The co-working startup WeWork became something of a laughing stock in the past year and a half, defined by sensational stories about its hard-partying founder Adam Neumann and his profligate spending on frivolities like wave pool startups.
The company burned tens of billions of dollars on the premise that it could not just provide you office space, but someday even apartments and high-class education for your children, all fueled by technological innovation. But it turns out that WeWork is really just an office rental company, proving skeptics right. After dodging bankruptcy and slashing costs, it’s about to go public at a valuation of $9 billion, much less than its peak of $47 billion.
Still, nobody has ever denied that WeWork’s office spaces are sleek, and actually quite nice to work from. There’s unlimited coffee and kombucha, and the large, brightly lit spaces are filled with comfortable furniture and amenities like phone booths that include desks and chargers, so you can take a call in privacy. The flexibility to rent by the month is also a nice draw, as you aren’t making a big commitment that you’ll be stuck with.
Flexibility and convenience — So when, deep in the draws of the pandemic, one of my friends suggested we try out WeWork’s All Access plan, I gave it some serious thought. I work remotely, and normally that’s fine because I can go to a coffee shop or elsewhere. But instead, the greater part of the past year was spent working from home, with most indoor spaces in my area not even open at all.
I was losing my mind a little bit, and WeWork’s All Access plan is free for the first month, followed by $300 a month thereafter. That’s kind of a lot, sure, but the small bedroom I rent wasn’t cutting it anymore.
When I actually bit the bullet and signed up for a membership — as easy as signing up for any subscription service — I didn’t regret it. With the All Access plan you get a keycard that lets you into virtually any of the more than 200 WeWork locations across the United States. My nearest WeWork is just a short walk from my apartment, and immediately I felt like I had some semblance of a routine again. I could get up, put myself together in a somewhat presentable outfit, and then show up to an office with desks and coffee, a full-sized kitchen, and places to make conference calls. I could see familiar faces every day, like the “community managers” seated at the WeWork entrance. The only drawback is that you don’t get your own private office, but rather can use common areas and open desk spaces. That wasn’t a big deal to me.
Being able to check out different WeWorks is a big perk. Some of the WeWork locations, like the one in San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower, are so beautiful that it’s almost difficult to pay attention to work as you stare out the windows, but needless to say I made it work.
What’s more, when I went to see my parents in Colorado, there was a WeWork right near their house. I was able to travel and see my parents but escape during the workday to a professional environment, without distraction by nosy family members (sorry) or dogs that demanded attention.
Pandemic bright spots — WeWork’s flexible leases are one issue, among many, that contributed to its financial troubles. As soon as the pandemic hit, legions of members were able to immediately cut loose their memberships as everyone decided to play it safe and see how things would go. But Neumann always argued that WeWork would do well in an economic recession because the flexibility would be a draw for business and individuals looking to stay lean. That’s the same message WeWork is sending to the public now, as it prepares to sell shares to the public. It believes that more companies will offer a hybrid work model, and flexible office memberships will let them adapt as needed rather than signing on major lease agreements for space that might go unused.
Time will tell if WeWork is right. Its occupancy numbers are increasing again, but still lower than it needs to be sustainable (the public offering will at least give it $1.2 billion to keep going). I’m keeping my membership for now, though that could change as things begin to open back up again. Even still, I’m glad I signed up for All Access. There’s something about just seeing familiar faces everyday that I took for granted before the pandemic. And even if I decide I no longer need it, cancelling your membership can be done online through a simple form.