Most of the WeWork offices near me are somewhat hidden within an office tower, but at least one is at street level. When I passed by the other morning, I have to say that it didn’t look good.
There, through the window, I could see a lone woman hunched over her laptop. She was near the back by the wall, with several rows of long tables in front of her. Swivel chairs were askew, as though entire teams of startups had suddenly up and left. On the other side of the room a man was fiddling with something at a podium. There was no sign that anyone would be filling the vacant seats before him.
As CNBC and many others reported this week, WeWork has filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States. Meanwhile, creditors holding 92 per cent of its secured debt have reportedly agreed on a restructuring plan that would include significantly reducing its portfolio of approximately 660 office leases.
The way WeWork now
Those following the story have suggested this is a remarkable fall for a company once valued at $47 billion just a few years ago. How could WeWork nosedive to this extent? There are many possible answers, but a shift in customer experience (CX) expectations is surely one of them.
When WeWork and a few others pioneered the co-working model, it was a solution for startups and freelancers that needed some kind of dedicated office space to seem legitimate to their customers. The shift to remote work necessitated by COVID-19 obviously changed that. Banks and other large companies may have issued back-to-office mandates, but many of WeWork’s traditional clientele can now do many meetings that once only happened in person via video calls.
The key CX differentiators WeWork offered included stylish décor, café-style gathering spaces to foster community and fooseball tables that provided a taste of what the tech giants give employees on their grandiose campus sites. Those perks may not seem as appealing (or as important) as the convenience of working from home or a coffee shop.
Before anyone sounds the death knell for coworking, however, I think the right approach to CX could still save it. Some suggestions:
- Respect the segments: Not all coworking customers have the same interests. Freelancers like me, for instance, might be drawn to alternative sites for quiet, focused work. I’ve used one coworking service, for instance, which partnered with restaurants that were otherwise closed during the day. They set up charging stations and allowed us to bring our laptops to sumptuous booths or even the bar. It made coworking fun. Segmentation is an age-old CX practice, of course, and it may be worth it for WeWork to break up its audience into a wider variety of personas.
- Beef up the booths: Most coworking spaces I’ve used have had one or two “phone booths” where people could take a video call in a quiet, enclosed space. These were typically offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Given how much is done over video call now, however, I’d suggest ensuring every single coworking customer have access to their own booth, and make them more like a souped-up cubicles vs. the glass cages that WeWork has favored.
- Model meeting equity: There are ongoing concerns that people working remotely are at a disadvantage to those who show up at an office. Coworking spaces should be leaders in creating more equitable spaces designed so that remote workers can see everyone in a conference room or breakout room, and that digital whiteboards can easily be shared. This is where AR and VR should be explore to see if they could make it feel like everyone’s in the same space.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to WeWork, but depending on how CX is taken into consideration, I believe there’s still a lot that could be done to make coworking work better.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.