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The Rise of the WeWorking Class (nytimes.com)
83 points by espressomachiat 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments

What a long winded article.

I don't really understand the fascination/surprise at wework and similar. It's just office space, packaged in a way that suits a few underserved markets.

Flexibility is valuable, and was previously underavailable. It also turned out that a lot of the "work-from-home" people would like office space, if it's nice and they can afford it.

What is so surprising or notable here? A slightly quirky aesthetic? Espresso?

> It's just office space, packaged in a way that suits a few underserved markets.

The whole point of the article is that it's not.

"All its accessories serve to buttress its real product: “office culture” as a service."

It might be more helpful to address the flaws in their argument than merely to state its opposite.

I don't know how to argue against an abstract claim like that. You could say coca cola's real product is "A taste of 1950s America" or that a designer suit is really "a statement of intent."

How do you argue that it is, in fact, a drink?

Yes. This is an article in want of an editor. "I went to an office and there was coffee. A person called X runs the office. X is a singer blah blah blah."

If the article touches anything like 'class' it doesn't touch it in the first couple of thousand words.

I ran a competing CoWorking space in Los Angeles. WeWork is the opposite of the no-frills aesthetic: they have lots of perks, fun perks, they are not cheap, and having any one perk is conspicuous. WeWork is how people not in larger youth communities meet to get laid. That is it. WeWork is a youth community of people spending mom & dad money, conspicuously in a play-like-work space, not really working, and being super irritating to those trying to work.

> WeWork is how people not in larger youth communities meet to get laid

I never knew, maybe they should advertise this more.

Glad to know I can add to the "Unicorns that trick people into thinking they are going to get laid" list that I started during the rise of Facebook.

I'm not sure what that line is supposed to mean. I work in a WeWork as well and everyone seems to be working. Maybe some are worse than others...

I met my wife at work while we seemed to be working.

FWIW, I work out of a wework near my house in Shanghai. I’m a software engineer in my 30’s. Our office is on the other side of the city from where I live, and takes over an hour on the subway to get there. I don’t need to be there physically, so I arranged with my boss to work from home 4 days a week. But working from home is tough, so I work instead from the wework around the corner from my house. Your mileage may vary, but I see tons of people doing real work there. Plenty of early stage startups, but also plenty of more established businesses, even outside of tech. A guy on my floor moved his consulting company office there because the price was comparable to commercial real estate, and the convenience and flexibility were great.

Maybe the reality is that Los Angeles is a youth community of people spending mom and dad money

I was thinking of renting something in Irvine. Anyone have experience working there?

Probably this.

I also work for a company based in a WeWork space, and my experience is that most people there are working, both for startups and non startups alike.

That said, the building setup itself isn't all that great to work in, since despite the perks, actual basics of office maintenance seem to be ignored/shoved under the rug by the company. If your lifts have problems, you can't afford to give out too many ID cards, the microwaves keep failing and the bathrooms aren't cleaned properly, it doesn't matter how many arcade machines and ping pong tables you have.

I have not been to a WeWork, but this is the vibe I got from their advertising: the one that pops up for me on YouTube features a group of good looking millennials, dressed office-chic, walking confidently and shaking hands in slow motion with auspicious music in the background.

The entire message is aesthetic: there's no dialog or text at all, let alone an argument as to why WeWork would benefit your organization. It struck me as more like lifestyle-brand advertising than anything.

Probably because that’s how it’s sold? WeWork is a lifestyle brand.

It’s just interesting they took something like renting out office space and made it something like that

> I don't really understand the fascination/surprise at wework and similar

Image and marketing matters, as much as engineers wish it didn't

Major companies that need distributed workspace for areas that don’t quite need offices, and the “impression” of think tank. They do have cool hosted events fairly often.

It's just paid PR for WeWork. WeWork must have a great PR team and most importantly investors with significant contacts because they get great press.


I don't know, the tone of the article wasn't actually super favorable towards WeWork. The author outright mocked their founder pretty consistently throughout the piece. The vibe I got was more, "WeWorks are nice to work at but they are not as revolutionary as they think they are".

