QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

We Work?

In September 2017 I was hired by a company that used Wework for office space. On the day I started, they had a tiny glass fishbowl meant to hold three people, and four people there. By October we had moved to a larger space on a different floor, meant for five people. It was a much nicer spot, with two openenable windows. (To the outside. Not just the glass walls with sliding doors on the other spot.)

The building was (is) on 2nd St in San Francisco's Soma (South of Market) neighborhood. An older six story building with a single elevator, wood stairs in the single internal staircase, and an exterior fire escape reachable through the sash window in one of the offices. I don't know if the people in that office were required to not lock their door, it is something I thought about in my time there.

I don't recall exactly when, but somewhere around December 2017 to February 2018 that company shut the Wework office down and I was expected to work from home. For about a month before then, I was usually the only person in the office. The San Francisco branch manager, Andrew, had been laid off in early December 2017, leaving just three employees in SF. And absent the manager insisting otherwise, the other two preferred to work from home.

On day one with that company, I had showed up at the Wework office and as part of signing in to meet Andrew, I had to provide an email address. I used my resume email address, since I didn't yet know what my new work address would be. Wework added that address to their building mailing list, and I got weekly announcements about things happening in the building. Emails with a text/plain part that was wildly different from the text/html part.

Those weekly newsletters stopped, without my intervention, when the company stopped the Wework lease. Until today. Some circa eighteen to twenty months later, I got one this morning. Still wildly different plain text and html parts, but also this time, a crazy From line. This from header is an address for a NYC (Hudson Yards) Wework office. Not exactly close to San Francisco.

From: WeWork Community team at 368 9th Ave <WE-US-58829@wework.com>

text/plain part:

What's happening at WeWork 156 2nd St this week?

(then three placeholder events all dated "June 28" with no year, eg

Exclusive 1 Title

Sunday, June 28 | 3:00 pm - 5:00pm | 19A

Enter the descriptive text for the exclusive item here. Please try to keep all descriptions 3 lines or shorter. If you don't need to include a link, you can delete the link below, but be careful, once deleted you can't undo it.


text/html part:

What's happening at WeWork 156 2nd St this week?

(then one event on August 13th and one on June 28th, both with actual details, but nothing happening in the week of August 3rd to 9th, 2020.)

I used the "list unsubscribe" link in the message headers (and got a confirmation of unsubscription just using lynx; always nice to see that websites work in text browsers).

But it prompted me to think about this company that had such a spectacular failure to IPO last year. An at-the-time description: 2019/9/23 Wework mess explained.

About a month after that story, Wework laid off 2,400 employees of 12,500 (according to SEC filings in June 2019). The news broke on Thanksgiving day: 2019/11/21 Wework lays off 2400.

Searching Reuters today, the most recent news story about Wework is almost a month old: Wework expects positive cash flow in 2021.

WeWork Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure said the office-sharing company was on course to have positive cash flow in 2021, a year earlier than a target the company set in February, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

Claure, in an interview with the newspaper, said WeWork has seen strong demand for its office spaces since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

The SoftBank-controlled company has also reduced its workforce by more than 8,000 people, renegotiated leases and sold off assets to reduce its cash burn and shed costs, FT said.

Eight thousand people is 64% of 12,500, assuming the lay-off count is from height of employment, and not some more recent smaller number. I'm a bit surprised that even with those third paragraph changes Wework still has hope. I'm also a bit surprised by the "strong demand" mentioned. In the face of massive work-from-home pushes, people want to work in glass cells?

As of today, there's vacancy for five people on the sixth floor of 156 2nd St, judging by the floor plan I think it's the same one I was in (looking at room 611; I don't remember the office numbers, just the floors). They want $5,250 a month for that. And there is a third floor vacancy for three people, for $2,710. It's not the one I was in, but adjacent.

Overall, I'm not sure 156 2nd St is showing "strong demand" based on the available units I can find. Maybe SF is not representative of that demand?

I really thought they'd be a goner when "quarantine" hit. Whatever the rental demand, whoever is doing their email newsletters seems surplus to requirements.