The first few months Isabel Harvey worked at WeWork, she came to know the members in her building so well, it became a problem: Everyone had such an interesting story, it was hard to keep their stories to herself.
“I’d have chats with members and it was great,” says Harvey, 27, a community associate at WeWork Place Ville Marie in Montreal. One member was an app developer who wanted to incorporate artwork into his app, and another had created a virtual drawing platform—talking to each of them, she realized they might be a perfect match. “But all this information was just in my head,” she says. Harvey realized that the more people in the building knew about one another, the more opportunities there would be for cross-pollination.
Harvey had long been a fan of the online photojournalistic series “Humans of New York,” and found the stories of her members to be as rich and varied as those New Yorkers she read about. She wanted to create something equivalent for the amazing humans she met in her building—and that’s how “Humans of WeWork” was born.
Once a week, Harvey sits down with a member and has a conversation with them. “My aim is to get back to the basics of what WeWork is—a place to help members build their businesses and find connection,” she says.
In her quest to capture what is unique about each member, Harvey asks a lot of questions. “I ask the subject to tell me about their company, what inspires them, whether they were alone when they started,” she says. The first few stories got quite personal, she says; people talked about what life was like before they started their companies, and how their lives had changed since their successes and failures.
After the interview, Harvey makes a poster with a member’s portrait and their story, and hangs it on a formerly empty wall. She also posts an article about the person on WeWork’s member app.
She has noticed that when people see the posters on the wall, they stop to look at them, taking a moment to find out what the members around them are all about. “Even when members come from different industries, a lot of the challenges they’ve faced are the same,” Harvey says. This project has taught her that “knowing what others around you have faced is part of what makes the ‘Humans’ project so empowering.”
For now, the project is small in scale, but one day she wants to have an entire “member wall” filled with her posters. She’s also shared her template with other buildings and has received a lot of positive feedback.
“Ideally I’d love this to extend globally one day,” says Harvey. “Members love being highlighted—it makes them feel like a part of the best resource that WeWork has: its humans!”
We spoke to Harvey about what makes her a unique human of WeWork, the WeWork member who makes her day, and more.
Most distinctive quality: Harvey lived in many different countries growing up, due to her father’s work in the oil industry. “I’ve traveled so much, my ability to adapt to people from different cultures is what distinguishes me,” says Harvey, who has lived in Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, San Francisco, Switzerland, and the UAE. The place she most loved to call home: “West Africa, Ivory Coast. It is such a beautiful country, both the people and the scenery.”
Member who’s had the most impact: Sonia Martinez, of Sonia La Ronde Photography. Harvey met Martinez when she was looking for a photographer for her wedding. “She ended up being my wedding photographer,” she recalls, “and an important part of that day.” Today, Martinez and Harvey are close friends. “Moving to a new place, it always takes some time to fit in,” says Harvey. “Sonia made it easy for me… and knowing her has helped me meet so many members in the building and people outside, too.” Plus, Martinez plays an important part in Harvey’s “Humans” project: “She gives me ideas of who to interview.”
Downtime: “Every Sunday I spend the whole day meal prepping,” Harvey says, and she often shares her breakfasts with coworkers. “Oatmeal bites for everyone!”
Favorite place on earth: Puerto Vallarta, where her parents have an apartment. “I’ve lived in nine countries and traveled to over 60 when I was a flight attendant, and Mexico is my favorite place on the planet,” she says. She enjoys Puerto Vallarta’s small-town vibe, and says that even if it’s been a year and a half since she’s visited, the shop owners around her parents’ place often remember her name.