For a PR company, a few negative comments about the business model is a price-of-admission to the New York Times and a pre-requisite for getting it past an editor.

Largely, it's one the PR company / WeWork are happy to pay because they get to say they've been in the NYT, they get exposed to new potential new customers without having to pay per lead, and 'WeWorking' becomes a step closer to being a verb with WeWork's brand attached to it.

It's deeper, its for people who need it.

Disguising PR as articles is really dishonest.

Native advertising... After Craig Newmark effectively killed newspapers’s No. 1 source of revenue, they had to turn to other means of generating ad sales.

I had thought the NYTimes was above that internet troll behavior. Clearly I was mistaken.

Well, that's one less place I'll be spending my money online.

A recent executive mandate declared the company a “meat-free” organization. When I interviewed McKelvey not long after the Summit, he had a very fuzzy time trying to explain the meaning of the “eight pillars” of its CultureOS and the relationships among them. But when he noticed that the P.R. representative happened to be carrying a single-use plastic water bottle, he admonished her to be mindful of her own consumption.


When did it become acceptable to straight up disrespect someone to their face for their personal choices? Although I'm 29, I still remember a time where there was at least the pretense of civility. Civility was the oil that kept this machine running smoothly, now it's sputtering left and right. We don't even use formal names like Mr./Ms. as much as we once did, if at all. I felt that was an important part of creating a barrier of civil respect, distinguishing personal relationships from civil relationships. We threw a lot of cultural things away that were actually pretty damn important.

Edit: Also, my karma is now a binary number. Please don't up vote.

I think that this is a bit of a fallacy, ever so slightly akin to the ideology behind "Make America Great Again". When was this fabled time where everyone was civil to each other? Does the popular usage of Mr./Mrs. really mean we are being civil? People may have called each other Mr. and Mrs. in the 50's but many people were also extremely judgemental based on religious choices, many people were racist, sexist, etc etc.... I am not really buying this argument. People have always been civil and people have always been bad to each other. One really need to just judge peoples emotional maturity on a case by case basis.

> When did it become acceptable to straight up disrespect someone to their face for their personal choices?

It always has been, surely? But for a different set of things than mere consumer choice.

People used to be polite to each other as long as they were the right people, but being polite to the wrong people became a sin called "political correctness".

It's really ok and not at all "disrespectful" for a company's chief culture officer/cofounder to remind a company PR Rep (and subordinate) to be mindful to display company ethos while at work. She's a PR Rep, her job is literately to represent the company.

When did we become so self centered that we think we can behave however we please while at work under the guise of "it's just a personal choice, man" and any reprimanding of not following company policies is automatically considered "disrespectful?"

> When did it become acceptable to straight up disrespect someone to their face for their personal choices?

When people started having personal choices that affected the people around them. So: since always.

I think you're answering a different question than was asked. When did it become acceptable to politely suggest a different personal choice? Since always, as you say. When did it become acceptable to disrespect them for a personal choice? Pretty recently, and should have been never. That includes the personal choice to rationalize that kind of condescending priggishness online. What kind of person gets their jollies that way? Those who live by the sword, and all that. Maybe it would be better if we could all express the same ideas in more respectful and collaborative ways, at least to start with.

The article doesn't have enough detail to conclude whether "admonished" meant politely or with disrespect.

Exactly. The article didn't mention disrespect, but BucketSort did. Two different questions. When peteretep replied to one with an answer only applicable to the other, it seemed worth pointing out.

It's absolutely disrespectful to "admonish" someone in a meeting like this. I mean, it is basically saying "you are making shitty choices." If you were a friend, that's another matter. I'm still trying to back the idea that there should be a civil barrier of respect that is not crossed in formal dealings. If someone is dealing with you in a capacity that their job demands, you should treat them as a person in that capacity. They don't necessarily want to be there, they must be. The last thing you want is for people to get personal. I'm obviously not just talking about this situation, but the way we conduct ourselves in general. It makes navigating society much easier when people respect these boundaries.

In what situation would you walk up to a stranger and tell them to be mindful of themselves for carrying a plastic water bottle and it's not disrespectful. Mind your own business maybe?

