It can be difficult to think back to life before the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the biggest stories in the business world – both Jewish and secular – was the rise of the flexible workplace.
This hugely growing sector fitted business needs as companies, start-ups and individuals looked for places to work that matched their size, growth potential and personal situations.
Especially popular in our community, with its high number of entrepreneurs, they allowed people to use shared workspaces, permanent desks and/or serviced offices in one or multiple locations – avoiding both the huge costs associated with having your own premises and the stress of trying to work from home.
The poster boy was Adam Neumann, the Israeli-American businessman who co-founded WeWork.
A religiously observant Jew, with a ton of charisma and charm, Neumann led WeWork to become the leader of the pack – growing exponentially across the globe in every major city. The business world couldn’t get enough of them and, at its peak, WeWork was valued at more than £30billion.
Then it all went wrong.
First WeWork overstretched. Its ambitious plans and attempts to go public meant that the company’s huge losses were revealed, leading to further investigations that found complex dealings and potential conflicts of interest.
In late 2019, under pressure from all sides, Neumann announced he was stepping down as CEO in the company’s “best interest”.
Next came the pandemic.
No longer could we share anything, let alone workspaces. Everyone was working from home… and finding they kind of liked it.
So what comes next? Will we return to shared workspaces or continue to make do in our houses?
Looking at WE Hub, the Jewish community’s first shared workspace, gives us an insight.
Still operating during the pandemic but with many changes to be COVID safe, most crucially only being open to permanent desk members, ‘freedom day’ saw it carefully open up its hotdesking too.
A loyal membership of 50, which remained throughout the pandemic, is now growing again and the hot-deskers are coming back.
They are being drawn by the opportunity to network in shared spaces, bounce ideas around and create opportunities to grow and develop – as well as having somewhere to host meetings with clients.
People’s caution over COVID, the ‘new normal’ of working from home and the very public fallout from WeWork means it may take some time to get back to how things were a few years ago.
But I truly believe for many in our community such shared workspaces remain the best option for their business to truly take off.