The co-work­ing pi­o­neer’s Ir­ish boss says ‘watch this space’ as it opens its sixth, and largest, lo­ca­tion here. Soar­ing de­mand means it has high hopes for its lat­est D8 de­vel­op­ment, writes

Irish Independent - Business Week - - TECHNOLOGY -

LOOK around your of­fice. Do the desks and the car­pet look a lit­tle tired? Do the lights flicker and the tem­per­a­tures fluc­tu­ate? Does the sput­ter­ing cof­fee ma­chine make you gri­mace? Eight years ago, Adam Neu­mann and Miguel McKelvey looked at how peo­ple were work­ing in of­fice blocks. They thought they could do it bet­ter. So they started a co-work­ing space in New York called WeWork. Its ge­n­e­sis was that star­tups and free­lancers were more pro­duc­tive when they worked in a space that wasn’t dull and soul-sap­ping.

To­day, it has 335 lo­ca­tions around the world serv­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple. Last week, it re­ceived a fresh fund­ing in­jec­tion of $3bn (€2.6bn) from Soft­bank, bring­ing its in­vest­ment to a stag­ger­ing $12.1bn. (€10.6bn).

And it is now an­nounc­ing a sixth lo­ca­tion in Dublin, the Charlemont Ex­change, its big­gest in Ire­land.

Host­ing 2,600 peo­ple by it­self, the mas­sive 14-floor build­ing by the Grand Canal rep­re­sents a big bet on Dublin: the Ir­ish cap­i­tal is now one of WeWork’s big­gest per capita in­vest­ments out­side the US, ri­valling Lon­don on a head-to-head ba­sis.

The com­pany’s Charlemont de­vel­op­ment, first re­vealed by the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent in July, is tipped to house Ama­zon as an an­chor ten­ant, It’s WeWork’s third build­ing in the Dublin 8 area, ad­ja­cent to its Iveagh Court lo­ca­tion and its up­com­ing Har­court Street fa­cil­ity.

And it comes amid a se­ries of ma­jor tech ex­pan­sions be­ing un­der­gone here by Face­book, Google and a dozen other tech multi­na­tion­als.

An­nounc­ing a sixth lo­ca­tion in Dublin is quite a state­ment about how WeWork sees the city and its own fu­ture here. Are there more build­ings to come? “I’d say watch this space,” says Leni Zneimer, WeWork’s gen­eral man­ager for the UK and Ire­land.

“To open six lo­ca­tions in a city as in­no­va­tive as Dublin is not un­com­mon.”

Even still, Man­ches­ter is twice the size of Dublin and it has two WeWork lo­ca­tions. So why the rapid ex­pan­sion here?

“It points to our con­fi­dence in Dublin and our com­mit­ment to the city as a whole,” she says, “The Iveagh Court, for ex­am­ple, is com­pletely full. We’re see­ing in­cred­i­ble up­take here.”

Is there a nat­u­ral ca­pac­ity to a city Dublin’s size for a co-work­ing in­fra­struc­ture?

“We al­ways want to test the bound­aries of a city’s max­i­mum,” she says. “We never try to cap it as at a cer­tain num­ber, so there isn’t a cap in sight. We’re just get­ting started.”

Is there life out­side the cap­i­tal? Would WeWork con­sider dif­fer­ent Ir­ish cities?

“Our eyes are al­ways open to other cities,” says Zneimer. “And there are many un­be­liev­able cities that we’re not yet in. But we value the depth we can in­vest in a par­tic­u­lar city.”

Part of this, she says, is the avail­abil­ity of net­worked fa­cil­i­ties be­tween WeWork sites for mem­bers work­ing in or vis­it­ing that par­tic­u­lar city.

Right now, Dublin dwarfs other Ir­ish cities for in­ter­na­tional busi­ness through­put and an es­tab­lished tech base. The com­pany’s phi­los­o­phy, Zneimer sug­gests, is more about div­ing into this hub rather than set­ting up what might be satel­lite sta­tions around the coun­try.

When we think of co-work­ing spa­ces, the im­age con­jured up is of­ten one of small, plucky star­tups in T-shirts video-con­fer­enc­ing with in­vestors and clients as they sip juice and eat pizza in an open-plan area with tim­ber floors and ex­posed brick walls. WeWork’s own web lit­er­a­ture sets the tone. “The na­ture of work is chang­ing,” it says. “Re­cruit­ment, re­ten­tion, in­no­va­tion, and pro­duc­tiv­ity now re­quire not just cof­fee, but also yoga, not just print­ers, but also art in­stal­la­tions.”

In­creas­ingly, this is a pitch aimed at a lu­cra­tive new client: the cor­po­rate en­ter­prise. With­out any doubt, one of the main rea­sons that WeWork has scaled so quickly in the last two years (to some 350 lo­ca­tions across its tar­geted cities) is be­cause of its ap­peal to big, big firms. Go­liaths like Mi­cro­soft, Dell, Deloitte and Sales­force all want to have a pres­ence in spa­ces like this. They see themes of ‘dis­rup­tion’ and ‘cre­ativ­ity’ and es­ti­mate that there’s a de­cent chance of tap­ping into some of it if they set up di­vi­sions in the phys­i­cal lo­cale of their high-growth ju­nior in­dus­try coun­ter­parts.

