In a little less than six months, a team of more than 200 people has transformed The We Company’s HQ in New York.
At a party celebrating the completion of the massive undertaking last week, the NYHQ project team officially handed over the keys to the corporate real estate team. But this is just the first step of planning the workplace of the future.
“We talk a lot around here about how the modern office is evolving,” says Alex Ernst, senior director of corporate real estate. “In our own HQ, we’re testing out our ideas on what it will look like.”
The redesign process was led by WeWork's Powered by We team, which applies the knowledge we have gained from operating hundreds of buildings and uses it to design, build, and operate the spaces of enterprise members (companies with more than 1,000 employees).
Booths on the fifth floor provide a flexible space for WeWork employees to work.
Redesigning HQ was a seemingly impossible task, especially because it had to be accomplished without moving out the vast majority of the employees based out of the six-story building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The NYHQ team estimated that the project would take at least a year.
There wasn’t any time to waste, because of the 1,600 employees who were working from the building in July 2017, when the project started, about 400 didn’t have an assigned space. And our rapid growth meant that number was increasing every month.
“If we had done nothing at that point, right now there’d be 1,400 people in this building with no place to work,” says Lendy Krantz, Powered by We's director of product management and enablement. Four days after she started at WeWork, she was asked to lead the team rethinking our company’s HQ.
One of the team’s first realizations: The number of desks—which initially seemed like far too few for the number of employees—wasn’t the biggest problem. It was that those desks were often empty.
“We crunched the numbers,” says Krantz. “On any given day, only about 60 percent of the workforce here is actually in the office. That means 40 percent are working offsite, traveling for work, or taking time off.” This is roughly in line with industry averages.
Those employees working in the office each day spent comparatively little time at their desks, says Kaylie Wilson, WeWork’s director of research strategy, who worked alongside Krantz on the NYHQ project. At the same time, conference rooms were always full.
“WeWork employees spend 60 to 70 percent of their typical day in meetings,” says Wilson. “When you think that 70 percent of the day is spent in meetings, but 90 percent of the floor plan is dedicated to desks, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Wilson says the team thought about people’s daily tasks—meeting one-on-one with a direct report, brainstorming with coworkers, or concentrating on an important project—and how to provide the best spaces to accomplish them.
“A desk isn’t necessarily the best solution to any of these needs,” says Wilson.
The NYHQ team came up with the idea of “homes” for different departments. The configuration of these homes would depend on the needs of each team. One team might need more desks, while another might need tables where colleagues can collaborate.
Senior manager of mobility and product development Corinne Murray, another member of the NYHQ team, says the homes function as a communal meeting point where teams can filter in and out during the day.
“Everyone needs a home, but not everyone needs a desk,” she says. “The team homes give people a place to connect to their team, a place to show up in the morning, and to feel that they have an anchor.”
In the fall, the NYHQ team began renovating four floors that had not been updated since the building opened in 2015. The fourth and fifth floors were the first to debut with the prototype of the team homes.
“The configuration of the team homes went through several iterations,” says Krantz. “Sometimes even the night before we reopened a floor we were changing things around. What looks perfect in the plans might not work when you actually move in the furniture and slide it into place.”
After renovating the second and third floors, the HQNY team closed the fourth and fifth floors a second time earlier this month to incorporate further revisions.
“We haven’t totally alleviated all the issues we encountered, but we improved things, especially for the people who had no space to work before,” Krantz says.
She says “living with your customers” definitely helped her team hone their ideas. While she was heating up her lunch in the microwave each day, coworkers would give her feedback on the early plans.
“Change is really hard, especially when you’re changing a core aspect of people’s workspaces,” says Krantz. “We spent a huge amount of time going back and forth with people and balancing what they needed and trying something new.”
The next phase of the project involves an assessment of the project, looking at what worked well and what should be changed the next time around. Ernst of the corporate real estate team says she looks forward to using the data they gather to plan the next HQ.
“This is where we start really analyzing how things are going,” she says. “Our goal is to apply everything we learn to New York, then move on to the rest of the company.”
Eva Leonard contributed to this report.
Photo by Frank Mullaney.