WeWork Failed. Who's Next on "Redefined" Work?

Thanks to the 2020 Pandemic, a lot of conversation generated about what was the ideal workplace for the 21st century. Even now, a good amount of reaction and further evolution of that discussion continues as companies backlash against the remote work concept practiced for two and half years, and desire to get personal empires back in place physically in the office. Neither side of the topic is one hundred percent correct, but what they have both ended up generating is a very vicious but clearly new way of working that will probably affect the labor landscape for a decade.

As most remember who've been working for longer than a decade, the original concept was that a fulltime worker commuted to work, spent about 8 hours of their life at least in the office or function, commuted home, and then spent the remaining 12 hours of the day with personal life, sleeping, eating and raising kids. There were plenty who worked more, and on weekend, but by and far the 8-to-5 paradigm was king (yes, it was an hour more than the myth of 9-to-5). 

WeWork was an odd idea that provided a workspace as needed that fell in line with cloud services, you could scale up and scale down as needed. It was immediately deemed the darling of small tech companies and startups needing professional office space without the sunk costs of leases and owned furniture.

No Excuses Anymore

The pandemic changed much of what resisted telecommuting and remote work, an area mainly relegated to contractors, coders, specialized skill individuals who could handle work online, and consultants up until 2020. Being forced to work online blurred not just the location of where people could get things done for a paycheck, but how long they could work. What was a standard 8 hour day became some fuzzy 12 or even 14 hour day. Productivity shot through the roof. However, mental control of people and who was doing the actual work became exposed as well. Key players suited to actually doing work online well excelled and everyone else who just sat around pushing hot air stumbled. 



Another clear fact also became apparent. Where someone worked made little difference in how they worked with most service jobs. Aside from those that were site specific, like a restaurant, car mechanic, oil field, or repair services, most work done on a computer could be done in a loft or garage office just as easy as it was done in the office cubicle farm. And the dynamic of what was first presented with WeWork and similar ventures offering workspace for rent was confirmed objectively and across industries. 

Now, with all this clear proof that remote work and geographically-indifferent assignments didn't just perform well but performed better than the incessant interruptions of physical office, one would think businesses and companies would latch on. After all, they are for-profit operations and physical offices are a hell of a cost. Some companies did, and they really worked to push the remote work paradigm to full fruition. The WeWork model was always interesting to startups that needed a professional image and placement but didn't want to sink money into an actual physical address permanently, but it didn't latch on for regular company resources to use. Even with the hoteling idea, companies looked at WeWork and thought it was a weird burp consultants and contractors could only make work. Everyone else needed to be "controlled." That control definition again fell apart during COVID and clear proof people working at home got more done. 

Presence Doesn't Equate to Production

So, here we are at the end of 2023, with a noticeably angry push by companies to get everyone back into the physical office, just because. The future of platforms like WeWork actually looks even much worse for the near future as a result. Unfortunately, for those corporate managers who need to be walking around the cubicle farm with a coffee cup pestering people to look like they are doing something, the cat's out of the bag. Remote work is the gold standard, and by January, many of the same proponents of Return to Work will need to explain to their shareholders why their profit margins have shrunk again. There's no "pandemic" anymore, they got rid of the "waste" of remote work, and people are sitting in their cubicles again, so what might be the problem? Um... those pesky do-nothing managers, maybe?

Counter arguments point to the latest press pieces noting that remote work has now been found to be negative for productivity. However, what one finds reading these articles is that they are opinion-pieces from labor consultants. Let's be honest about this; if a consultant realizes their clients are now wanting people to be back on the office, what do you think the consultant is probably going to start saying if they make their paycheck advising companies how to manage labor resources? Yep, not really a surprise the opinions have changed. In reality, for every report one finds saying remote work is bad, another report can be found saying it was good. Everyone is picking the report that suits them and ignoring the rest. The crazy part is that no one is focusing on what actually helps improve the profit margin objectively. It's classic office politics in action.


Managers are Addicted to Presence, Speaking as a Manager

I am a manager myself, and I absolutely detest the traditional manager mode of meeting after meeting presence, delegating crap to feel like people are being assigned work, and constantly looking over people's shoulders to make sure they are doing something company-approved. I don't need to do it to do my job well; good people do good work and produce on their own. I can see it in the metrics. Those that don't, I simply show them the metrics to improve, and they fix it. There is no need to have someone physically in the office to do that for most modern work. Employees could work anywhere, at any time, as long as the production happens and stays on track. It's already been clearly proven by all the consultant teams we have working on the other side of the planet while we sleep.

I won't argue there are problem people who abused being remote. However, in many cases they were already "problem" people beforehand and well-known. So, while that rebuttal is raised repeatedly as why remote work didn't perform well, statistically it doesn't hold water. It's a fake argument for return to work. If a manager did have an issue, they easily could have forced the person in monitoring, return to work early, or heavier reporting on status and tasks completed. There are so many tools that can be used now to control poor work behavior, but the real issue is that managers are lazy and don't want to do the related work following up.

However, what I see instead for 2024 is a culture in management that must have physical and visible rank adoration to be fulfilled. Many were suddenly exposed as non-essential in the Pandemic phase if they couldn't do something other than "manage" people. This is what we've come to and why ideas like WeWork won't get off the ground, even if they can save a tremendous amount of money. You can't fix stupid. 

How do you rate this article?



A professional freelance writer for the last 20 years and a budding photographer by hobby.

The Intersect of Crypto Musings & Consumer Impacts
The Intersect of Crypto Musings & Consumer Impacts

A blog focused on ongoing government regulation for crypto or consumer issues with crypto with wide range of topics from pitfalls to avoid to opportunities to grab.

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.