The office 2.0: coworking, hotdesking and being yourself

WeWork and other such firms want a looser, more collaborative approach to work

 

“Work is changing. I don’t think people can deny that.” Leni Zneimer, general manager of WeWork’s UK and Ireland operations, sees the shift as a positive thing.

There was a time when running your own business meant either working from home or renting office space and getting on with things, but the growing trend towards coworking has opened the way to a more collaborative, community-minded work environment.

It wasn’t invented by WeWork; Dublin is already home to coworking spaces such as Huckletree and the Fumbally Exchange. But US-founded WeWork is certainly upping the ante with its expansion in Dublin. Only days after its first Dublin building opened at Iveagh Court, the company announced it would be taking space in Central Plaza, the redeveloped former headquarters of the Central Bank on Dame Street.

That is in addition to the other two buildings it has committed to opening, giving it a substantial footprint in Dublin’s squeezed commercial property market. WeWork’s model is simple: you can book desk or office space in a specific building, but members also have access to every WeWork facility, allowing them to book desk space in whatever city they need it.

The first of the buildings, Iveagh Court, was full to capacity when it officially opened. In addition to hotdesking for members, WeWork also offers dedicated desks for companies and private offices. Among the companies that have taken up space in WeWork’s Iveagh Court building are Microsoft and Looker.

“Whenever we design our spaces, we always think intentionally about hotdesking, dedicated desks, private offices. It’s very intentional in terms of what we want the community to look like at the end once we have filled it,” says Zneimer. “There’s a middle-market segment that is really appealing – Looker would fit into that, Twilio has over 160 members in this location, Microsoft has over 200. It’s not only small companies.”

Global outlook

WeWork now has offices in 77 cities and 23 countries around the world, including New York, Paris and Amsterdam. Aside from the Central Plaza building, it also has offices in George’s Dock and Dublin Landings.

“Dublin has been on our mind for a long time. It’s a really appealing choice; it’s such a hub for tech innovation,” Zneimer says. “There are so many companies that choose to base themselves here, so I think it was obvious.”

Spread over five floors in Iveagh Court, the building has large open spaces with hotdesking facilities, communal areas for holding informal meetings and smaller private meeting rooms. Then there are private office areas reserved for companies such as Looker and Twilio.

But Zneimer says it is not just about somewhere to park a laptop for a few days.

“We often get bucketed into a coworking space; for us to deny that would be silly. We do obviously cowork and we have that as part of our model. But I think that it’s really the vehicle we use to create a community and a global platform that is our product,” she says.

“When we think about WeWork we think about the 268,000 members that we have globally. We think about the fact we have over 280 locations internationally. When a member joins WeWork, they’re able to plug into that international ecosystem.”

That has a few advantages. Expanding internationally becomes a lot easier when you have easily accessible office space in that location, along with a ready-made community and network to tap into. Because community is a big part of WeWork, with events planned for each day covering networking, wellness and health.

For example, the Iveagh Court office has a basement bar for after-work drinks, and a pool table for leisure time. But its programme of events also includes things such as exercise classes and nail appointments. The company is also hosting events aimed at entrepreneurs and innovators. The first, We the Creators, took place on August 29th, with a panel of speakers including former Irish rugby star and tech investor Jamie Heaslip, Izzy Wheels founder Ailbhe Keane, and Gráinne Walsh, founder of Metalman Brewing.

“There has been a macro shift in the way that people are working. I think that freelancing and being an entrepreneur is becoming more and more common. Because work is changing, we demand different things from our work,” says Zneimer. “When someone comes into this space, when they’re in the environment, they want to be able to get more out of their work and not just come in, plug in on their laptop and then go home and live their actual life.”

Unlikely converts

WeWork has happy hours every week where members can connect and get to know each other, an approach that has paid off in terms of commercial relationships, too. Zneimer says WeWork’s own research has found more than 70 per cent of members are interacting and collaborating with one another and more than 50 per cent are doing transactional business with one another. It’s not just talk from the company; WeWork itself has also signed up to work with some of its members.

The popularity of spaces such as Huckletree and WeWork could end up shaping the work environment of the future.

“What employees want from their employers and work environment is shifting,” says Zneimer.

“One of my favourite things is seeing people come in who traditionally think, This isn’t for me, I’m not into this type of environment – very suit and tie. Those are the people who start to love it and adopt it the most, because they have this sense of comfort and sense of being themselves in a workspace, which I think is rare. Hopefully things are shifting more and more.”

This article was corrected on September 27th 2018

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