WeWork Doesn’t Lead to Deep Work

Farhad Manjoo hit the nail on the head. Writing in the New York Times:

Much will be written in the coming weeks about how WeWork failed investors and employees. But I want to spotlight another constituency. WeWork’s fundamental business idea – to cram as many people as possible into swank, high-dollar office space, and then shower them with snacks and foosball-type perks so they overlook the distraction-carnival of their desks – fails office workers, too.

The model fails you even if you don’t work at a WeWork, because WeWork’s underlying idea has been an inspiration for a range of workplaces, possibly even your own. As urban rents crept up and the economy reached full employment over the last decade, American offices got more and more stuffed. On average, workers now get about 194 square feet of office space per person, down about 8 percent since 2009, according to a report by the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. WeWork has been accelerating the trend. At its newest offices, the company can more than double the density of most other offices, giving each worker less than 50 square feet of space.

This dovetails with a hot button of mine: Great engineers need to have an environment optimized around performing deep work. In fact, I would go farther than Manjoo. High densities and lots of noise don’t only fail office workers. When the entire value to a company’s customer is in the intellectual output of the professionals on the team, dense, distracting, and loud offices are ridiculously counterproductive.

It’s a classic case of virtue signaling: Look how cool we are! But it comes at the expense of actually being able to concentrate deeply on the technical problem at hand.