MAGAZINE: WeWork, we want 

Ethics and the environment but also a sense of community and an easy commute are some of the things the next generation of CEOs look for in an urban office.

Sometimes, it feels like one cannot get more ‘urban’ than a modern collaborative workspace in a capital city. Three minutes’ walk from busy Moorgate underground station in London is the WeWork office at 1 Fore Street. There are city workers walking purposefully everywhere, coffee shops galore, taxis, lorries, vans, cars, shops, gyms, and modern office blocks 360 degrees, and even a school in the vicinity.

At the WeWork Moorgate – incidentally the first building in London the company has so far publicly declared to be profitable - one walks through funky green illuminated electric barriers into a large ground floor reception area. The London financial area around here may be full of suits, but ‘members’ here (not tenants!) are predominantly casually dressed and are either working alone or in pairs or small clusters from their laptops. A range of brown leather sofas, upright seats and large farmhouse style wooden tables are strategically placed around. Some people are ordering free-to-members coffee at the on-site Le Pain Quotidien.

The elevator takes us up to a level where we meet two youthful WeWork members: Peter Wood, CEO of Coin Burp, a soon-to-be-launched crypto currency platform, and Luke Archer, the global marketing manager of data room company, Sterling Technology. WeWork has arranged for us to meet both.

Ethical and environmental concerns
The point of meeting them is to discover what matters to the next generation of Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks when it comes to the urban workplace they want to be in.  Sterling Technologies’ Archer says with a hint of self-deprecation that he is the ‘urban warrior’ of his company and immediately highlights ethical and environmental considerations.

It is very important to him that an office space provider does not issue ‘single use plastics’ and it should have proper separated recycling bins. ‘A lot of places do not offer this,’ he points out.

At the last office he worked at, there was no such provision. At the end the day, he would actually put his colleagues’ waste into his own bag and take it home for recycling out of wish to not contribute to landfill. It may seem extreme, but it also demonstrates how seriously future senior leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow take this aspect of urban office life.

Another bugbear is empty floors or redundant spaces within office blocks. In his view, this is an offensive waste given there are homeless in London. He’d rather see spaces temporarily used by start-ups for free. If he were to select an office to occupy again, a building showing ‘waste’ like this would sway his choice towards a less wasteful alternative. ‘It irritates me,’ he says. ‘There are property owners or providers that don’t think enough about day-to-day usage. They probably think about macro energy efficiency, but empty offices are so dystopian. I would avoid it if there were a parallel option.’  

Sterling Technology was formed one year ago and employs six people in sales and marketing. These people are often ‘on the road’, so dropping into another WeWork presents a flexible solution. The firm chose the 1 Fore Street site as its main base because it was the easiest to get to for its scattered staff, some of whom live in the Home Counties. Walker himself walks into the office from London Bridge station. ‘We needed somewhere easy to get to, but also somewhere with character,’ he adds. Moorgate has character but London’s Canary Wharf for instance doesn’t. (Which is interesting because WeWork pulled out of a lease in Canary Wharf in 2016 but in February this year was reported to be in talks to take over 300,000 sq ft of space that the European Medicines Agency is controversially vacating at Canary Wharf due to Brexit.

WeLive accommodation
Speaking to our second WeWork member, Wood who is Coin Burp’s entrepreneurial CEO, says he is a ‘big believer in community’ and looked at four office space providers in London for his firm. In his view, WeWork has a ‘huge push in community issues’ which ticks an important box.

As a fintech start-up, his firm was looking for somewhere with a private office, not an open-plan one, and crucially somewhere with a secure server whose network traffic can be separate from that of the office provider’s.

Being a start-up with an imminent go-live date, he also expects to work some all-nighters or at least to ensure some 2am finishes. He lives in Luton up to 50 minutes away by train, so naturally he muses how handy it would be if WeWork’s offices also had flats.

In the US, WeWork has introduced WeLive for short and longer residential stays and this involves a ‘community team’ that also provides events there. The WeLive at Wall St in Manhattan is located above a WeWork office. This residential aspect hasn’t reached Europe yet, but in the fullness of time it could do, and this it seems will be welcomed at least by this urban village-loving fintech entrepreneur. Other on-site services he would rate include a GP surgery and a restaurant. But would there be a danger people would never leave a WeWork? He smiles and says ‘no’. 


WEWORK INTERVIEW: Scientific approach to choosing locations

Mary Finnigan is WeWork’s head of transactions for EMEA. With a 20-year career behind her as a property lawyer, it is her job to grow the WeWork ‘community’. She says: ‘We source in urban locations. In London, for example, we are mainly in Zone 1. We are looking for buildings that are near good transport links. We are passionate about the member experience and that starts with the journey to work.’

The next priority is how much light is coming into the building, something that feeds into wellbeing. The third aspect is the size of the building. ‘We are very picky. Brokers in the market will bring us a long list of properties, but it is for us to decide if it is an appropriate WeWork.’

Over the last eight years, the company has built up a combination of data and feedback from members, giving it a scientific approach to which locations will and won’t work. Once it has reached the legal stage of a lease negotiation, WeWork has a team to carry out ‘programming’. This is a form of due diligence whereby a
construction team walks around the property with laser equipment to produce a 3D model that can be ‘walked virtually’, enabling the company to get the layout and unit mix correct before signing a deal. In terms of new advancements, it seems ‘customisation of space for individuals’ is on the radar. If a person were to sit at a desk for 10 minutes and liked the air around them to be quite cold, is there an efficient technological solution should the next person want it to be warmer?

Finnigan says a new ‘amazing’ office is opening at Waterloo station later this year. ‘The size at 300,000 sq ft is going to create a buzz and a real community,’ she says. Asked if the firm would be rolling out WeLive following the US, she says: ‘We are giving a lot of thought as to how that may play out both in London and in Europe. It is at very early stages and there is nothing yet to announce. 

Thie company likes to take its urban credentials seriously, tying in with the local community via partnerships. For example, it partnered Hackney Council to engage local schools and worked with the Hackney 100 scheme to provide mentorship slots for their applicants. WeWork has a mentorship programme whereby it invites school children in to work alongside some of its members. It is now in talks with the Diana Award looking to expand this to other councils and is taking it to Paris, where it has just signed its latest premises.

A WeWork-commissioned study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) suggests the ‘WeWork economy’ creates a 2.1x economic multiplier in London, meaning for every WeWork member, an additional 1.1 jobs are supported through indirect and induced spending. The company believes its successful members spend above-average on food and beverage and other facilities in the surrounding area. In this way it likes to feel that as part of the urban fabric, it is an economic plus.




Latest news

Best read stories