Buildings are Giant Computers - Product Research at WeWork

by Josh Emig

On August 9, 2016, Chief Product Officer David Fano introduced the Product Research team at a roundtable discussion at WeWork Times Square. The purpose was to give the team an opportunity to discuss their current efforts and goals. Below is the introduction by Head of Product Research, Josh Emig, followed by the presentation deck given to the attendees.

Media Charging Bull-blog

Do what you love. Create your life's work. Hustle harder.

If you’ve spent time in a WeWork, you'd know that we're fond of quotes, mottos, catchphrases — small verbal reminders of what this company is about.

In a conference room at our HQ is a mural that read, "Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week."

This isn’t posturing. In 6 years, WeWork has grown to over 60,000 members, 110 locations (built or in development), and 30 cities, globally. August of 2016 will be our largest month of openings yet with 13 projects, 7 new locations, and 9,500 new desks.

We build fast.

PointCloudStorefront 1-update A script deploying assemblies, frames, and parts on a live project. Processes like this help our teams capture advantages and address unforeseen issues on multiple projects.

Last year, we formalized Product Research as a department, with the intent of adding another dimension to this speed, to add a deeper understanding of the intersections of people, spaces, and technology to our already innovative approach to product, design, delivery, and operations.

So what does “research” mean to a company like WeWork?

Conventionally speaking, research is thoughtful, methodical, and rigorous. Research is an investment in the future. That takes time, and at “WeWork speed,” research can appear a bit slow.

But research and WeWork find common ground in the love of hard problems and big questions.

"Take the path of most resistance," is another WeWork bon mot.

So what about something as big as anticipating and transforming the future of work and life? This definitely qualifies.

Right now, we are at the forefront of a broad societal shift in the way that people want to work and live and where they want to do it. We think we have a pretty good understanding of what this looks like.

But what will it look like in 3 to 5 years? 10 years? Beyond?

This is why we need research. But there is a lot to be done today. In the next month, we will add thousands more desks—and more in the month after that.

So we take an approach to research that balances these forces.

We want to bring the rigor to the hustle, but we also want to bring the hustle to the research.

We want to build products and knowledge that have near-term impact, that solve problems, and that capitalize on the opportunities of the present. But we see these things, always, as incremental steps to tackling the big questions.

We're starting with some pretty ambitious goals about the impact we can have on the building industry, on buildings, on people, and on neighborhoods and cities. But these beliefs are grounded. They are core to our business, core to our mission, and core to our capabilities.

We've used these as an organizing framework:

Buildings Research We believe that we can revolutionize the way people design and build buildings and spaces. And by extension we can have an overall positive impact on both our built and natural environments.

Systems Research We believe that we can make people's work-life better and more fulfilling through technology.

We believe that people’s relationship to physical spaces is at the center of the WeWork experience. Thoughtful integration of technology can enhance this relationship.

Spaces Research We believe that our spaces will improve our members' success, happiness, and well-being, and we want to prove it.

We believe that being a member of the WeWork community will increase your chances of success. One way that it does this is through the design of physical space, and the cultivation of and connection with a positive, diverse community.

Cities Research We believe that WeWork will have a positive and lasting economic and cultural impact on the neighborhoods and cities we call home.

We believe that what's happening in WeWork is a smaller version of what happens at the neighborhood and city scale, and that what's good for us—is also good for cities.

Cities Image 4-blog Geolocation of activity and amenities inform our efforts at the neighborhood and city scale.

Our team is small but diverse and capable.

We are methodical, but we're fast. We take on projects that touch most aspects of our business.

Our team members are engineers, architects, writers, designers, software developers, MBAs, psychologists, and scientists. And a film guy, because everybody needs a film guy.

We are borrowing some of our technology, process, and user-centered product thinking from retail, hospitality, and entertainment. We are also taking what we know about data driven-decision making and evidence-based design from the architecture and engineering space.

There are some differences though. In most cases, retail and hospitality is about selling a transient experience or consumable product. And most architects and planners don’t get the opportunity to work on projects with the scale and reach of WeWork.

In our case, our products — space, community, services — sit at the center of people’s lives and livelihoods. According to the American Bureau of Labor Statics, Americans spend 8.9 hours a day at work on an average work day. That’s roughly 40% of total waking hours.

These aren't value judgements, they are observations. These differences also require that we add our own internal invention and development to meet the dual challenges of speed and scale.

But this isn't just about hard challenges and problems, it's about opportunity. The opportunity to affect this many people, at the core of their livelihoods, at a global scale is exceedingly rare (and extraordinarily exciting).

Through research, both fast and slow, for now and for the future, we aim to turn this opportunity into better buildings and spaces, stronger communities, healthier cities, and happier, more productive members.