing them to socialise with their colleagues during breaks, reducing the sense of loneliness afforded to employees who work exclusively from home.
Excellent office design, a sense of belonging and community and the separation between home and work are some of the key ingredients which have made WeWork successful. This blog has looked at ways in which traditional organisations can tailor certain elements of WeWork's strategy to derive benefits in terms of recruitment, retention, improved collaboration and productivity but also nurturing positive employee wellbeing.