Capitalist Communes and the New Work-Life Balance

Almost every generation has sought to reorganize the workplace, from union demands for a 40-hour workweek in the late 1930s to the introduction of cubicles in the 1960’s to foosball tables and flexible work hours in the early 2000s. Today, Millennials, the largest generation in the American workforce, are once again outgrowing the traditional office and blurring the lines between home and work.

Future Workplace found that 91 percent of Millennials workers expect to stay at a single job for no more than three years, and more than 54 million are doing freelance work. An increasing number of young workers prefer environments that merge the personal with the professional; that are flexible, collaborative, and communal. And those desires have spawned a new market for co-working spaces.

WeWork, an office rental and communal workspace company that launched in 2010, is the undeniable leader in co-working. Their business model is simple: the company rents office space from landlords at wholesale prices, breaks that space down into smaller working units, and subleases it to members at a profit. With 91 locations and over 50,000 members across the globe, the company was recently valued at a whopping $16 billion.

The company’s genius lies in turning the workplace itself into a service. By breaking up pricing into various packages, WeWork allows its members to curate their work experience based on their specific needs – the more they pay, the more conveniences they get, with the so-called perks ranging from personal office space to a kitchen to storage options. For many freelancers and entrepreneurs, having access to affordable office space is understandably more appealing than taking conference calls from a coffee shop or even a home office.

But in an always-on, 24-hour connected world, employees are seeing a diminishing divide between work life and home life. Sixty-two percent of Millennials today demonstrate a keen interest in living and working in urban areas, according to a Nielsen study. Two-thirds of them are renters, who are more likely to live with other people than alone. Seeing a pattern emerge, WeWork extended its creative approach with co-working and applied it to co-living.

The company’s foray into communal-style living came through a venture called WeLive, a dormitory-type living format which accommodates multiple people who share space and resources, in addition to participating in community activities. Across the board, co-living startups offer different solutions to urban housing problems for young employees. Many charge rent on a month-by-month basis, without requiring things like proof of a steady annual income or access to a guarantor, which can be prohibitive for freelancers and newcomers to cities.

CommonGeneral Assembly cofounder Brad Hargreave’s new co-living startup, partners with real estate companies that buy the buildings they use, which saves money on rent and allows more control over the space. Pure House, based in Brooklyn, on the other hand, casts itself as a community for “social entrepreneurs, digital nomads, artists, and designers.”

As for WeLive: the company moved 45 of its members and employees into its first co-living property in New York this past January. Each resident gets a personal room and shares facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens, and living spaces. They also receive access to community events including fitness classes, potluck dinners, services such as cleaning and laundry, and a digital social network controlled and coordinated through the WeWork app.

Admittedly, the idea sounds a little wild – trading privacy and space for flexible leases and neighbors with similar goals and dreams seems to embody a kind of idealism that hearkens back to the communes of the 1960s, albeit with a significantly more capitalist bent. But then again, in an economy where people are choosing Uber or Lyft instead of buying cars, why not share offices and living space, or both? “We happen to need buildings just like Uber happens to need cars, just like Airbnb happens to need apartments,” WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann explains.

As more workers operate on a freelance basis and more young people flock to cities where space comes at a premium, accommodating them and their price points starts to feel less like idealism and more like fulfilling the needs of a hitherto underserved – and one might even say unrecognized – market.


posted by Magnify Team | July 19, 2017 @

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