WeWork, the co-working giant known for its aggressive expansion campaign, startup bro-y culture, and millennial-bait decor, has begun limiting the amount of alcohol members can drink on its premises.
In a message sent to WeWork tenants, the company said it was “piloting an innovative, software-driven mechanism to help manage the provision of alcohol” in WeWork’s spaces. Starting this week, the company is launching a “pilot mechanized tap system” in some of its New York City locations, which will require people to use their key cards to access alcoholic taps.
Members, who previously had unlimited access to beer and wine on tap, are now limited to “four 12-ounce pours per beer in a single day,” and can only access the taps between noon and 8 pm, Monday through Friday.
This is a strange move for a company that highlights free, unlimited beer as a perk of membership and holds an annual music festival, called “Summer Camp,” for its members and employees. (A New York Times write-up of the company’s 2014 Summer Camp noted that the company provided attendees with literal canoes full of Coors Light.)
If anything, WeWork’s decision to limit the amount members can drink in its spaces highlights two things about the company. WeWork seems to be attempting to shed the startup-bro image that it had as a fledgling co-working space. Instead, the company is seemingly embracing a more moderate tone in line with its current form: an industry giant with locations around the world. And while doing so, it’s attempting to exercise more control over the people who use its spaces, members and employees alike.
If it wants to grow, WeWork’s startup-bro image needs to go
WeWork’s decision to cut members off after four drinks isn’t all bad; four beers per day every day is, after all, still a lot of beer, and it’s undoubtable that some members feel uncomfortable by free-flowing beverages during the workday.
But those who criticize the company’s bro-y image aren’t just referring to its members. In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court earlier this month, a former WeWork employee claimed that the company’s “entitled, frat-boy culture permeates from the top down,” and that that very culture fostered an environment where sexual assault and harassment went unpunished.
The former employee, Ruby Anaya, who worked on the company’s “culture team” before being abruptly fired in August 2018, claimed she had been sexually assaulted on two separate occasions. Anaya said she had been groped by a fellow co-worker at the company’s August 2017 Summer Camp and forcibly kissed by a different employee during WeWork’s annual summit event in January 2018. Both of her alleged assailants were drunk, she said.
In a statement to The Goods at the time, a WeWork spokesperson said the company “investigated [Anaya’s] complaints, took appropriate action, and this employee was terminated solely because of her poor performance.” The spokesperson declined to comment on whether WeWork employees ever received sexual harassment prevention training or guidance on acceptable alcohol consumption at work.
The company doesn’t seem to be concerned with how much its employees can drink, even as it begins limiting members’ access to beer and wine. (A WeWork spokesperson declined to comment on whether similar measures are being taken to limit employees’ alcohol consumption.) Oddly, WeWork seems to have placed more limits on what employees can eat on the company’s dime — the company has prohibited employees from expensing meals that contain meat since July — than what they have to drink.
WeWork wants to take over the way you work — and live, and shop
This shift in WeWork’s booze policy highlights an inconvenient truth that lies at the heart of the company: If you’re a member, WeWork knows a lot about you. Members use their key cards to enter WeWork buildings; they purchase snacks through the company’s “Honesty Market,” which is linked to the WeWork app. Now they have to use their key cards to access drinks, too.
It’s unclear whether the company is keeping tabs on its members, but it certainly has the ability to do so. (In a statement to The Goods, a company spokesperson said the company had been working on the pilot program for limiting alcohol consumption “for some time.”)
WeWork’s new alcohol policy points to a larger shift in the company’s self-perception, one which also been in the works for “some time.”
Founded in 2010, WeWork was initially just a co-working company. The concept was simple: It would lease a huge amount of office space in desirable neighborhoods, then subdivide it into a combination of shared workspaces and tiny, private offices. It would charge tenants a higher price per square foot than traditional office spaces, but since the spaces members rent are so small, they still end up saving money.
In the eight years since its founding, WeWork has ballooned into one of the world’s biggest coworking startups, with locations in dozens of countries. It has so many offices in New York City alone that, in September, the company surpassed JP Morgan as the biggest office tenant in Manhattan.
But WeWork is no longer just a co-working company. In 2016, the company began beta testing WeLive — essentially WeWork for residential tenants. Like the company’s office spaces, WeLive apartments are highly curated, with an aesthetic that isn’t representative of any individual tenant but the company as a whole. The apartments come pre-decorated and pre-furnished. The bookshelves are loaded with books, and the buildings are full of amenities.
The ideal WeLive tenant is the ideal WeWork member: an upwardly mobile young person who works long hours, and therefore wants to be catered to both in the workplace and in the home. “When the idea of ‘We’ came in,” the company’s co-founder Miguel McKelvey told GQ earlier this year, “it started as a ‘WeBlank: WeWork, WeLive, WeSleep, WeEat.’ That was the premise at the very start. Our aspiration is to be a holistic support system or lifestyle solution for people who are interested in being open and connected.”
As a supplement to its network of offices and living spaces, WeWork recently began opening stores called WeMRKTs, which are essentially bodegas that also carry a few products made by WeWork members. The company is also launching a new space, called Dock 72, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When completed, the building will not only include a co-working space and offices for larger companies, but also a juice bar, an actual bar, a luxury spa, a gym with a boxing studio, an outdoor basketball court, and several restaurants.
The New York Times’s David Gelles described the space as “the kind of place you never have to leave until you need to go to sleep,” which is exactly what WeWork wants.
So how, exactly, does all of this play into the company’s recent decision to limit members’ beer and wine consumption? WeWork’s ideal member spends all his time in WeWork-owned spaces. He wakes up in a WeLive apartment, works out of a WeWork, and buys snacks at WeMRKT. He drinks up to, but no more than, four beers between the hours of noon and 8 pm.
And his constant presence in WeWork spaces and usage of WeWork amenities means that the company knows a lot about how lives, works, and shops. The surveillance implied by WeWork’s new alcohol limitation policy isn’t indicative of a cultural shift within the company; instead, it highlights the control WeWork increasingly seeks to have over the people who pay to use its services.
WeWork giveth, and WeWork taketh away.