How WeWork is at the forefront of changing workplace trends

By Jonathan Jackson. Published at Feb 20, 2019, in Features

In the last nine years, WeWork, which provides small businesses, startups, freelancers, large enterprises, and everyone in between with the workspace, community, and services they need to ‘make a life, not just a living’, has grown from one building in Soho in New York City to a network of more than 400,000 members across over 400 locations in 100 cities and 26 countries around the world.

WeWork currently has 1,000+ enterprise member companies (businesses with at least 1000 employees around the world), representing almost 30% of its total membership.

In Australia, WeWork has over 8,000 members in twelve open locations across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane with another five announced, including its first location in Perth.

Finfeed spoke with WeWork Australia general manager Balder Tol about the growth of this innovative company in Australia, why the shared workspace has grown as it has and what we can expect from the industry in future.

WeWork Australia GM, Balder Tol.

Jonathan Jackson: Balder, thanks for joining us. WeWork’s focus when it started in 2010 was to react to the changing nature of workplace experiences and requirements. Can you tell our readers what you see as the fundamental changes in workplace practices in this time?

Balder Tol: Technology has changed the way we work. Today’s workforce is increasingly mobile and more flexible. They’re choosing to work in environments that allow them to be inspired, thrive personally as well as professionally and feel part of something greater than themselves. We know that for many of our members it’s beyond simply making money. We see connectivity, collaboration and providing a platform for interaction is becoming more important as the nature of work is changing. Our global footprint and diverse membership base gives us a unique insight into how the behaviour of businesses and their employees is evolving. It’s clear that the way people work is undergoing a fundamental shift. Companies across industries are asking themselves ‘what’s next?’ as they encounter a changing workforce.

JJ: How do employers meet the changing needs of employees without compromising their own growth and requirements?
BT: Looking ahead, companies of all sizes will need to adapt their workplace experience to navigate operational challenges around talent and culture to keep pace with the future of work. We’ve seen that startups and enterprises want to learn from and engage with each other. The creation of a truly collaborative environment for not only our members, but Australians as a whole is very important.

For us, our focus is supporting businesses as they adapt to shifts in workplace behaviour, championing flexible and collaborative working and redefining what means to ‘balance’ work and life. We focus on every element to provide our members with a diversity of spaces that have the right mix of design and function. Privacy is key and the majority of our members have their own office – the space to do sensitive or confidential work. However, the moment you step out of your office, you’re in a space that is designed to inspire and collaborate. WeWork is not an environment where we are trying to get our members to work more, but to work smarter.

JJ: One of the taglines for the company is: A place where we’re redefining success measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line. Community is our catalyst. Can you elaborate on this further?
BT: Community is key and everything we do is centered around building collaborative communities. The way we design our spaces, the way we run programs and events in our buildings, the way we designed our (digital) member app – everything is focused around fostering a connected community around the world. People want human connection now more than ever, and coming together in real and meaningful ways -- whether at work, home or at the gym – is here to stay. We want members to feel comfortable to enter any WeWork around the world and feel that they are at home and in an environment they can thrive in.

JJ: It is not just small businesses and entrepreneurs that have joined the movement, larger companies, such as Microsoft use these spaces too. What has attracted these major organisations to WeWork?

BT: As our community has grown, it has become even more diverse. Organisations are increasingly requiring workspaces that bend and flex with their needs. We also see that a well-designed space and carefully curated culture can attract and keep top talent. More and more, bigger businesses are understanding the impact workspace can have on culture and employee performance. Large corporations are increasingly joining WeWork for our space and services, and enterprise organisations (1000+ employees) are WeWork's fastest growing sector globally, currently accounting for almost 30% of the company's membership. Companies’ needs are less static than they used to be, so the ability to open an office anywhere, relatively affordably, and efficiently, is a very attractive lure.

JJ: What has been behind the growth in Australia?

BT: WeWork has expanded rapidly in Australia since we opened our first location at 5 Martin Place in October 2016. As of February this year, we’ve grown to over 8,000 members in 12 open locations across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Most recently, we announced that we’ll soon be opening in Perth. As a member of the WeWork community, you have access to all of our global locations.

WeWork offers people a platform for engagement, giving them opportunities to connect in real life. While Australians may be more geographically isolated from much of the rest of the world, our members have access to over 400,000 creators internationally. WeWork is truly a network effect company, where more members and more locations will continue to present an increased value proposition for our members.

JJ: Why do you think Australian businesses have embraced the model so wholeheartedly? How does it change the way Australians work and live?

BT: We are a global company with a local playbook, so whenever we enter a new market, we work with key partners to help create a WeWork experience that resonates with the local community. I think the agile nature of our model is appealing to Australians, who are naturally quick to adapt. Culturally, Australians are very friendly and open to making new connections, not only within their building but interstate and beyond, via the member app. Being connected to people, in real life, makes for a happier life. When you join the WeWork community, your footprint as a business expands beyond the city where you work. When you sign up as a member to WeWork in Melbourne you are granted access to over 400 WeWork locations worldwide, from Singapore to Seattle, which can have an immeasurable impact on business performance, no matter your scale.

JJ: You were previously with AirBnB, are there any similarities between the businesses?

BT: Both organisations are about making offline connections, building communities and sharing experiences. For me, it’s really about bringing people together – making truly meaningful connections that positively impact both people’s personal lives and business potential. To walk into our newest WeWork location at 161 Castlereagh St in Sydney and see hundreds of smiling faces step into the space we’ve created for the first time is so satisfying. At WeWork, the unique culture we have at each of our locations makes people happy, and ultimately better human beings.

JJ: What did you take from the business practices at AirBnB that you could apply to WeWork?

The power of storytelling is something that’s stuck with me: the idea of building a great story by taking people on a journey, has never been more relevant. WeWork is a mission-driven organisation, which means that we will never stop harnessing the power of community to make a positive impact. The company is moving at a fast pace, so it’s important to be able to work quickly, as well as efficiently. Being able to work in a team is just as important. People are our greatest asset and we put a major focus on organisational design to deliver the best member experience. One of WeWork’s core values is ‘Together’ and that sticks with me as we really do leave our titles at the door and work as a team for our common goal.

JJ: Further to that, what workplace trends can we expect in 2019 and how will WeWork adopt or adapt them?

BT: WeWork has committed to becoming fully carbon neutral by 2023, so this year we’ll see exciting new eco-friendly measures come into play as sustainability continues to be a growing priority for both ourselves and our members.

Looking ahead, I think there will be an even greater emphasis on work-life integration, ensuring the physical space has been curated with wellness in mind. We understand that a well-designed environment can have a very positive contribution, not only to productivity, but to personal happiness as well. We’re constantly finding new ways to help our members feel energised in a space that is grounded in community; and by offering regular yoga, mindfulness classes, and lunch & learns, our members are able to not only connect with others, but take time out of their day to focus on themselves.

WeWork's rooftop yoga experience.

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