Wework Was The Best and Worst Thing to Happen to Coworking

Without Wework the coworking industry would still have a big brand building job on its hands. Now it has a rebranding job to do.

Photo by Shridhar Gupta from Unsplash

The new Apple TV drama WeCrashed has put Wework back on the agenda.

Firstly, I don’t want to say I told you so but I did, ok?

Wework was always destined to be a crash and burn story. People laughed at Adam Neumann’s ambitions, the valuation, and the increasingly extreme stories that came out from their annual retreats.

Wework is a behemoth, it arose from nowhere (or New York) pumped with VC steroids and captured hearts and minds of certain folks.

The main premise with Wework always seemed to me to be that it was aimed at serving larger, established companies who were worried they wouldn’t be able to attract millennials and Gen Zs unless they had a “funky” (and it was always this word) workspace.

People thought (I still don’t know why) that things like beanbags were a much better thing to focus on than things like sorting out a terrible workplace culture or years of entrenched inequality.

The idea of serving free beer every day was pitched as a great way to teambuild, with seemingly no appreciation as to how exclusive of an activity that is (unless you’re a particular demographic which tends to be dominant in decision making in large companies).

But for all of its flaws (and don’t forget they’ve gone nowhere, they’re still a very valuable company generating serious revenues) Wework was a game changer for the coworking industry for one reason.

It put coworking on the map.

Nowadays I can go to a wedding and when asked that dreaded “so, what do you do?” question I have an answer and they have a reference point.

“Oh, like Wework?”

“I went to a Wework in <insert big global city> and had beers on the roof terrace — is it like that?”

People know Wework. They know coworking and they might have even done it once or twice.

It took years of free trials to get people into our spaces, see the value of building a supportive network and all of the other good stuff that comes from being in a community.

Wework was the shortcut that we could have never created on our own, either as individuals or a collective.

Now the biggest challenge in coworking is reclaiming the title, which won’t be easy. Most people in coworking never liked the term in the first place. It means different things to different operators, and its association with all of the rotten stuff in this sector (is it a sector yet?) has shrouded all of the good stuff.

Coworking is a trend, which has attracted attention from folks who think it’s a way to make a quick buck. An exercise in interior design which involves ordering £15k sofas, framing toxic positivity quotes on the walls and increasing the rent by £30 a square foot.

It means that people who have had a negative experience of coworking think they know what it is all about, but most community-focused coworking operators would probably wish to change that perception.

I have no intention of watching WeCrashed, the trailer made it feel like an exercise in mocking some of the few values that I felt aligned with Neumann on, trying to radically change our experience of the environment in which we spend more time per year than we do with friends and families.

But it will make more people aware of coworking, and in turn more people to reeducate on what it really means to be a part of a coworking community.

Wework was everything to hate about startup/unicorn/VC culture.

Wework might have been coworking, but coworking is not Wework.

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