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An interview with June Koh from WeWork

June Koh heads up the workplace strategy team across Europe and Asia at WeWork. Prior to her role at WeWork, she was the UK Studio Leader for AECOM’s workplace strategy practice. WeWork provides its members around the world with space, community and services through both physical and virtual offerings. From startups and freelancers to small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, its community is united by a desire for its members to create meaningful work and lead meaningful lives. Co-founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey in New York City in 2010, WeWork is a privately held company with over 10,000 employees.

01/05/2019 5 min read

What is WeWork’s ‘sweet spot’ in terms of the size of business it is looking to attract?

Our community is a mix of ambitious startups and scaling small and medium-sized businesses, as well as large corporate companies who are increasingly moving away from more traditional work environments. We currently have over 400,000 members across 27 countries from a range of industries, including tech, design, finance and marketing.

The community aspect of WeWork is what attracts these companies to our spaces, especially the larger enterprises – they want to share an environment with companies that have a different mindset. Enterprise companies (companies with more than 1,000 employees) now represent 32% of our total membership. What we’ve seen over the last few years is that these large companies are increasingly coming to us, seeking a more energetic, productive and inspirational environment for their employees.

What is your role at WeWork?

At WeWork, I head up the workplace strategy team for EMEA. I’ve been with WeWork for nearly a year and I’m based at our European headquarters in London; we’re a team of four working across the region, but working closely with the team in our global headquarters in New York.

With strategy, technology and people in mind, we’re focused on understanding what our members need to be productive and happy at work. This leads to WeWork designing the best workplaces for our members.

While many enterprise companies are taking private offices within WeWork communities around the world, we have also introduced new business lines to accommodate demand from businesses to redesign their own spaces. Powered by We and headquarters by WeWork are proving very attractive, and creating these projects is a big part of my role.

Ultimately, I work closely with businesses to create the spaces they want and need in order to be more successful.

Are clients becoming more knowledgeable and therefore more challenging?

Businesses are certainly clearer about what they’re looking for from workspaces, but this doesn’t mean more challenges for us. If anything, it’s allowing us to have better and more meaningful conversations with them, and work on more complex and exciting projects together.

What we’ve found at WeWork is that there hasbeen a shift towards a new way of working, and people are seeking a more flexible working environment that makes work workfor them. There’s a strong buy-in from corporate leaders that workplaces can and should be part of their wider workplace culture and people strategy.

When I started working in this industry, my clients tended to be the real estate function of a company, and they were mostly focused on cost and efficiency. But more and more, real estate functions are trying to shift the conversation from purely cost saving to also include value generation, focusing more on the workplace as part of a wider strategic conversation around transformation, employee experience and building community. I personally believe the two aren’t mutually exclusive. WeWork provides flexible high-quality workspaces to our members that also have a positive impact on their productivity. In a recent study, we found that a company of four in a WeWork space in London saves as much as £24,000. This same study also showed that 81% of members in London credit WeWork with improving their company’s productivity.

These days, workplace decisions are also driven by a more diverse group of stakeholders internally, involving people teams, ops and business leaders themselves.

Name one thing that will have disappeared from the workplace in the next decade.

The traditional ‘fixed’ office is becoming less appealing to businesses and the workplace of the future will no longer remain a self-contained environment, but become a hybrid – shaping local communities and boosting local growth; for example, we may see less fixed desks and more flexibility as to where people base themselves at work. The workplace is currently going through a huge and positive transformation, and WeWork is accelerating the movement towards this new way of working.

What is the one thing that you would change when working with architects and designers?

Traditionally, the design process from conception to delivery is very linear. I think it’s important for different departments to work coherently, not separately. At WeWork, the design team is multidisciplinary – we have in-house architects, graphic designers, engineers and more – which we’ve structured to try and counter traditional hold-ups and delays between separate parties. We also acquired the construction company, LTB, in 2018, which means we can complete the circle in terms of construction and run the process from beginning to end. Working in a 360-degree team of different fields within the department has improved the creativity and ideation during processes, and it’s also provided a better sense of ownership and team cohesion.

Does London/UK present different challenges than US/overseas?

Absolutely. Workplaces are fundamentally an extension of a company’s culture. WeWork is a global company, yet we design on a local level, meaning that we incorporate cultural features into our spaces, which represent the city or neighbourhood in which the building is located. Examples of these original features can be seen in all locations, like in Tel Aviv, where rooftops are more common due to the warm climate; barista stations in London, where the demand for coffee is higher than in other cities; and lower seating built into the ground in Tokyo. The art, too, is created depending on the city and neighbourhood.

I believe that culture, behaviours and social norms can really vary depending on where you’re based, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about other people’s cultures by working across continents –something I find incredibly humbling.

If it’s not too much like saying you have a favourite child, which is your fave WeWork and why?

Out of all the hubs we’ve created around the world, the one that I’m most drawn to is Devonshire Square in London. We acquired the estate because of its potential for multi-use space in an urban centre. For me, work/life integration is incredibly important, and at Devonshire Square we’re not only bringing opportunities to our members based there, but we’re impacting the local neighbourhood and surroundings; research shows that in London, every week, WeWork members spend nearly three times as much as the average Londoner on pubs, restaurants, and cafes, injecting more than £75 million per year into local neighbourhood business. Suddenly the City of London isn’t as corporate as it used to be, and a more balanced work/life integration is becoming more accessible. We’ve taken a space and blended it with the outside community, hosted numerous events and activations in the space, such as music gigs, yoga events and festive markets, and have created a hub for over 3,000 members to connect between the buildings on a daily basis.

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