Seeking support networks, freelancers return to the office

A new program for freelancers in Israel offers them access to space, workshops, and mentorship

After more than three months working from home, Meirav Erlich Yeshaya, a freelance styling and image consultant in Israel, was eager to return to WeWork. “I really felt it was time for me to get out again,” Erlich Yeshaya says. “Being somewhere that gives you the feeling of belonging to something bigger is very inspiring for my work.”

Erlich Yeshaya, a member of WeWork 1 Shankar St, in Herzliya, Israel, is one of dozens of freelancers joining or returning to WeWork locations in Israel under a new program—WeWork for Freelancers—that offers services and extra support to freelancers. In addition to having access to mentorship and workshops, freelancers in the program will have 24/7 access to one of 10 WeWork locations across Israel and will be able to book conference rooms at other locations in the country.

“When the pandemic hit, many freelancers were hit hard and suddenly quit WeWork,” explains Benjy Singer, general manager of WeWork Israel. This not only hurt freelancers themselves but also the general WeWork community, which is a place where businesses of all sizes, including entrepreneurs and freelancers, can come together and collaborate

“The freelancer part of the WeWork ecosystem is critical,” Singer says. So the team wanted to find a way to encourage freelancers to return.

The program was also “the right thing to do,” Singer adds, as many businesses slowed down or dried up during the global pandemic, and freelancers were often left on their own. 

“The project reflects the goal of WeWork to engage with the local community,” says Frayda Leibtag, director of public affairs at WeWork Israel. “As Israel’s economy starts to recover from the impact of COVID-19, we know that there are many people who could benefit from the use of our spaces and access to our member resources,” Leibtag says. “With this initiative, we want to make sure everyone knows that our doors are open to the community and that we’re here to help.”

For Omer Ashkenazi, who owns a shop on eBay that sells home and garden items, returning to WeWork has been great after spending more than three months working from the apartment he shares with his fiancée. It was difficult working from home and struggling with feelings of isolation at a time when his business was slowing down, mainly due to coronavirus-related shipping delays in the US.

Omer Ashkenazi runs his business from a hot desk at WeWork Gav-Yam Negev. Photograph courtesy of Omer Ashkenazi.

“I had to take so many losses,” he says. He had to refund customers for packages that were never received, or received late, in order to maintain his high rating on eBay.

“I just needed to be around people, to have people to talk to who understand my language and my challenges as an entrepreneur at this time,” says Ashkenazi, who is a member of WeWork Gav-Yam Negev, in southern Israel. 

An added bonus is how safe the WeWork spaces feel. “There is a lot of space, and people follow the guidelines, so it feels safe,” Ashkenazi says.

Like all WeWork locations, the spaces in Israel have been complying with local health regulations during the pandemic. Surfaces and facilities like bathrooms and kitchens also undergo extra cleaning and disinfecting. Furniture has been arranged to encourage social distancing, open workspaces are outfitted with plexiglass dividers, and everyone must wear face masks.

Keith Harrison, who was once a WeWork member in the past, joined again in early August under the freelancer program. As a father of two young children, working from home was just not sustainable.

“For me, my workspace is my sanctuary,” says Harrison, now a member of WeWork Sapir Tower, in Ramat Gan, Israel. His business helps startups scale and make sales.

“It’s really a great community [at WeWork],” he says. “Being able to go to different WeWorks and meet even more people has been really helpful for me.”

Even for those, like Erlich Yeshaya, whose businesses weren’t negatively affected by the pandemic, returning to WeWork has been a boost.

Freelance styling and image consultant Meirav Erlich Yeshaya works at WeWork 1 Shankar St, in Herzliya, Israel. Photograph courtesy of Meirav Erlich Yeshaya.

“This time has actually been good for me,” she says. Her business helping people perfect their professional image, appearance, and communication skills has continued to thrive, even with more than two months of stay-at-home orders this spring. 

But even though business has been good, she says she needs more support to succeed—and this is why she returned to WeWork. Erlich Yeshaya likes having access to mentors and other staff at WeWork who can answer questions about finances and give advice on topics like marketing. This makes life as a freelancer feel less isolating.

“If you have any thoughts or questions, there is somebody at WeWork to answer it,” she says.

Making new connections is especially relevant now, especially as many companies may be looking for independent contractors rather than full-time employees as companies strive to cut expenses, says Singer, the general manager of WeWork Israel.

“If we are able to take care of freelancers and give them a platform, then we can create more jobs at this important time,” he says. “I really see this as an ongoing strategy at WeWork.”

Visit WeWork for Freelancers to learn more and to apply to the program.

Sara Toth Stub is a writer based in Jerusalem. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, BBC Travel, and others.

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