Waiting to Poop: The WeWork Experience

I don't fully understand the significance of WeWork selling $500 million worth of bonds to finance future expansion, but as someone who spent four months in a WeWork office, I'm confident that they're in for a sudden and abrupt collapse. I don't know if it'll happen sooner or later, but it will happen, and it will happen for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

Every article I've read about WeWork mentions the same thing: it's mystifying that the company is valued so much more highly than competitors of similar size and financial performance. The difference is attributed to, basically, the idea that WeWork is cool. They don't shy from that description. They talk about themselves as the vanguard of a new way of working, of living! They're even starting a school, called WeGrow, that aims to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in kids. Because god forbid our kids aren't adding value.

If you're like me, you're already wary of the whole deal. This is work we're talking about. An important part of our lives, yes, but just one part. And when your landlord is trying to convince you that leasing from them enlists you as contributor to a greater mission, then you can bet that they're trying real hard to distract you from something. When you get right down to it, WeWork's business would have a much harder time admitting that their chief aim is to compress as much human meat into as small a space as possible.

Here's the WeWork experience. You walk in the door, and there's a bunch of shit on the walls like it's a TGI Friday's. Each elevator lobby has an arcade machine set to freeplay, although it seems relevant that in the time I was there, the Killer Instinct cabinet never worked, and I never saw a single person on the NBA Jam one. There are daily food and drink events, usually alcohol-focused. There's a beer tap on every floor! (Imagine trying to function in this office as a recovering alcoholic.) The whole thing seems pretty neat. And then you get to your actual workspace.

The office space is modular, so it can be adjusted to accommodate the constantly incoming and outgoing businesses. Each space is delineated with some clear panels; unlike Apple's designers, the WeWork people at least bothered to put little graphics on the windows so that you don't walk into them very much. But with such narrow passageways there's a constant feeling of making your way through a hall of mirrors. If you pass someone coming the other way, you both must turn sideways to make room. I'm guessing this is pitched as a networking opportunity.

Because the office size and shapes can be changed, there's a bizarre flow. Corridors run into dead ends. Finding a particular conference room can be a baffling experience. You can see where you need to go but not how to get there. If you need to go to a conference room on a different floor, which happens often, the layouts aren't the same.

Worst of all? My first day in the office, I tried to find the emergency exit. I couldn't do it.

Our space was all the way in the corner, and it struck me that we seemed pretty far from egress. As someone who has spent, honestly, far too much time reading Wikipedia articles about fire disasters, one of the first things I do in any new space is look for the emergency exit. I seriously puttered around the disorienting corridors of this place, finding my way to many terminal locations, without seeing a way out. Eventually, not even that day, I found the emergency exit. It wasn't incredibly hard to get to, but it wasn't well marked, and I don't want to think about what might have happened if I'd needed to get out before I found it.

My office was a rectangular pod that was bounded by two exterior walls. The windows were tall and narrow, and not adequately covered by the shades. In the morning, the bright sun streaming through the gaps was literally blinding. I was constantly rotating my body to block the glare from my monitor. We asked the building about it, and they claimed that they weren't allowed to put new ones in for some reason to do with the "character" of the space. We ended up taping huge pieces of cardboard over the windows. Somehow, that was in character.

When we first moved in, there were about eight of us squeezed shoulder to shoulder. My workspace was less wide than my arms could reach. The room was even narrower crosswise, such that if you didn't look before pushing your chair back from the desk, you might bump into somebody. Taking a phone call or participating in a Hangout was nearly impossible in that room. You could always duck into one of the phone rooms in the common area, but those were warm, airless cells just large enough to contain a single chair, and, anyway, they were always occupied.

Spaces being occupied was a common theme to the WeWork experience, and never was this more apparent than in the bathroom. Due presumably to the start-up nature of a lot of the companies there, the gender split skewed about 70-30 male, and the restroom contained just one urinal and two stalls. The stalls were always in use. Always. Nearly every day I found myself loitering in there like a sexual predator. In urgent situations, I would start wondering if I'd get fired for blasting a dook in the urinal. I bet it's happened.

The bathroom situation was my biggest complaint about the place, and people tend to chuckle when I mention it to them. Sure, poo-poo and pee-pee are funny. But I didn't find it too humorous in the moment. I'm a grown-ass man in a place of business, and I can't even attend to basic bodily functions. It's degrading.

That's why I think that WeWork is not long for this world. It seems cool now, and it's supposedly cheaper than some other leasing options even for established companies. But workers will revolt. It is not tenable to keep giving employees unlimited coffee and severely limited bathroom options. At some point, people will start to be reluctant to take a job in a WeWork facility. More traditional office space will become a benefit of the type that must be offered in order to attract top talent. I guarantee it. And when that happens, WeWork won't work.

Good luck with those bonds, fellas.