> In what situation would you walk up to a stranger

Walking up to a stranger is one thing, but that really wasn't the case here... in this case, a comment was made to company-appointed P.R. representative who was present at a meeting with a journalist who was there to write about the company, its values, and its culture. I think the founder of the company commenting on the same company's P.R. person not adhering to the company's values is very much him "minding his own business".

When the stranger works for you and you literally own the business and part of the business's PR strategy is environmentalism and the stranger's job is PR and they're talking to s reporter, I would say it's your business and this is appropriate minding.


> Not all personal choices warrant civility

True in some cases, but would you seriously put a single-use bottle into that category? The harm from that, while undeniably real, doesn't seem immediate or severe enough to justify jumping past civility to disrespect. You made a statement that disrespect is generally acceptable, and I disagree. While there are exceptions, disrespect should generally be avoided. To make the point even more bluntly, I think normalizing disrespect makes assholes of us all.

I don’t believe that incivility and disrespect are synonyms. It’s possible to rob someone blind in a civilised way, and equally to bluntly do someone a good turn.

You’re jumping backwards and forwards between the specific and the general here, but yes, I think it’s appropriate to admonish a PR person who knows there’s a journalist around for being off brand because _that’s literally their job_.

To speak to “it makes assholes of all of us”, appeals to civility and politeness have a long and sordid history of being used to oppress people, cf tone policing.

> appeals to civility and politeness have a long and sordid history

So does rejection of civility and politeness. Those who would marginalize or oppress others always start by placing them outside the sphere of social conventions, then complain about "political correctness" and "tone policing" when they're called on their behavior toward anyone not of their own tribe.

> then complain about "political correctness" and "tone policing"

I suspect the set of people who've complained about both political correctness _and_ tone policing is precisely zero.

May I suggest listening to "National Brotherhood Week" by Tom Lehrer?


Pollution is a personal choice? Maybe people figured out that "personal choice" wad being used as a shield to freely destroy and exploit commons.

Hmm, it seems we need to have some discussions about civility in this country. It seems like people have become confused about its role and why its important. I guess it's easy to lose sight of that when the President goes around calling people childish nicknames.

> disrespect

What disrespect? Where was that?

A whole comment thread developed without anybody questioning the alleged "disrespect"...


Those were not civil actions for civilly minded people. Of course, people loathe each other behind closed doors and the less respectable people bring it out in public. Let me ask you this, would such an interaction as described in the OP comment happen in Japan? They seem to understand the importance of respect.

Some of that’s politeness, face and collective harmony though. You can be disrespected politely.

The idea is that there's a time and a place. If you are interviewing someone, you are there for an interview. It isn't a personal interaction. You are there to do a job. Why transform it from a formal engagement to a personal matter? We should respect the civil barrier.

Based on who's interpretation?

Civil actions by civilly-minded people has ranged throughout history, from the early alliances of warring Greek states, to the dogmatic ethics of religion, to the Enlightenment's person-centered morality and identity.

As you're familiar with Japan, you must know how in WWII the American population was shocked into supporting the war by stories of Japanese 'savages' cutting off heads of their victims - even though the Guillotine and hanging was seen as the more 'civil' form of execution by Westerners for centuries before. Today, if you use a cell phone on a train in Japan, literally everyone around you will leap towards you to scold you for using your phone - good luck getting that reaction in NYC.

Civility is nuanced and multifaceted, and it's hard to tell at any given time what all people consider 'civil'. My main point was, to that guy lecturing about bottled water, he probably thought he was being very civil.

> Today, if you use a cell phone on a train in Japan, literally everyone around you will leap towards you to scold you for using your phone

Use your cell phone to call, that is. Using your phone for anything else is perfectly fine.

"Seem to"

Japan has nasty edges, just like every other country.

They’ve also gotten very adept at showing disrespect without seeming to.

> When did it become acceptable to straight up disrespect someone to their face for their personal choices?

That time is lost in the mists of history, though which choices this is acceptable for have been different in different times and places.

Yeah, I guess I should have said "mainstream personal choices." If one does something deviant, politeness has typically always gone out the window. These days people pick fights just so they can put themselves in some virtuous light. It's really annoying.

