As WeWork prepares to shed its risky wild child image and take on a new CEO, our editor Lauren Gow reflects on where the issues began with this workplace upstart.
It all started with bacon. Tiny but tasty bacon and cheese quiches to be precise. That is where WeWork’s IPO failure, and I suspect eventual business model failure, began to happen, long before a tentative tender was flashed to the investor market.
It began with the banning of meat, in mid-2018. The irony, of course, being that WeWork’s official tagline is: “Do what you love.” (As long as it isn’t eating bacon.)
At that point, StrategicRISK’s Sydney office was based out of a WeWork facility. It had been a bumpy ride in recent months, following the sale of our original co-working space, Gravity, to global behemoth WeWork.
Gravity had been a fun place to work, with barbecues on the harbourside balcony on Friday afternoon, regular social drinks and, of course, those tiny quiches dotted on plates around the office to fill that mid-morning void between ‘too late for breakfast and too early for lunch’.
At first, the changes were minute and not very noticeable. A new poster here and there, and a change of office plants. Then they changed the teabags from the high-end T2 brand to a low-market supermarket option. Following the tea was the binning of my beloved Nespresso machine, which was replaced by something spitting out the unappetising equivalent of dirty dishwater into a cup and masquerading it shamelessly as coffee.
Next we were told that everything had to be done via an app. Even conversations about the app had to be conducted via the app. Actual humans on a reception desk were telling us that if we wished to speak to the humans on the reception desk, we needed to make an appointment via the app.
When I asked how to download the app, I was told to have a look at the FAQs on the app. You can see where this is going.
But the final straw was the banishment of meat. WeWork’s then CEO, Adam Neumann, emailed all employees and tenants like us (please note we were not told via the app) that “moving forward, we will not serve or pay for meat at WeWork events and want to clarify that this includes poultry and pork, as well as red meat.”
The company’s co-founder and chief culture officer, Miguel McKelvey, said the new policy was one way it could do more to become environmentally conscious.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with being environmentally conscious. I recycle. I have at least one meat-free day a week and I continually tell my son that if he doesn’t switch off the lights there won’t be a planet for him to light up when he gets older. What I do have an issue with, however, is having my choices decided for me as an adult and it seems I am not alone.
Last year, StrategicRISK moved offices to join a new JustCo co-working office – a similar set-up but with Nespresso machines, individual choice over what we eat and, best of all, no app.
And guess who came with us? About three-quarters of our old WeWork office, which is clearly not ideal when a major part of your business model is cramming as many people as possible into your space.
In business, feet talk. You need people in order to make your business work, whether employees or customers. WeWork’s postponement of their IPO after lukewarm enthusiasm from investors and a confusing value differentiation shows what happens when feet aren’t happy and nor are the humans attached to them. The punting of Neumann as CEO proved the shareholders and board felt the same way.
Ultimately, I believe WeWork lost its way when it started making decisions for adults. I hope we can all take something from WeWork’s mistake. Don’t take your employees for granted and never assume to know what they want. Ask. Then listen with both ears and make sure they know they are valued. Or don’t be surprised if they start to walk, too.