Nov 19, 2020 - Economy

WeWork — but make it Uber

Illustration of person holding a phone with an uber-like app with an office chair

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

WeWork is turning into Uber.

The big picture: The rise of remote work has been disastrous for WeWork, which placed a hugely expensive bet on offices. Now the company is trying to find its place in the future of work by making its office space available on demand.

What's happening: WeWork is expanding WeWork on Demand, which it piloted in New York City over the summer, to 160 of its locations in 11 cities.

  • Through the app, anyone can book a desk in a shared workspace for $29 per day or reserve a private meeting room starting at $10 per hour.
  • 43 of the WeWorks that are available to book are in New York City, and the rest are scattered across Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, D.C., and the Bay Area. The company says it plans to expand to several more locations around the U.S. and the world by next year.

Between the lines: A free-for-all in which anyone can book space at any number of WeWorks raises safety questions as we navigate the pandemic.

  • WeWork says it'll follow social distancing guidelines and mandate masks as well as ask app users to provide information for contact tracing.
  • WeWork has also upgraded ventilation systems. "Pretty much every WeWork now has better circulation than before," says Prabhdeep Singh, the company's global head of marketplace.

While On Demand is a way for WeWork to make some money during pandemic-era telework, the company plans to keep it going even after the coronavirus is behind us.

  • And the company is hoping that, on days when people don't go into the office, they will grab space at a WeWork — instead of a coffee shop or the local library — to make some calls or just get out of the house.

What to watch: The sharing economy has worked with cars and vacation homes, but you don't really see this kind of thing in commercial real estate. Office space leases are usually several years — or even decades — long.

  • WeWork is bullish about this new offering. During the NYC pilot, the company got 700 on-demand bookings in 60 days.
  • Some other companies have experimented with renting out workspace during the pandemic, such as Marriott.
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