How WeWork foresaw the end of the conventional office

Beyond the wild expansion and sudden downfall of the company under Adam Neumann, there remains the fundamental issue of an industry still waiting for change.

In 2010, Campbell McKellar co-founded a company called Loosecubes, a business built partly on the belief that the traditional office was on the path to extinction. The evidence was there to support her business plan: back then, there were 42 million freelancers and contract workers in the United States, and more than 60 per cent of American companies were allowing employees to work remotely some of the time.

Loosecubes launched shortly after Airbnb and Uber, and it applied the same principle – monetising other people’s under-used property – to desk space. Like other “sharing economy” companies, Loosecubes could grow quickly because it didn’t take on those workspaces as assets, and like those other companies it grew rapidly: by 2011, it was world’s largest community marketplace for shared workspaces, with almost 1,700 spaces in 350 cities and 60 countries around the globe.

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As McKellar saw it, people poised for success are those most capable of forging their own path. “The office is necessary but it’s up to the individual to choose their right environment,” she said in 2011. “Competitive advantage comes from individuals and it comes from individuals connected in some way.”

But then, almost as quickly as it had grown, Loosecubes shut down. The company had fulfilled its promise of social connection, but it hadn’t figured out how to monetise it.

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As one strategist and blogger said of Loosecubes shortly after it shut down: “[It] was never about the physical features of the facilities. All that stuff is irrelevant now. The name of the game in the workspace-sharing world is the people you have a chance to meet. Nobody ever said they loved co-working because they got to sit in a fancy chair.”

A couple of years before Loosecubes launched, another co-working company called GreenDesk was beginning to offer organic, fairtrade coffee, green office supplies and sustainable furniture to members who could rent a desk or an office by the month. Its sustainable approach was ultimately abandoned after the founders realised workers didn’t really care about that; what they wanted was community. So GreenDesk became WeWork.

In his new book, What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley, Adrian Daub argues that Silicon Valley’s ubiquitous talk of “disruption” is more about “rearrang[ing] what already exists”.

That was certainly the case with WeWork. It didn’t disrupt office space so much as disrupt the idea of how – and for how long –­ office space was occupied. And, perhaps most importantly, how that space was paid for.

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WeWork was able to bankrupt its competitors not because it had a completely different idea, but because its co-founder, Adam Neumann, had an insatiable desire to acquire more buildings, more locations, more power – basically …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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