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WeWork aims to create dynamic office spaces for startups

Work might bring to mind images of cubicles from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but many startups are working on creating more dynamic work spaces where employees are encouraged and enticed to come to work each day.

Leading the dynamic workspace movement are companies such as WeWork, a shared office network founded in New York, which opened two Boston offices in February. WeWork is a collaborative office space, with more than 2,000 members expected to call the Boston offices home by summer. The office space is shared primarily by early-stage startups that would otherwise not have access to many of the amenities available within the space.

“Really our ultimate goal is to create a place where people want to come to work,” said Hunter Perry, the Boston city lead for WeWork at South Station. “Where people would almost rather be here than at home. And once people are here, and are in this space, we work to build the most amazing and most collaborative start-up and small business community in the entire world.”

There are similar co-working office spaces opening all across the greater Boston area, but WeWork stands alone on its two major selling points: design aesthetic and its emphasis on community networking.

“It may seem like a minor thing,” said Rob Weeks, associate community manager for South Station’s WeWork. “But you want to show up to an office that looks cool and feels cool. Especially if you’ve got clients that are showing up.”

WeWork, a system of office spaces for startup companies, opened two Boston offices in February, one near South Station and another in the Innovation Seaport District. MAYA DEVREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
WeWork, a system of office spaces for startup companies, opened two Boston offices in February, one near South Station and another in the Innovation Seaport District. MAYA DEVREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

WeWork’s office boasts a sleek urban design with glass offices, restored wood tables, concrete floors and colorful wall art. At the center of the office’s common space is a shuffle board game, adjacent to the kitchenette that provides free fair trade coffee, pastries and beer on tap throughout the day.

The highlight, however, is that companies work alongside each other, regardless of occupation. It may sound a little nontraditional, but that’s just what Weeks said WeWork is going for.

“You’re going to find less traditional older generations who aren’t used to a working space like this who are going to come in and say, ‘There’s beer on tap. What is this, just a party here all the time?’” Weeks said. “So I think naturally the space is going to lend itself to people like that that are just younger.”

It’s no secret that younger generations are changing the way the workforce is regarded. In the January PreparedUProject survey conducted by Bentley University, researchers found that 74 percent of non-millennials agree that millennials offer different skills and work styles that add value to the workplace.

Along with different skills, new workforces are shifting the traditional work schedules. WeWork fosters many tech start-ups and companies that are working toward recognition or funding. In order to hit the ground running, a lot of these companies spend a majority of their time in the office.

“We kind of tend to do ridiculous hours,” said Alex Johnson, a web developer for the Tablelist app and a member of WeWork. “I’ve never really done a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I don’t know what it feels like. It’s kind of, you know, work until you’re either brain-fried or done.”

Erratic hours are nothing new to the tech start-up industry, and co-working spaces such as WeWork are hoping to combat these long hours with office perks for their members. According to Johnson, their tactics thus far have been successful.

“In a drier environment you’re much more eager to get back home and do your thing,” Johnson said. “But we end up hanging around here a lot after work. Beer and coffee keeps us around here.”

A 2013 study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, “Always on Never Done,” shows that it might be technology itself that can be thanked for the obsoleteness of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday. The study showed that workers who use a smartphone for work are connected with the office an average 13.5 to 18.5 hours per day, while those without smartphones are connected with the office an average of 8 to 10 hours per day.

Understanding this new wave of technologically forward thinkers, WeWork offers a unique way for members to use social networking proficiency to make connections within the realm of the office, both nationally and eventually internationally.

“It’s sort of like a Twitter feed,” Perry said. “It’s our own internal network so you can quote yourself within the space and see what other companies locally within WeWork and nationally within WeWork are doing, and find ways to collaborate with one another within our network.”

From this network, companies are able to outsource their needs in-house, whether they are in need of a lawyer, marketing assistance or other resources to help them grow.

To encourage tennants to enjoy work, WeWork boasts a games room, complimentary snack and beer on tap. MAYA DEVREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
To encourage tennants to enjoy work, WeWork boasts a games room, complimentary snack and beer on tap. MAYA DEVREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

“We’ve had very many situations where there are venture capitalists who will get an office in the space,” Perry said, “and a company that’s looking for funding will have access to those investors that they may not have had access to prior, and they can work together to build a company that they’re growing at WeWork.”

While WeWork fosters a high concentration of tech start-ups, its national platform boasts a range of members in many fields, all of whom are a message away as a part of the community environment that WeWork is seeking to build in Boston.

“The companies that we get in the building are fun companies who are into the community aspect of WeWork, it’s not just a co-working space,” said Roselangie Cano, an associate community manager for WeWork. “People don’t just come here to work and not interact with anybody and then leave. We want to foster that environment of coming together and doing things that you love.”

WeWork offers not only connections in its two new Boston locations, but also in 17 other spaces across the country in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Expansions are planned for offices in Chicago, London and Tel Aviv.

Another perk for a WeWork member is if they belong to one of WeWork’s locations, they have a place to work in any of the other locations across the country. With one of WeWork’s Boston locations located down the street from South Station, the ease of travel between cities adds a new dimension to the community of the co-working environment.

While providing all of the benefits of membership, WeWork still manages to keep its rates competitive. Steps from South Station and downtown Boston, the office charges $45 for a network membership, and from $550 a month for a one-person office to $3,000 for a six-person office.

“We provide a very competitive option both for our open floor plans and for our offices as well,” Perry said about WeWork’s rates. “… Compared to a lot of other companies in the space, we are priced underneath them.”

If the game rooms and free beer weren’t enough to lure companies to membership, WeWork also offers special events, a minimum of one a week, for its members and the community at large.
Johnson, who has so far attended every WeWork event, sees them as a part of WeWork’s flourishing community.

“It was great because a lot of people we wouldn’t meet on a normal day were there,” Johnson said. “They bussed in the New York office of WeWork, where their main center hub is. So all of those people got here, and were kind of involved in the community you could say.”

Weeks said the events offered a new approach to networking.

“It’s sort of a new school type of networking,” he said. “Where you can have a beer and shake somebody’s hand and you don’t need to worry about collecting business cards and following up with them by the next business day, and that type of thing. We just want to have fun social things where people are going to naturally connect and make friends.”
Fun is at the center of WeWork’s mission; it attempts to bring an enjoyable environment together with individuals that work hard and have a drive to succeed.

“We really want to help grow people’s businesses,” Weeks said, “before they maybe even knew that they were ready to grow. Just provide services that are going to help young companies or small companies get off of the ground quickly and easily.”

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  1. I visited WeWork’s space in Seattle this week and were blown away. It’s airy, refreshing and energizing. Microsoft Ventures set up shop there in order to meet and network with the startups and growing tech companies flocking to places like WeWork. It seems like the connections and networking alone could pay for rent many times over. I am sold. If I were a traditional office space owner, then I would be paying close attention to this movement.