Sarah Holder is a staff writer at CityLab covering local policy, housing, labor, and technology.
It is 8 p.m., and I am sitting on the 19th floor of a WeWork in California. I eat my lunch here, and drink two cups of coffee here, and I consider going to the gym here, but don’t, almost every day. On Wednesday, I got my haircut here. Last week—and I will admit, the week before that—I had a beer here, but always less than four in one day, as is the company’s rule, not that they are monitoring my consumption. (Are they?)
Surprising as it may seem, I do not live in this WeWork. I only work here. But the We Company, as the embattled business behind WeWork renamed itself earlier this year, wants to make clocking in, hustling, and grinding even more chill and fun than non-work life. The water cups say, “Always Half Full.” The mugs say, “Do What You Love.” The morning emails inviting us to the make-your-own PB&J sandwich bar say “TGIM!”
Already, working out of a co-working space in San Francisco feels even more Millennial than the harshest Millennial parody. (Acupuncture-start-up-sponsored happy hours, SweetGreen outposts on every floor, very loud common areas pumping Odesza interspersed with open-plan benches and claustrophobic phone booths.)
But for the past few months, the experience has become even stranger, as the We Company’s business model has very publicly devolved. In rapid succession, We attempted to go public, lost half its valuation overnight, shed its extremely tall founder, and cancelled its IPO entirely. Thousands of staff layoffs are impending. Office “Honesty Markets,” where you can buy La Croix via iPad, may be shutting down. The spa water has been de-cucumbered. (This happened months ago; a sign, of sorts.) Some experts believe that, soon, the company will have to declare bankruptcy.
Much ink has been spilled on what the epic rise and embarrassing fall of WeWork means about venture capital, tech, and the real estate market, as the U.S. hurtles toward a possible recession. (The company leases 20 million square feet in offices across the country!) But others think it may be a referendum on the co-working model espoused by WeWork itself. As my Atlantic colleague Ian Bogost wrote:
Co-working fused the individualism of tech bootstrapping with the collectivism of social movements. … Maybe real collectivism is incompatible with hard-striving, growth-at-all costs business. A company that leases value-added office space shouldn’t aspire to suffuse the apotheotic human spirit. Neither should the work you do when you work at your WeWork. A job is a job; a company is a company.
For me, at least, it’s hard not to get attached to the places I spend the most time, especially if they ply me with coffee. Even if WeWork wasn’t trying so hard to be the center of its tenants’ lives, it would probably find its way into the center of mine.
Maybe that’s just the workism talking. Ugh. But without a co-working set-up, I’m not sure work-life balance would be any less eroded. According to the latest American Community Survey, the fastest-growing commute is no commute at all, meaning for many, their office and home have become indistinguishable. TGIF! I’m WFH.
What we’re writing:
Did you know that squirrels can speak bird!? ¤ A new book collects vintage glimpses of national parks. ¤ British travelers loved Thomas Cook Airlines. Then Thomas Cook forsook them. ¤ No car? No problem (in some cities). ¤ NYC loves to hate failed presidential candidate Mayor Bill De Blasio. Why? ¤ Women lived, worked, and started movements from these 20 historic sites. ¤ I went on a crane count ride-along! ¤ “Our real problem is not tsunamis.” ¤ Inside the Kutupalong refugee camp, precarious living becomes a bit more stable. ¤ In 16th- to 18th-century Scotland, an actual witch hunt. ¤
What we’re taking in:
What will happen to your neighborhood dry cleaner when the start-ups take over? (The Outline) ¤ Beijing neighborhoods are being renovated. Older residents are being driven out. (The Guardian) ¤ The first Burning Man, in pictures. (California Sunday) ¤ Is the rise of the food hall “a reaction to our increasingly placeless society”? (Heated) ¤ Not In My Bat’s Yard (Curbed) ¤ 100 out of 750 &pizza employees have &pizza tattoos (Bloomberg) ¤ At a literary pharmacy, poetry is in the first aid kit (Keele University) ¤ An activist bodega opens in Los Angeles. “There are people who want salads that don’t have the means.” (New York Times) ¤
View from the ground:
@a_tsili inside Rotterdam’s cubic houses. @koceloc on a winter walk in Albequerque. @julio.a.c at Los Angeles’ The Broad art museum. @fionasmith_ watching the sun set behind the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.
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