WeWork may be blundering when it comes to providing community experience as an increasing number of members say that the sense of community at the co-working giant’s locations is slowly dwindling- leaving many landlords wondering whether the company’s commercial office empire is slowly crumbling.
Traditionally shared office spaces have been viewed as an antidote to loneliness for many entrepreneurs and small business owners especially an isolated workforce of Millennials and Generation Zs who notably the among the loneliest generation of workers to date.
Nearly 46% of adult workers surveyed last year reported sometimes or always feeling alone, according to a national survey by Cigna. Among them, Generation Z ages 18-22 and millennials ages 23-37 rated themselves highest on feelings associated with loneliness.
The shared office experience has become a common and somewhat sacred experience for many entrepreneurs and independent workers who say it’s often a place where they go engage with other young professionals or “creators” like themselves.
One coworking user described the share office experience as the following:
“When you start working from a shared office, you become part of a self-employed group of individuals who share the common struggle of giving shape to their work aspirations. They become coworkers with whom you can share and discuss ideas and even seek suggestions, much like you do in a regular office.”
And while WeWork, has led in the coworking industry because they understood the significance of building a sense of community better than other shared workspace providers the company seems to have lost sight of its goal.
Peter Abraham who has been using WeWork’s Santa Monica coworking offices for more than three years says that he turned to WeWork after a disappointing six-month long relationship with a shared space provider who treated the business like a real estate company, not a service.
“Desks are just a commodity, a community is an experience,” said Abraham. “ We all crave human connection that is just how most of us are wired.”
Abraham says that while WeWork initially understood the importance of building community he’s seen the sense of community decline as the company started to grow and increase uptake in venture capital funding.
“I had seen the service slip as they took in more venture capital. You could see it very clearly if you have some perspective,” said Abraham.
Abraham says he highly valued the now gone Friday afternoon BBQs, taco Tuesdays and networking and social events, hosted by WeWork early on.
“Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t as if I would always go to all of those events. But the fact they would go out of their way to put us together and meet each other is missing now. It’s like they don’t even really try.”
“They are fundamentally shortchanging us on community which is the most important aspect of a coworking space,” he added.
While Abraham says he has made some important contacts which he uses to run his digital marketing business including a digital designer, copywriter and Facebook ad company that has now left WeWork because it grew in size, WeWork could be doing more to facilitate these connections.
Abraham says that he made these connections through personal interactions day to day interaction and not the company’s digital app which has been touted as a means of connecting businesses within its member network.
Along with the WeWork’s super-fast growth has also come an unprecedented amount of staff turnover.
“As soon as someone [community manager] gets good they move them out to open up another WeWork. There’s turnover every six months. I don’t even bother to remember their names anymore,” said Abraham.
“Community managers are nice people but they don’t understand how to create wonderful service. Mission and training are lacking here. What drives them is doing a good enough job and getting promoted,” he added.
Abraham who is still using WeWork’s coworking space in Santa Monica primarily due to a lack of availability of other options says he’s talked to WeWork about these issues.
“They were responsive, they did listen. But I haven’t really seen many things change and it hasn’t made a meaningful difference. It’s not great or as good as it can be,” he said
Along with dissatisfaction from entrepreneurs, corporates are also wondering whether coworking spaces are working for their employees.
As the enterprise market places an increasing amount of emphasis on workplace productivity and employee retention employers are reconsidering whether the interactions at coworking are strong enough to generate the long-term workplace relationship derived from working at company head offices.
“I really don’t miss remote working,” said one senior-level executive of a company which brands technology products for Fortune 500 clients. “Going to the office where employees and teams are generating new and innovative ideas excites me and keeps me on my toes. It’s where I can bounce ideas off of them and figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
“The kind of teamwork and process required for us to remain innovative and competitive can’t be replicated outside of our organization,” he added.