My Covert WeWork Operation

WeWork is more than just a co-working space, it is a place for making meaningful connections where “you join as an individual, ‘me’, but become part of a greater ‘we’ ”. At WeWork their product is community. On Friday March 18th 2016, I signed up for a monthly WeWork membership and booked a space for the afternoon at the WeWork City Hall location on 222 Broadway in New York City. The goal was to undertake a guerrilla user research project in order to understand and learn more about the membership experience and discover how WeWork was delivering on its “product” that is community.

Interviewing the members was my main research method with the aim of gathering some qualitative data and uncovering the member’s needs, motivations & pain points. The next step was to use these insights to drive the development of the product at each proceeding step of my design process as seen below (this post,part 1 will cover the first 3 parts highlighted):

For my interviews I wanted to answer two main questions which were :

  • How is the membership experience at WeWork and how does it instill a sense of community ?
  • What are the needs, or problems faced by the members ?

Opinions & User Feedback

I carried out the interviews by stationing myself at different dining tables on the different floors and gathering responses to the questions above. These locations were strategically chosen in order to interview members that were on break. Here are some of the opinions specifically regarding the members’ needs & pain points.

Interview Catalogue

Prioritizing Needs

After gathering user feedback from 12 different members I discovered similar and recurring pain points across the board. I prioritized these needs based on how important I expected them to be for the members and to WeWork’s end goal of instilling a sense of community.

Priority Quadrant

The top right quadrant represents the most addressable issues from both the WeWork and user perspective :

  • Improving community interactions.
  • Reducing distractions & controlling noise.

Findings & Design Suggestions

In studies involving dozens of organizations and communities. The two single largest factors that predicted their productivity, creativity and ultimately success was engagement (interacting with people within your group, in reasonably equal doses) and exploration (interacting with people in many other groups). Sandy Pentland Professor at MIT Pentland in his award winning paper “ The New Science of Building Great Teams” brilliantly brings to light the emerging evidence on how interactions and patterns of communications foster creativity and productivity in successful organizations.

The goal from a design perspective would then be to use the work space as a tool to promote collisions and interactions from both an engagement and exploration standpoint. A good place to start would be at the lunch tables in the dining areas.

WeWork City Hall Dining Area

As seen in the picture above the tables are pretty small and designed to fit around 8 people. A design suggestion would be to increase the length of the tables or instead put multiple smaller circular tables. These could hold a significantly larger number of people while occupying only little more of the volume.

A not so great sketch of dining tables

A simple trick like this (as sketched above) for increasing the number of people gathered around the lunch tables increases collisions and this can have exponential results in terms of benefits. Not only does it encourage people to interact more and meet serendipitously, it’s also known to increase creativity & productivity in the workplace.

From the qualitative information gathered in the interviews, distractions such as loud conversations are common place at WeWork and this is because of the lack of sound privacy which is typical of open offices & co-working spaces. One design ( which was actually suggested by a member) is to implement quiet spaces in order to curb this issue. These quiet spaces would be dedicated to solo and non group work in order to focus and engage in deep work.

Another design suggestion would be to increase background noise. Even though this sounds counter intuitive. Marc, one of the members that I interviewed mentioned that, “it’s not so much the noise that bothers me but rather the louder isolated conversations that are happening around me”. Increasing more background noise and ambient sound in order to mask the conversations can make it that much easier to ignore.

Sound absorbing materials can also be implemented. This can include anything from soft materials such as carpets that are better than hard surfaces at absorbing sound, to walls that can be decorated with sound proofing materials. This can all be done without compromising the overall design of the space by using different shapes, sizes for decorations and unique pieces of art. Even plants are known to have sound absorbing capabilities and can be used for decorative and acoustic purposes.

Another suggestion would be to create on floor events in conjunction to the company wide events. Interviewing some of the members revealed that there was not a lot of on floor interaction. Many of the members it seems, were not well acquainted with their neighbors on the same floor. One of the members echoed these sentiments when she came up with this suggestion. “Maybe they could try and do floor meetups or floor happy hours. As a way to get to know what other companies are working on the floor”.

Promoting on floor interaction would be a way to strengthen the exploration aspect of the equation. Even though company wide events and happy hours already serve this purpose it would be important to implement this on the scale of individual floors because of the Allen Curve.

Thomas J. Allen in his book Managing the Flow of Technology, established the strong negative correlation between physical distance and frequency of communication. The “Allen curve” estimates that we are four times more likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting 6 feet away from us, as with someone 60 feet away, and that we almost never communicate with colleagues on separate floors or in separate buildings. This holds true regardless of if we are communicating with them online as well.

The Allen Curve courtesy of (hbr.org)

These interesting findings suggest that at the end of the day, people will mostly talk and interact with others within the same proximity or floor. Therefore, it would be more efficient to leverage this fact and focus on increasing on floor interaction. In that sense you are not only creating more collisions but building on sustainable relationships. This could be done through floor happy hours, or get-to-know your neighbor events.

Conclusion

The idea is to design work spaces that not only allow focus and productivity but act as a tool to promote the likelihood of collisions, through some of the design recommendations highlighted above.

Feasibility & Testing

Tony Hsieh of Zappos created the metric of “collisionable hours” in his Downtown Project plan of transforming Las Vegas into “the co-working capital of the world & most community focused city” by enabling collisions and measuring them through this data driven metric.

In this instance user experience research therefore, can also be used in adopting this metric of “collision hours” by keeping track of how many hours members spend in “collision activities” such as attending events, networking, collaborating and interacting with other professionals. These hours could then be tracked and measured by gathering qualitative and quantitative data and then calculated with a simple algorithm such as :

( 2 hrs/day x 5 days/week x 4 weeks ) = 40 collision hrs/month

Spent in conversations, collaboration and random interactions with others. It would be interesting to figure out what the value of one collision hour is. However that would be almost impossible to determine without the use of Big Data and perhaps it shouldn’t even be the focus. Because research has proven that when more collisions occur, regardless of their content, this ultimately always creates positive outcomes in organisations & communities.


  • I don’t work for or represent WeWork. I love the company and what they stand for (community & collaboration) and I also love UX. I’m simply exploring ways to make it even better and more awesome than it already is.

Part 2 will be looking at a usability test for the printing system and the next phase of the design process…

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Christian Irakoze’s story.