Despite the past year being historically bad for New York City offices, WeWork is somehow surviving — or at least clinging on — even as many people continue to work from home. Apparently some people are so fed up with their apartments that they are taking their chances on one of WeWork’s 78 locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
Earlier this year, the company closed four of its Manhattan locations and dropped its fees by 10 percent across the U.S. (with a steeper cut of 15 to 20 percent in New York and some other cities including Boston, Denver, Columbus, Austin, and Washington). Then in August, WeWork launched On Demand, a new program that allows people to pay as they go at any of its locations — $29/day for an open workspace or $10/hour for conference rooms — instead of signing up for a monthly membership. The new program is now most popular in NYC.
Things look a little different at a WeWork these days: There’s no longer coffee on every floor, and the beer on tap has been replaced with kombucha. The reduced amenities are being used by a smaller number of customers, too. But those who continue to work out of WeWorks have enjoyed the quiet, and trust that the mandatory mask use and strict cleaning protocols are being enforced. We spoke to five New Yorkers who continue to use WeWork about what co-working spaces have been like during the pandemic.
Elaine Huang, who runs multiple businesses, including a music nonprofit called Neon Owl, has been a member for a little over a year.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, “Hell no, I’m not going into WeWork right now.” But later on, when things started to calm down a little bit, around the summer, I started going again maybe two or three times a week. At first I was nervous, because none of us really knew much about the pandemic and what was going to happen. But WeWork sent out all these messages about how they triple clean and sanitize everything, and I do see they have a lot of employees cleaning stuff, and then they have sanitizers everywhere. Pre-COVID, every floor would have coffee, but now it’s only on one floor. They used to have creamers and different things in the fridge, but now it’s only those packaged creamers. And, of course, no vendors are bringing in food like chocolate or lunch the way they did before.
Being an entrepreneur with multiple businesses, I was missing traveling internationally, collaborating, meeting with people, making connections, and all the fun stuff that happened before the pandemic I was going a little crazy just working in my own house. Even though it’s not like you’re talking to everyone in a WeWork right now (because there are fewer people and everyone’s wearing a mask), at least I get to leave my house and maybe meet one or two people, even at the front desk, just kind of to get out of my routine.
Adam Spera, a digital-marketing consultant, has used the Queens WeWork locations on and off for about two years.
I usually go Monday through Friday. I have a hot desk membership, which costs about $320 per month. I live in Astoria, so I ride my bike three or four miles to one of the WeWork locations. It’s a nice little exercise in the morning. I just get too distracted when I’m at home and kind of get bored of being in one little space all day. It has helped me be more productive. I stopped going last year for two or three months, and then went back in the summer. When I first went back, there were definitely fewer people in the office. On the floor where I usually sit, there would be maybe four or five other people in the common area with me at a time. But as the year went on, more people started coming back.
The space has definitely changed a lot. There are fewer people, so there’s a lot less socializing. Before the pandemic, someone might come by and leave a box of doughnuts on the kitchen table for people to take — things like that are not happening now.
Fernando Santos, who runs a digital-marketing agency for Hispanic-owned small businesses, has been a WeWork member since 2019.
I have had the global-access membership since 2019. I pay $600/month for my team of two people. I mostly use the meeting rooms to receive clients or to create content. I paused going at the beginning of the pandemic, but then I started coming back in October. When I came back for the first time, there were not a lot of people, and they had implemented all the safety protocols, so I said, “This is perfect.” A space that you used to share with eight people, now you share it with three. And there still aren’t very many people there … I would say it is around 15 percent of what it used to be. On a given day there are four or five people on a single floor.
Right now I’m actually in the WeWork on 29th Street and Seventh Avenue. If I have meetings with clients, I try to make life easier for them. If one of them says “I’m in Queens,” I say, “What if we meet in the WeWork at Queens Borough Plaza?” If someone comes from the Bronx, I suggest meeting in Harlem, depending on the closest location. If the person comes from Long Island, I suggest meeting close to the train station on 34th Street. I try to be flexible. Today I have an appointment at 2 p.m., which is why I’m at the 29th St location.
Gabriella Wells runs her own fashion brand and has been using WeWork since November.
I work mostly from one of the Midtown WeWork locations, at least four times a week. I have a fashion brand so Midtown is more convenient for me. The one in Bryant Park is the one that I go to the most but I’ve also used locations by Central Park and down in Soho as well.
What I most like about WeWork is the fact that you can access numerous buildings, and it also has all the facilities that a big company would have. For instance, the one in Bryant Park has a great recording studio, where we’ve been able to record videos and podcast episodes. So it really does offer all the facilities that a big-budget company would have in their headquarters.
Lately, I’ve been able to enjoy the facility I use more because there are less people in it, and there is more access to all of it. So if I want to use one of the booths and carry on a phone call, you can do it without having to pre-book things. So that’s allowed me to create some more social content, because now I don’t have to worry about getting anyone on the background. Now I don’t have to wait for everybody to get out of the way to get that one shot, which has given me a little freedom to play around in the buildings and get creative. And that’s been fun. And if you do have a client and you’re sitting there, it’s great because there’s no one else around, it’s like you have the whole room to yourselves. I’ve been enjoying that while I can.
Andrew Reiner is the CEO of a start-up called Grapevine AI and rents a space for his five-person team.
I live on the Upper East Side and our WeWork is on 51st Street and Lexington. So it’s a nice 20-minute walk from my place. My team and I worked at our closed-door office space at WeWork until about March 15, when things sort of started to get bad. I actually contracted COVID at the end of March, so I worked remotely until April. Besides that, I’ve actually been coming to work every day. My team comes once or twice a week, but when the pandemic felt like it was getting worse around Thanksgiving, they started working from home again full time. They come in now once a week and it’ll sort of be that way until at least all their loved ones are vaccinated or they are themselves.
My floor has been empty, and now I think two or three offices have actually moved in. Obviously there’s some people, but it’s very, very vacant; it wouldn’t shock me if vacancy right now was around 90 percent. But it does feel like people are coming back.
I like coming here because it lets me get my work done. I miss my team, but I don’t miss other people here. I got pretty used to making my salad or something in the common area and not seeing anybody. Though I can tell you what I miss: They took away beer when the pandemic started and they replaced it with some kombucha drink, I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I’m not a big fan of it. I miss the beer for sure. I mean, we’re a small, five person start-up, some of the best moments we’ve had, strategically, have been over a pizza with a pitcher of beer and a whiteboard. We can still do that, but we have to go buy the beer.