“Twenty-nine per cent of our mem­ber base is now from the en­ter­prise seg­ment,” says Zneimer. “Among the 5,000 mem­bers we have so far in Ire­land are hun­dreds of com­pa­nies.” A lay­man might ask: doesn’t that wreck the buzz? You choose an en­vi­ron­ment pop­u­lated by bright, en­er­getic, cre­ative types but start see­ing suits and ties walk­ing around a bit more?

“One of the key words here is serendip­ity,” says Zneimer. “Ev­ery­one gets cof­fee in the same place. Ul­ti­mately, pre­con­ceived op­tions of archetypes get stripped away. In­stead of stereo­types over ap­pear­ance, it brings it back to work cul­ture and en­ergy. And it’s ul­ti­mately about a higher sense of sat­is­fac­tion and re­ten­tion.”

Does this mean that the startup peo­ple and colour­ful cre­atives that make up the 70pc of WeWork mem­bers be­come, in some way, part of the prod­uct when go­ing out to get en­ter­prise mem­bers for the lo­ca­tions?

“It’s true that small com­pa­nies, en­trepreneurs and star­tups are the sym­bol, the bea­con of ideas,” she says. ”And there is a rhythm that’s born of a small com­pany. It’s new and chal­leng­ing. And yes, that’s how WeWork com­mu­ni­ties were ini­tially for­mu­lated. Ini­tially, that’s what en­ter­prises saw and liked. They sensed this en­ergy, this in­spi­ra­tion. So small com­pa­nies are in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing our prod­uct in­so­far as it’s com­mu­nity and en­ergy on the ground. But ul­ti­mately the prod­uct is the sum of all the com­pa­nies that are there.”

How about cor­po­rate types out­side the Mi­crosofts, the Sales­forces, Twil­ios and Dells? Even though such firms are bluechip en­ter­prises which, by now, have some con­ser­va­tive, cau­tious el­e­ments about them, they’re still in an in­dus­try — tech — which al­ways has an eye on up­starts and new ways of work­ing.

But what of the Glan­bias, AIBs and CRHs? Is WeWork mainly a tech house?

“We ab­so­lutely see lo­cal in­ter­est as well,” says Zneimer, although with­out nam­ing any Ir­ish en­ter­prise clients. “I don’t think there’s a line be­tween tech en­ter­prises and lo­cal Ir­ish en­ter­prises.”

The ba­sic mis­sion of WeWork, though, re­mains the same. Work­places are chang­ing. Younger peo­ple, in par­tic­u­lar, don’t want to be in stuffy, tra­di­tional of­fice blocks with all of the phys­i­cal and cul­tural re­stric­tions that they bring.

“There’s a ba­sic shift in the way that peo­ple are or­gan­i­cally work­ing,” says Zneimer. “For ex­am­ple, there’s been an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple want­ing to start busi­nesses. You also see an abil­ity to work more flex­i­bly and to travel more of­ten. But you need dif­fer­ent means of work­ing to do this.

“Ul­ti­mately we’re re­spond­ing to a dif­fer­ent type of work, ap­pli­ca­ble to the en­tire work­force. We’re also ex­pand­ing what we call an in­tel­li­gent col­lab­o­ra­tive frame­work which is about en­gage­ment, re­ten­tion and the fu­ture of work.”

What about Brexit? Tech gi­ants such as Face­book and Google are dou­bling down on prop­er­ties in Dublin while slow­ing ex­pan­sion down in Bri­tain, a trend that has caught the at­ten­tion of sev­eral

Adrian Weck­ler

eco­nomic com­men­ta­tors. Is Brexit hav­ing any ef­fect on WeWork’s in­vest­ments here, pos­si­bly at the ex­pense of fur­ther in­vest­ment in the UK?

With­out ex­plic­itly say­ing so, Zneimer sug­gests that this isn’t the case.

“I can’t speak di­rectly to that, ex­cept to say that our busi­ness is as strong as ever in Lon­don,” she says. “We haven’t seen the Lon­don mar­ket slow down at all. We’ve been there since 2014 and now have 30 open lo­ca­tions.”

Zneimer points to one of the com­pany’s land­mark devel­op­ments in Lon­don’s Devon­shire Square, a cam­pus of 10 build­ings that’s sur­rounded by restau­rants and other met­ro­pol­i­tan at­trac­tions, lo­cated be­tween Shored­itch and the City.

“If you look at the ecosys­tem that we’re de­vel­op­ing there, it points to the level of in­vest­ment we’re do­ing in Lon­don,” she says. “Lon­don is very im­por­tant to us.”

In­deed, the UK cap­i­tal is WeWork’s sec-

WeWork UK and Ire­land’s Leni Zneimer

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