How WeWork creates virtual tours

Virtual tours let people experience a space without having to travel to it—here’s a look at how we produce them

Space is a powerful tool to foster engagement, inspire innovation, and drive productivity. But what exactly does an optimal space look like? In the Science of Space, we explore how the science of intentional design can turn any work environment into a holistic experience.

Technology like Google Street View and drone cameras have made 3D images of the great outdoors nearly ubiquitous. But what about the great indoors? Humans spend the vast majority of their lives inside, at work. Being able to accurately show what a potential workspace looks like in an easily accessible way is incredibly important. After all, the space companies provide their employees affects their productivity, morale, engagement, and wellbeing. 

At WeWork, this is what the reality-capture team does. Our global unit of 25 uses cutting-edge technology to produce virtual tours of WeWork spaces. And with more than 528 WeWork locations in 111 cities around the world, creating virtual tours of every space is no small feat. 

The value of virtual tours

A virtual tour is the best way for a business leader to evaluate a WeWork space without traveling to it. 

From their desktop, they can navigate a space similarly to how they would by walking through it. The experience is comparable to taking a virtual tour of a hotel room—to see its size, how much light it gets, and what amenities are on hand—before deciding to book it. 

Because virtual tours are accurate representations of the fully furnished office space, as opposed to a sketch or rendering, managers can feel confident that what they see is what they’re going to get. They can experience the intentional design, beauty, and functionality of WeWork locations and determine whether the space is a fit for their employees. 

Virtual tours are particularly useful for businesses looking to expand. Say a company is based in Rio de Janeiro and looking to open a regional headquarters in Dublin. Instead of spending time and money flying to Ireland, they can dive into virtual assets to scope out different WeWork locations in the city and check their availability from their desks in Brazil.

A look behind the scenes

Creating precise and beautiful virtual tours requires a process that my team continues to optimize. 

When we started producing virtual tours, we would scan entire floors. This produced images of an endless sea of desks, or hallway after hallway. We quickly realized that’s not very valuable to a viewer. Now, we conduct research by speaking to the teams that best know a space: community, sales, and construction. We make sure that we capture the features that make each space so special, like local artwork, various conference room configurations, unique collaboration spaces, or outdoor terraces.

The technology we use is called a Matterport scanner. With the help of a tripod, the Matterport takes highly detailed images of a work space. The images are then automatically stitched together to form a 3D view of a space. 

It’s similar to taking a panorama photo on your smartphone, just on a much larger scale. An average floor in a building takes anywhere between 100 to 300 individual scans to capture a full 3D view. Each scan is created by picking up and moving the tripod. 

We bring the Matterport scanner into offices during the day so we can capture a space in daylight. This requires coordination with community and construction teams to ensure we’re not interrupting people during working hours. We take extreme care to respect members’ privacy. We don’t scan the insides of offices. And the Matterport technology automatically blurs out faces. 

Creating virtual tours at scale

The more we shoot spaces, the better and more efficient we get. And we’ve been doing a lot. In 2018, our team produced 120 virtual tours. We doubled that number in just four months of this year. As of August 2019, we completed 330 virtual tours. With hundreds of unique WeWork spaces all over the world, our team needs to be able to scale quickly. Having a global purview, with reality capture teammates in London, China, Singapore, Brazil, and Mexico helps us cover a lot more ground. 

Providing virtual tours is a way for us to offer convenience and confidence to companies looking for workspace. At the end of the day, our team deploys technology to make it easier for our members as they look to grow their businesses. 

WeWork offers companies of all sizes space solutions that help solve their biggest business challenges.

Thad Wester is the director of reality capture at WeWork and focuses on improving the reality capture process in order to de-risk and inform design and construction at WeWork. He earned a master’s degree in geography and founded Clarity Scanning, a laser scanning company, prior to joining WeWork.

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