April 29, 2016

Cubicles on cubicles

Sick of your cubicle?  They may soon be a relic of the past. Credit: Michael Lokner / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s a millennial's dream. Beer on tap, free coffee, and tables of MacBook-toting, highly-motivated, workers.

No, it’s not a Google office. It’s WeWork, a popular coworking space that is spreading around the country.

Coworking spaces allow individuals and small companies to rent desks, usually by the month. They tend to be full of young, startup companies -- places too small or unestablished to sign an expensive, multi-year lease.

The price of a desk depends on both the location and the company, but at WeWork Boston, you can have once-a-month access for $45.

That price might seem high to terrestrial cubical-users, but to WeWork’s clients, it’s more than just a space. Coworking is a lifestyle.

“I think it’s a generational change,” says Gwen Wiscount, a 20-something account manager at Full Funnel. “We want to do it all…. We really want to optimize every part of our life, and work is just one of [those parts].”

Katie Martell, the CMO of Cintell - which also rents space at WeWork - agrees. “It’s kind of celebrated to be an entrepreneur right now.”

She also thinks WeWork’s hefty price tag is worth it. “It’s less daunting to start a company because you can focus on building your business…. You don’t need to focus on finding office space, getting coffee, or how you’re going to connect to the internet.”

But with a high quotient of hipness, and lots of unbridled energy, is it hard to concentrate and actually get work done?

“Absolutely,” Says Martell. “There are times when it’s a little overwhelming to see guys lined up at the beer tap.”

WeWork is just one of many coworking companies that have popped up in the last decade. But it’s the only one valued at $16 billion.

We asked Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, what he thought about that number. “There’s such a demand for anything related to entrepreneurship… education and real estate space… that the demand is outstripping the supply.”

Nitasha Tiku, senior writer at BuzzFeed, thinks the sky-high valuation might be hype.

Like Airbnb, coworking spaces are based on real estate but market themselves as software companies. “Just the fact that we call WeWork coworking, instead of short-term office rentals, shows you how successful they’ve been at billing themselves as harbingers of the new future.”

But will it change the way people go to work?

Well, the jury’s still out on that. A lot of WeWork’s success seems to come from its image - and that image has become so appealing that other landlords have started offering similar services, like beer on tap.

They may be on to something. WeWork now has 50,000 members worldwide.

Coworking spaces, Business, WeWork

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