HR Post Covid
Post-pandemic, WeWork used Data-driven insights to determine the Future of Work
As Covid-19 closed offices around the world, shared office space company WeWork had something to help it revamp its business model: feedback from 500,000 members
Perhaps no other company in the world could have been more devastated by the outbreak of a global pandemic than WeWork. The company, which has 859 locations in 38 countries around the world, relies on the foot traffic of its 500,000 members to attend and participate in the community it works so hard to foster.
All of this came crashing down with Covid-19.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, WeWork conducted interviews with global business leaders across industries who represent over five million employees. One of the many things that we learned from these conversations is that the future of work is here and it is human-centric,” explained Smadar Weisman, Director of People, WeWork Israel, Russia, CEE, and South Africa.
“Numerous studies came out demonstrating the negative impact that working from home was having on people,” she continued. “At WeWork, this led us to conduct extensive internal research to best inform our return to the office approach, and we asked our in-house People Analytics team to study the behavior of our own employees, so we could make decisions on how to return to work safely and effectively.”
When an entire business model relies on the physical attendance of its employees and members, you can bet your company will do everything it can to reopen safely and efficiently. WeWork joined CTech for its HR Post-Covid series to share how the company explored the impact of what Covid-19 had on its members and how they are preparing for the future of work.
Company Name: WeWork
HR Leader: Smadar Weisman, Director of People, WeWork Israel, Russia, CEE, and South Africa
Field of Activity:
WeWork is a global leader in flexible space, providing businesses of all sizes with the workspace, community, and services they need to run and grow their business. With 859 locations in 151 cities and 38 countries around the world, WeWork delivers flexible space solutions to its 542,000 members worldwide.
Number of employees/location:
Israel was the second international market WeWorkentered outside of the U.S. in 2014, and today there are 13 WeWork locations in six cities from northern to southern Israel including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Herzliya, Haifa, and Ramat Gan.
WeWork is a global company with locations and teams in over 100 cities, including Shanghai, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, and Buenos Aires. We’re working across different cultures, backgrounds, and even hiring methods – what may work in Jerusalem might need to be altered for somewhere like Warsaw. Internally, our employees are recognized as the most important part of the business – the success and growth of the company are the results of recruiting the correct talent and of course, retaining them. Our People team is dedicated to our employees and constantly focused on our employee structure, hiring, benefits, and making sure that we are the best place to work.
Professional background of HR Manager:
I joined WeWork at the end of 2018 after five years at Google where I was an HR Business Partner, supporting Israel and Africa. Prior to Google, I practiced HR at Bosch. While I’ve been in human resources positions for most of my career, while I was at Google I developed expertise in people partnerships and working closely with senior executives to manage internal processes. Before joining the corporate world, I had the opportunity to work with the Jewish Agency in Israel and around the world.
At WeWork, I am Director of People for Israel, Russia, Central Eastern Europe, and South Africa. While I chose this career and profession, I often get the feeling that it also chose me. I thrive on the interpersonal connections and the opportunity that I have to advise and influence how our teams are working together at WeWork. Throughout my career, I have found opportunities to lead, create impact, and to learn from the remarkable colleagues that I have been fortunate to work with. My current role at WeWork has been challenging in the past year, but it has also been the best form of continuing education that I could have ever asked for.
On a scale of 1-10, how much did the coronavirus pandemic disrupt operations at the company?
When Covid-19 broke out, our main focus was to ensure that each country was adhering to local government guidance, with the health and safety of our employees and members being our number one priority. In Israel, our leadership made the decision to keep every single location open, while operating within health ministry guidelines. While our core community teams continued to engage with and support our members on a daily basis, we developed a comprehensive and all-encompassing Future of Work plan which includes workplace changes and enhancements that were made to provide the safest possible experience for members and employees. These changes include professional distancing and prioritizing personal space, behavioral signage, and increased sanitation and cleaning measures. This plan has been implemented across the company’s global portfolio of more than 800 locations.
As for actions taken by our people team, we adopted an essential staffing model within our building and enabled employees to work from home wherever possible. Most importantly, we committed to full transparency and ongoing communication with our teams. We over-communicated through emails and Zoom meetings with the goal of sharing our thought processes with our teams and listening to their questions and concerns.