No, these days behaviors which you remember being unquestionably mainstream are now on the disputed boundary where some substantial number of people see them as deviant.

These are defined the other way round: "mainstream" is the set of things people accept, and "deviant" is what they call things they don't.

A peer comment to yours nicely illustrates the point. Everyone wants to appropriate "mainstream" for themselves, even as they also want to be recognized as the vanguard of whatever movement they are (transiently) promoting.

I don't envy the psychotherapists that have a professional mandate to show empathy to people like this.

Does this mean you cannot bring meat into the kitchen, or just that they've found a socially acceptable way of keeping provided food costs down?

Members and employees can bring whatever kind of food they like into the space, but no WeWork funds can be spent on meat (fish is ok)

Puts religion into context, human/anthropology/history-wise.

I recently moved to WeWork after nearly half a decade of working in plainly inferior coworking spaces.

It's early days, but I wouldn't be wrong to say that this is probably the first time in my career that I haven't felt, well, "unmoored".

I freelanced through college, then through grad school, then I worked for a couple of years from home before moving to coworking spaces.

At all these coworking spaces, despite their regular events, I never really felt like I was a part of a broader culture. I don't know how, but WeWork manages to do that. Maybe it's because the people around me there look and act and work like me.

Whereas the average coworking space worker felt like he was struggling (heck, even drowning), the people at WeWork feel like they have more time, that they've done the battle, and if they haven't won, they've at least fought enough to win some peace. I don't know if I'm there yet, but I would like to imagine I'm getting there.

WeWork, with its pricing and positioning (it's 2x the rate of my last office) seems to attract people who want to buy into the vision of success, who don't want to see themselves as just "digital labor".

So would it be fair to say it's like freelancing but you feel like you're part of a corporation? Like freelancing with the social and motivational aspects of working at say Google or whoever?

Not OP, but I guess it is more similar to being at college.

Presumably without the politics and bullshit you get in a corporation.

Or the actual barrels of cash

The dot-com bubble tells us that when company leadership appears more concerned with meat consumption on premises or water bottle choices of employees vs say addressing actual business issues like losing money hand over fist despite being in business for many years then the future may be a wee bit bumpy for said company...

Every time I see articles of these places there are pics of people with laptops, in rows, on narrow tables, almost elbow to elbow, sometimes sitting on high chairs or stools.

Is that what these places are all like? It looks uncomfortable. It's like doing all your work in a high-end cafeteria.

In my experience, yes. As an individual at the lowest price point you're paying $450 a month to sit a table in a cafeteria.

It is often like this in the ones I've seen.

Depends on the area the WeWork is based in, and how oversubscribed it is.

I wonder if WeWork has already started an espionage (excuse me, business intelligence) program or whether that's a future development.

Consider: an ordinary landlord knows how many desks you have, how many people show up on an average day, and how much garbage/recycling you put out. WeWork has operatives who can measure what percentage of your employees' days are spent at their desks, what they like to do for fun, when they are taking trips, where they are going, all their internet usage, how much they print (and if they cared, the contents of all print jobs), what they underline or circle on whiteboards. And of course, they can cross-correlate that across thousands of tenant companies, some of whom are certainly in competition with each other, and some of whom are listed on the stock markets already. Some of whom are no doubt conducting mergers, talks to be acquired... there's a wealth of non-public information that WeWork has access to. How long until they start to take advantage from it?

I bet this data is worth (much) less than the cost to collect and analyse it.

It would be worth something for larger companies but for these WeWork will have only limited insight since they're unlikely to rent all or even a significant share of their total space from one provider. Lead generation is probably the ceiling.

Maybe they could do some targeted advertising/deals for various additional services. But probably not even that. Let's say they wanted to provide accounting services. Can they beat Mabel Luna? Will they have someone to answer a quick question about cash flow or depreciation?

Sounds like a good way to create an opening for a WeWork competitor to swoop in and eat their lunch. Companies get a whiff of that kind of level of tech monitoring even being a possibility and any CSO will have them scrambling for the door.

Since that didn't happen with Facebook, Google or Amazon, why would you think it would happen with WeWork?

