I am starting my third book on workplace issues and I wanted to get out of my cushy offices where I had corporate executives flying around like bats in a cave. I needed a place to work that was not my home. I discovered a place that's like working at a Starbucks in the lobby of an Ian Schrader hotel: Meet "WeWork."
At WeWork, you witness the conversion from unemployed to self-employed in guise of a radical new model (I am only going to talk about WeWork in this post, but there are several similar models springing up around the country) that may not show up in official statistics. Sitting at WeWork somehow softens the danger and uncertainty of going out on one's own, and makes it seem less risky. I feel like I am in the Disney world of entrepreneurs: an incubator combined with a reality check on how to survive in this post-recession environment.
Each day, I discover a world of people taking chances to hang their own shingle or, in the case of my WeWork office, a sliding glass door as welcoming as one might find at your parents' house. Walking out into the common area is like going out to the lawn from your family room. When I first heard about WeWork, I thought it would be a place where MILFs open their businesses. When I wrote my HarperColllins book Bulletproof your Job, an entire department that I worked with was wiped out by Rupert Murdoch in February 2008, and the group of women who were axed got together and formed a creative business out of it. It seemed like every other week during the recession, a bunch of moms were opening a small business somewhere and I pictured each floor of WeWork crawling with these start-ups - but it wasn't so. Its more like a bunch of lax bro frat guys fresh out of college and their sorority girl counterparts. WeWorks have so far popped up in New York, San Francisco and West Hollywood and, from what I've seen, each is cooler than the next. For as little as $650.00 a month, you can go to an office building that looks like an Ikea version of any of the Mondrian Hotels. A "poor man's" HQ where it's relatively cheap to open your own business. As you grow, you can upgrade your stall from one desk all the way to six!
It's not just a place to call "work," it's a community. The occupants are almost all under 40 and are involved in media, production and viral marketing PR among a host of other clever business schemes. I just visited a friend who has a dog walking service on one side and there is a manicure parlor three stalls down. Like bees in a hive, these "We-Workers" or "Weebies," as I like to call them, are working away. I walk down a hall that is lit by the glow of the Apple computers, each with an ambitious entrepreneur typing away between sips of coffee. you can't really hide out because the walls are made of glass, so you have to at least look like youre working. A PC is as hard to find as anyone over 40!
What is this Emerald City with mouthwash in the bathrooms and smiling young faces everywhere? (Have you ever been to a beer-pong mixer?) They wanted to work for Dortune 500 companies and their dream jobs would be at Facebook, Google, Yahoo, or Time Warner. When I graduated, we all wanted to work for MTV, CBS or NBC. Funny how times have changed, but the formula remains. Back in the '90's I wouldn't have been able to afford my own business in Manhattan because of the prices, but today you can open an office crib that is not much bigger than the stall I would take a #2 in. I have a window, so I pay about $50 more for that. On the one day I had to wear a tie at the office because I was on my way to a taping of the Steve Harvey Show in Chicago, my neighbor in one of the stalls asked me if I was on my way to a funeral. WeWork is the closest community that I have felt in a long time, and I love the sense of belonging here: it's contagious! If these young "unemployed" workers can start a business in an office the size of a large closet, so can you at any age.
The executives in every office are barely old enough for me to hire as assistants, yet I tell my friends: "Dude, you have to come check this out." And that's the advice I would put forth to anyone who is unemployed, young or old. If you hear that things are getting better but you're still in the same place, then follow me to your nearest WeWork and in doing so, follow your dream to independence: open your sliding glass office door not into your back deck, but into the potential of a creative and productive tomorrow.