What interesting technological tools do you use in employee management/recruitment?
In terms of recruiting for new roles, as a global company, we are accustomed to using video conferencing and other technology services to hire internationally. We have harnessed these services even further to adapt to the current climate and overcome these new challenges. We have also offered our employees time management courses and subscriptions to apps and services that teach new skills and provide tools to help alleviate the pressure that many are feeling as a result of the pandemic.
What positive and/or negative impact did the outbreak have on the human capital of the company?
At the beginning of the pandemic, WeWork conducted interviews with global business leaders across industries who represent over five million employees. One of the many things that we learned from these conversations is that the future of work is here and it is human-centric. Trust, the safety, health, and wellbeing of employees, along with employee experience have become more important than ever.
As teams spent months working at home, numerous studies came out demonstrating the negative impact that working from home was having on people, including increased anxiety, decreased productivity, and employees who missed the office. At WeWork, this led us to conduct extensive internal research to best inform our return to the office approach, and we asked our in-house People Analytics team to study the behavior of our own employees, so we could make decisions on how to return to work safely and effectively.
Our team found that our employees were also feeling isolated and more anxious, working less effectively in some ways and collaborating less cross-functionally working from home. Sixty percent of our employees were experiencing increased isolation working from home. Some also reported being less productive and efficient, a point underscored by the 250% rise in the average number of participants on Zoom calls. While rates of collaboration within teams remained consistent, cross-functional collaboration decreased by nearly 50%. Employees were ‘retreating’ to their own functions and regions in an effort to get the day-to-day done but at the expense of meeting with and talking to other functions and regions. Manager to Direct Report interactions increased while people were working from home, particularly one-to-one meetings. As employees returned to the office, those meetings decreased again to pre-Covid levels, likely as a result of more face-to-face interactions.
WeWork was one of the first large companies to oversee the return of our workforce and as we brought employees back to the office, we studied internal data and revamped our spaces so that employees could benefit from in-person collaboration. Our employees shared with us their excitement about being back in the office and also took advantage of the flexibility we offered, creating their own schedules that include a mix of working remotely and in the office.
What are the two major challenges you are coping with these days?
The pandemic has transformed the way we work forever. In a climate that continues to evolve, company leaders that have traditionally opted for more conventional office and working models are looking to inject greater flexibility into their employees’ working environments; a trend that we have experienced for the past decade and that has been accelerated by the pandemic. As we continue to innovate and enhance the flexibility we provide, we have also turned on “WeWork All Access” – a member benefit that allows WeWork members to fully leverage our scale by providing access to any WeWork location at no additional cost. Our employees are also taking advantage of this program, working at WeWork locations closer to their homes, enabling them to cut back on their commute times. We know from speaking to our employees and 500,000+ members, that the future of work will likely be a hybrid model of in-person and remote working, and having a safe office space where colleagues can reconnect and collaborate is key. We are reviewing the benefits we offer our employees and continue to take part in individual conversations with our community and with our employees to understand how best we can support them now and in the future and successfully reignite productivity and innovation.
Are you actively recruiting? If so, what is the process and where can the applicants find you?
As a global company, we are constantly looking for the best global talent. All open positions appear on the Careers section at wework.com. In Israel specifically, we are currently recruiting for several Community positions.
Which changes forced upon you by the circumstances will stay in place after Covid-19 is over, and which are you most eager to revert back to normal?
In the midst of the most transformative year for the office, companies are now prioritizing long-term employee satisfaction by providing greater flexibility on how and where teams work. At WeWork in Israel, we know from speaking to both our employees and members that while remote-working has its benefits – including no commuting and a better work-life balance – human connection has become even more important in this new era of social distancing. With this in mind, we have introduced new ways to ensure our workforce remains engaged and heard; from bi-monthly All Hands meetings, roundtable sessions, and listening circles to regular updates from our global and regional leaders.
According to a recent survey that WeWork conducted, 90 percent of people want to return to the office at least one day a week. The long-term impact of remote work can affect not only employee productivity but also the ability to innovate. Our spaces are designed to foster communication and collaboration for both our employees and our members and the pandemic has heightened the need for such spaces as companies work to adapt their workspaces to a new reality.