Here’s a remarkable forecast. By 2020, Millennials* will make up half of the global workforce, and four out of ten of them will be independent operators, mostly by their own choice.
This is good news for WeWork, whose new take on workspace is designed to appeal to an entrepreneurial generation less concerned with ownership and more interested in collaborative working and sharing.
At London Chamber’s latest property event, WeWork’s Director of European Transactions, Mary Finnigan, charted the spectacular rise of the brand since its formation in 2010 and set out its global ambition.
WeWork is already the third biggest start up by valuation in the US (after Uber and Airbnb).
Its strategy in Europe is to open more WeWorks in major cities, and it is also looking at bringing its residential offer, WeLive, across the pond after successful rollouts in New York and Washington.
The WeWork mission is to create a world where people make a life, not just a living. This drives the way it designs buildings (it has architecture and engineering in house) and the kinds of services that attract new users.
There are 150,000 of those WeWork members in 140 locations in 45 cities and 15 countries, enjoying an extraordinary variety of benefits, ranging from an app that lets them communicate with fellow members and use WeWork facilities all over the world to being able to bring their dog to work. The latter harks back to the brand’s early days when it was looking for ways to lure home workers to take its spaces. There is beer on tap, and once a year members get together for a US-style “school” summer camp, a kind of mini Glastonbury featuring talks, yoga, and live bands.
Halloween parties, “lunch and learn” talks, food and wine, and visiting hairdressers and manicurists add to the experience. But perhaps one of the biggest attractions for sole traders and micro businesses is the opportunity to find new customers and clients. Mary tells us 60 per cent of members do business with each other.
Not that all WeWork licensees are micros. Deloitte has a major presence in one building, as do Centrica and Microsoft in other buildings, and there are other such “enterprise members” in the network.
With almost all WeWork UK locations in London, it has just opened a second building in Manchester. I wondered if there would ever be an opportunity for entrepreneurs in second tier cities such as Leicester to have the WeWork experience without moving away. Fortunately, I had the chance to ask Mary exactly that. While the focus currently is on major cities in Europe, she thought they would look beyond the metropolises in future, as they have done in the US.
The Brexit vote and resulting economic and political uncertainty have not dimmed demand for WeWork’s London locations. That suggests young entrepreneurs in the capital are more confident than their older, more established counterparts. However, the UK’s impending departure from the EU has encouraged WeWork to look to place more attention on mainland Europe.
Urbanisation and the resulting need to share space is changing the world of work. That is clear not only in WeWork’s business model and philosophy but also in the technology it employs to create work spaces. WeWork uses 3D laser scanning to help plan building layouts, and it processes metadata from its existing buildings to help it design interiors in new ones in intricate detail, from deciding where to locate a coffee machine to which way an armchair should face in a collaborative space.
Mary Finnigan was guest speaker at the Property and Construction Breakfast Club of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. CBRE’s Chairman of Residential, Mark Collins, highlighted the Chamber’s campaign to urge policymakers to get London “mega city-ready”. Mark, who also chairs the Chamber’s property section, hosted the event at CBRE’s Henrietta Place offices off Oxford Street. Speaking to the audience of property professionals, he outlined the Chamber’s Capital Matters report. This identifies the big issues of housing, transport and the skills gap as the major obstacles to the capital’s success as it approaches a population of 10 million. He urges politicians to keep their eye on the ball of these major issues and avoid focusing all their attention on Brexit. The Chamber’s property and construction policy focuses on the need to address the looming spectre of a post-Brexit skilled labour shortage and calls for more support for small builders in the form of better access to finance and simplified planning regulations.
* Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are those born approximately between the early 1980s and early 2000s. As they are the children of Baby Boomers, there are many of them, which is also why they are sometimes called Echo Boomers. For more about Millennials, see