Twenty years ago, the “I” generation ran the world; business and personal lives were dominated by an individualistic mindset, focused on growth and ownership, and the I generation sat at the top. But, with the influx of millennials in the adult world and in the workplace, the I generation is no longer the most powerful force — rather, the We generation has taken its place. WeWork is one of the leading companies seeking to build a bridge between the I generation and the We generation. At the HP ReInvent Conference in March, Dion Weisler, the president and CEO of HP, had a conversation with Michael Gross, the vice-chairman of WeWork, focusing on what WeWork is doing in the workplace and why it matters so much.
What is WeWork about?
WeWork began in 2010 in New York City. Gross explained that the 2008 recession was coming to an end, and WeWork saw a need and had an idea — the creation of a community in a space.
Starting with a small office space and good coffee, WeWork sought to build an environment that cultivated community in the workplace and, in doing that, cultivated inspiration. In 2010 the world was taking a shift from the individual “I” mindset of the Baby Boomer generation and moving toward the mindset of the millennials, or the We generation, as WeWork calls them.
In its Soho office building, WeWork saw a group of millennials come together to find community and collaboration. WeWork saw success. WeWork began opening more buildings, and as they expanded, their name grew as well. From small downtown office buildings with a dozen members to Fortune 500 companies in the top 100 cities of the world, WeWork quickly gained momentum. WeWork seeks to change the traditional idea of an office space on a fixed, long-term lease into something that is short-term and flexible, and that can adapt with the company inhabiting it and with their top-tier employees.
One of the big changes that WeWork is seeking is to eliminate wasted space. The spatial analytics of the average workplace showed WeWork that thousands of square feet were being unused in workplaces, and by eliminating that unnecessary space, their members could not only save money, but also have a more positive environmental impact, and cultivate a community, creating a physical social network.
What can we learn from WeWork?
WeWork saw the need for a new workplace years ago because they saw the new world that was taking shape under the influence of the next generation. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a technology and social media-based world; they have the answers to almost any question at their fingertips and are constantly connected to people in every time zone on the planet. The We generation is about community, and WeWork saw without that community being cultivated in a workplace, that workplace could not thrive. But by using space as a service, WeWork creates that community — a physical social network for the generation that has grown up online.
The shared experience
Perhaps the most important topic that Gross talked about at the conference was WeWork’s goal of creating a shared experience. No longer should the focus in the workplace be on ownership — it certainly is not placed there in the personal lives of the We generation. Airbnb and Uber exemplify this as companies that not only provide a service, but also an experience, and in doing so, eliminate the need for ownership. Gross told Weisler that WeWork is so passionate about creating shared experiences because that is what the rising generation needs. A traditional workplace without those shared experiences or community environments make the We generation uncomfortable and cause a failure to thrive. Gen Z is even more critically in need of the community and shared experiences that WeWork is creating — Gross pointed out that growing up in the technology generation has made Gen Z more susceptible to loneliness and depression.
WeWork is seeking to create a workplace that cultivates the shared experiences that the We generation is craving, and by doing that creates the outcomes and thriving employees that the I generation is seeking. Designing and creating workplaces that fit the needs of each of their members is allowing WeWork to bridge the gap from the I generation to the We generation in a sustainable and important way.