Karan Virwani
Karan Virwani

In virtual world, offices will play huge role in maintaining social connect, says Karan Virwani and Ryan Bennett

The workplace is where people spend majority of the waking hours, they want more from it. Firms need to rethink this space

Collaborative workspace company WeWork, which leases, designs and operates co-working spaces for freelancers, startups and large enterprises, believes the future of work is all about the employee experience. Karan Virwani and Ryan Bennett, CEOs of WeWork India, talk about the link between the future of work and the future of cities, and how their plans aren’t restricted to co-working spaces. Edited excerpts:

What is the future of work?

Karan: There are two parts to the future of work discussion. First, there’s the impact of artificial intelligence and automation, and whether we’ll have enough jobs. The second part of the conversation is around the changing work structure, including shared and collaborative workspaces. To succeed in this rapidly changing environment, modern enterprises must focus on a more holistic approach to collaboration in real time. In future, work-life balance will become even more important and so would human connect.

Aspects such as where one eats, where one hangs out or goes to the gym will gain precedence when one looks for a job or when we choose a location. The future workspace will be uplifting, where work will become a lifestyle while retaining a healthy work-life balance.

If there are fewer jobs and fewer people at work due to AI and automation, will bots and humans form the community at your co-working spaces?

Ryan: Humans and machines will work together, and we expect to see intelligent machines and tools helping our employees. Members will spend less time on mundane tasks and more on responsibilities that require a human touch.

Cities of the future will compete with one another in the war for talent, say experts. How is the future of work dependent on the future of cities?

Karan: The UN has said that 68% of the world population is likely to live in urban areas by 2050. Cities are transforming into centres of culture, art, and technology, which gives rise to economic activity. Workspaces like WeWork have a powerful economic effect on cities. Bringing entrepreneurs, small businesses and global enterprises together creates an innovation cluster with the best talent, and that has a ripple effect across the city. Future workspaces will humanize the architecture of space, buildings, and cities to support innovation, encourage human connection, and provide economic opportunity. The workplace is where people spend the majority of their waking hours, and people want more from it. Companies need to rethink this space.

How does design play a part in future co-working spaces? What role do physical offices play in a virtual world?

Ryan: Design and innovation is at the core of what makes WeWork so successful. Our foremost objective is to cater to the functional and emotional needs of our members. Community is a catalyst for WeWork, and we design our spaces to inspire innovation, interaction and collaboration.

A well-designed workspace can create a positive emotional experience that allows for effective problem-solving and creative thinking while having the individual feel relaxed and healthy. The office space has come a long way since it was regarded solely as a place of work at a convenient location with plain desks, chairs and cabins.

Over the past few decades, we have seen the workplace evolve significantly in terms of space utilization, equipment placement and automation, art and design, and overall culture. Even if we were to enter a wholly virtual world, physical offices that provide opportunities for collaboration and cultural exchange would retain importance.

In a virtual world, the physical office will play a huge role in bringing about and maintaining human connect. People will continue to desire to come to a place, work together, and experience the strong social component.

WeWork presents itself as a part of the sharing economy, a technology platform that connects consumers to office space, but how can an infrastructure-dependent real estate venture scale like a low-overhead software startup? How can a company that signs 15-year leases—but sells monthly memberships—expect to survive a downturn?

Karan: We tend to not focus on speculation and instead work towards creating value for our members and partners, who have contributed to our growth.

We are increasingly entering into participating leases. These allow us to appeal to a greater number of landlords, secure more space, and minimize our risk. For landlords, they allow an opportunity to share in the growth we are seeing on a global level.

For consumers, WeWork isn’t just a platform connecting them to an office space, but an avenue that creates opportunities and collective value.

We are on a mission to humanize the workplace. We are constantly working towards bringing together a community of gig workers, startups and large companies. They develop a symbiotic relationship. We believe the future lies in the interpersonal connections and community. But it’s not just about workspace. From work to housing, education, wellness, retail, and civic life, we believe that by working together we can leverage technology and design to foster connections and shape our spaces to create holistic environments that humanize our cities, work, and lives.

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