The design team at WeWork is adept at reinventing the workspace to support modern employees—we’ve been doing just that since the company began. When COVID-19 hit, we were tasked with a new challenge: enhancing standards in over 800 WeWork locations around the world to prioritize the health and safety of the community.
We focused on five key areas when enhancing our spaces:
- Increased sanitization. We established new protocols to clean “high-touch” surfaces, common areas, and objects every two hours. There is also contactless mail and package delivery and immediate COVID-19 disinfection when needed.
- Professional distancing. In order to de-densify our spaces, common areas such as meeting rooms have been transformed—including designating new seating arrangements—so that employees can maintain a safe distance.
- Behavioral signage. We’ve installed creative signage to gently reinforce new capacity policies in common areas, in a way that introduces as little disruption to employees’ workdays as possible.
- Sanitization equipment. We’ve provided buildings with new equipment, including hands-free soap dispensers in bathrooms, complementary wipe and hand sanitizer dispensers, and single-use items in pantries.
- Improved HVAC. Through our heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system, we’re maximizing the amount of outside air indoors to provide cleaner, filtered air circulation throughout our spaces.
We planned and executed this revamp across more than 800 locations. It drew from the expertise of multiple departments and specialties including engineering, architecture, interior design, workplace strategy, operations, and many more—and quickly, too. Here’s how we did it.
Devising a strategy at scale
We were faced with many challenges coordinating a redesign at a global level. Regulations around how spaces should be set up were changing by the day and varied greatly by country. The global supply chain around items like hand sanitizer was very strained in the beginning.
So we had to quickly come up with solutions. Our sourcing and supply chain teams worked tirelessly, reaching out to many reliable vendors to help source materials. Our New York City–based central design team worked with regional design leads to successfully implement our enhancements for a variety of workspace environments that go beyond the traditional office floor plan. Unlike traditional commercial real estate operators, whose workplace plans typically focus on just private office space and conference rooms, our spaces include a variety of spaces: dedicated and flexible workspaces supported with lounges, private nooks, pantries, private breakout rooms, bookable meeting rooms, and more.
Our main goal was to ensure that each enhancement meets member expectations when it comes to social distancing and cleanliness, while continuing to maintain our value proposition in providing members a sense of community and connection within our spaces.
The approach was familiar: We turned to members and enterprise clients to learn their main priorities in coming back to the office. Those valuable insights, coupled with feedback from consulting industry experts and guidance from public health and local government officials, heavily informed our plans.
In the redesigning of our spaces, we created a clear set of design guideline standards for every space in our portfolio. These were very detailed, prescriptive instructions for those who entered the space to place the signage and shift the chairs. We had to project-manage all of this via Zoom.
Our cross-department teams met on a daily basis to make sure these design standards were kept on track. Everything we did was agreed to by multiple teams, approved by leadership, and tracked so that we could understand the nuances by market. Since the redesign was a phased rollout, we learned lessons in China that were then carried over to EMEA and subsequently to Latin America.
Our design enhancements
Our design teams worked to implement these key focuses throughout our spaces, reimagining specific areas with an emphasis on safety and comfort.
Safe, welcoming community desks
Community desks are the primary reception areas that serve as a meeting place between members, their guests, and the WeWork community team. Our design approach to these desks includes distancing reminders such as “6 ft apart” floor vinyls, disposable glove dispensers, and easily viewed behavioral and hygiene guidelines, so members know how to navigate our space the moment they walk into our workspace. The intent, as always, was to create a vibe that is comfortable and homey.
Lounges are a communal focal point of any WeWork building—and that hasn’t changed. We’ve taken steps to meet our renewed standards around social distancing and cleanliness, while maintaining the collaborative energy our members come to expect from our spaces. The lounge furniture remains in place—and the pillows and signage say “This is the space you’ve always had, but now you need to be extra mindful.” We’ve placed distancing reminders on coffee tables and other central surfaces—including custom-designed pillows. We’ve also displayed behavioral and hygiene guidelines in prominent locations.
Comfortably collaborative meeting rooms
Meeting rooms are shared spaces for productivity, and we’ve worked to enhance these spaces so that members can continue to collaborate and connect safely. We’ve reduced capacity in them by designating socially distanced seating arrangements. We also added wipe dispensers and other sanitization equipment, and made sure behavioral and hygiene guidelines are within view.
Staggered, sanitized hot desks
Hot desks are shared workspaces for our members, dispersed throughout a variety of workplace environments. Our design teams have adapted this key product offering for increased hygiene and professional distancing, incorporating staggered seating, sanitization equipment such as wipe dispensers, and easily viewed behavioral and hygiene guidelines.
These enhancements are ever-evolving, keeping pace with changing health guidelines as well as member needs. But one thing remains a constant at WeWork and for the design team: We are focused on delivering high-quality design. We maintain a high level of standardization and a rigor around our spaces and performance. Then we layer on distinct palettes, finishes, and art to each individual workspace to ensure that it is special and unique.
Ebbie Wisecarver is vice president and global head of design at WeWork. Since joining WeWork in 2015, she has held multiple positions including service as architect and development project manager for Australia; design director of Asia, Australia, and India; and head of project delivery for WeWork Japan. Previously, Wisecarver worked at Diller, Scofidio + Renfro New York and Steven Holl Architects in New York. She holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and has participated in numerous traveling exhibitions and fellowships, including a competitive summer internship at Takenaka Corporation in Osaka, Japan. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Wisecarver is an avid runner and loves to travel.