(WeWork is valued around $22,000,000,000, about the same as GOOG's IPO.)

WeWork is basically a real estate business, not a tech company. The barrier to entry to create a competitor is not exceptionally high, technology-wise. Not so with the companies you mentioned.

That's exactly what their plan is:

>Fano sees WeWork buildings as one giant sensor for data collection, and he wants to map them down to the object. Understanding the space means understanding how to make it more efficient and better for members.


Yeah, a decade ago the company you worked for had your highly personal data.

Now Slack, GSuite and others practically have the salary and work history of millions of programmers. Everyone seems to be totally okay with that.

well why wouldn't they? as long as people treat it as a workplace (i.e. they dont print their love letters there) its a good opportunity for some neat travel advertising etc.

I don't understand your point. Are you suggesting that people that pay a co-working space to work there should accept that whatever they're printing (most likely they're also paying for the pages they're printing) can be read by the co-working space?

I don't know if they should accept it but realistically vast majority of companies don't have any valuable secrets. Maybe payroll data and perhaps the client list would be somewhat sensitive. Still difficult to act on for anything but price discrimination.

WeWork is absurdly expensive.

IDK, or I'm absurdly cheap (or am not the target audience)

In London you pay £450-850(!) per month for wework space, from a hotdesk (aka "go to a cafe / library") to a private office.

Instead, I just moved from a one bedroom flat to a two bedroom flat, increasing my rent by about £250 per month, and now have both a private office and a place for guests / co-workers to stay when they come to town.

In NYC (WeWork's home turf), it's not uncommon to see a jump of £500-£1000 with increasing bedrooms so maybe that factors into their prices. For example, my apartment building has ~ $2400 studios, $3000 1brs, and $4000 2brs.

In a WeWork currently. It's fine. Better than the last coworking space I was in but I still don't understand why any company would stay in a WeWork for longer than a year unless they only need 1 or 2 desks. The price is just not worth it. Offices are small and loud (glass boxes).

But hey I didnt have to buy a fridge or desks when I opened this office so that's nice.

I like the ability to optionally participate in a work culture, in fact, looks like you could pick and choose between a few. The forced culture of most companies is pretty tiring.

Does anybody else feel that ads like this in the NYT should clearly be marked as such?

What is it advertising?

The article is one giant ad for WeWork.

On first read it totally didn't come across that way, but on second look I might just be too far out of the target group to recognize as positive what it advertises...

Does anyone else find they can't tell if things are an intentional design decision or an implementation bug anymore? case-in-point: the rendering of the title of this piece.

The typeface is inspired by stencil lettering.

Puzzling design is definitely not a contemporary trend. It was more common in the 1980-90s, but the style reached its height when CSS wasn't available, most visitors were unfamiliar with the Web etc. so pulling this off in a major publication like the NYT would be risky. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Carson_(graphic_design...

(To wit, it's in The New York Times Magazine: its printed version has had experimental design styling for quite a while)

The steelmanned version of your comment might be something like "graphic designers these days really seem to have abandoned every recognizable principle of 'good' design". That would be a claim that design quality is deteriorating, like a lot of other aspects of civilization. There's a case to be made for that perspective.

But I'm guessing you just meant that hip graphic design/typography often confounds your own expectations. If you aren't a design practitioner/enthusiast, I don't know why you would expect your preconceptions of what design should look like to be validated.

Do designers design for laypeople (=i.e. supposedly the audience of most designs) or for other designers?

Funny that the same can be said about the subject of the article.

I have the sort of opposite reaction - so many things are basically either bugs in implementation or bugs in specification that I find lots of things unusable.

It's like no one's ever heard of Regus.

that's because i think regus is a real place for people who want a small office and who don't want to pay for extra frills.

i was very pleased renting from regus, and i got an entire small office to myself and my friend for the price of membership with no dedicated space that you'd be paying at wework or similar

Toggle Reader View (Ctrl+Alt+R)

Please don't assume people's browsers. For example in Firefox reading view is toggled by F9, and in Microsoft Edge it's toggled by Ctrl+Shift+R.

I am on mobile and these keyboard-centric comments are exclusionary.

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