Banking

‘Activate the space’: WeWork founder Adam Neumann made staff sit at empty desks, throw parties, and play The Notorious B.I.G. when investors toured buildings, new book says

  • Before tours, WeWork told staff to fill empty desks so it seemed business was booming, a book says.
  • Staff threw parties to create an illusion of community for investor tours, “The Cult of We” says.
  • Neumann reportedly told staff to play the Notorious B.I.G. song “Juicy” when he came with investors.

When WeWork staff heard a colleague call out, “Activate the space,” they knew the pressure was on.

The phrase meant founder Adam Neumann was bringing investors to tour their WeWork location, and they had to kick things into high gear to “show that WeWork was bursting with life and energy,” according to a new book, “The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion.”

The first order of business was for staff to pretend they weren’t staff. Employees would be told to fill empty desks to make it look like the office was full of members, even if it wasn’t, the book says. 

Staff were then tasked with throwing parties on the fly during tours. A manager would email staff and members to alert them to the free food and drinks in the common area while leaving out the fact that investors were present, the book says. The parties created the appearance of community among members. As they passed by the parties, Neumann sometimes told investors that events like those were common at WeWork, according to the book.

After the tours, Neumann would offer investors shots of Don Julio 1942 tequila from the bottle he kept in his office, the book says. 

For WeLive, the company’s dorm-like apartments concept, staff were also critical to influencing investors’ perception of the space. 

When investors came for tours, employees were again told to leave their desks and fill the empty space, the book says. Neumann specifically requested that the Notorious B.I.G. song “Juicy” be playing whenever he walked in with investors. 

Read more: Inside WeWork’s IPO meltdown: How Adam Neumann and Wall Street’s chaotic partnership obliterated $40 billion in value

For all Neumann’s talk of transcending simple office space needs to create community at WeWork, many members thought the company did no such thing. 

The company commissioned a study called “Are Our Members Friends?” in 2017, asking more than 500 members if they felt a sense of community at WeWork, according to the book. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they had no friends at WeWork besides their co-workers.

“The average WeWork member isn’t socially connected with others in their building,” the report said, according to the book. “This result was incredibly surprising since it contradicts a lot of our rhetoric about the strength of our community.”

Even early on, at WeWork’s precursor, Green Desk, Neumann wanted to focus on the community angle of the business. WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey was “wary” of doing so at the time and told Neumann to “hold off” on it, the book says. 

“We really have to do it before we talk about it,” McKelvey later said, according to the book. If they didn’t, he warned, “people would see that as fake.” 

WeWork declined to comment when reached by Insider.

 

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