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Are Your Employees Terrible? (Lessons From WeWork’s Labor Dispute)

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I once interviewed with WeWork for a Community Manager position (this is the highest position at a building). In my interview with WeWork it was extremely clear that they expected employees to work unpaid overtime, embodied by the statement “if you’re leaving at 5 people are going to look at you like, ‘where’s he going?'” This was said to me by a very senior person at WeWork.

Honestly, I was originally very excited to potentially work with them. Their brand was strong and having the name on my resume could essentially get me a job anywhere else, but I decided it wasn’t for me. The attitude behind this statement flew in the face of the authentic brand that WeWork was purporting. (Not that people shouldn’t work hard for things they care about, but the fact they had to say that made me wonder if there was a reason I would want to knock off at 5pm each day.)

I cancelled my final interview with senior members of the company to take another opportunity, and I’m pretty glad I did. Not just because of the recent news articles about WeWork’s alleged labor law infringement (I think the writing has been on the wall regarding that issue for a while), but because I’m the type of person that enjoys building my own thing or else being fairly compensated for my work. Who doesn’t? What’s more, working 10-12hrs per day, being held accountable to maintain 100% building occupancy at all times, and only being paid $60K per year just isn’t worth it in a city as expensive as San Francisco.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you or somebody you know are in a similar job. I think the chances are high because the coworking industry is notorious for underpaying and overworking employees. And it needs to stop.

If you’re not being fairly compensated and you’re being overworked you should build your reputation, then line up a new gig with people who value you more. Then use that as leverage to get more if you can. If you can’t, leave for the other opportunity.

One of the best ways to create a larger network and demonstrate your worth is to create things of value. This can be valuable online content, an amazing event, or building the coworking coalition in your city. (You could also join our growing team of contributing authors.) Once you’ve created enough value for enough people, finding a new gig will be easy.

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On the other hand, you might just be a terrible employee. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing. I’m a terrible employee, which is why I’m not an employee anymore. I do not respect authority for its own sake. I’m awful in a hierarchy where I’m not in control. This is why I run my own businesses and do my own projects.

If you’re a terrible employee you really only have one choice. It’s useless to try to become a good employee if it’s not in your demeanor. You need to start getting comfortable building your own assets and creating value-generating systems on your own. This might be another coworking space that you own, it might be an entirely new coworking concept, or even a bakery. Who knows? In any case, I would start working on whatever it is immediately. Start building your escape pod long before you want to use it so that it’s more likely to sustain you when you finally need to abandon ship.

You’re entirely capable of doing this. Just take a look at other people in the coworking industry who are probably also terrible employees: Alex Hillman, Liz Elam, Tony Bacigalupo, Mike LaRosa, Laura Kozelouzek, Iris Kavanagh, and many more. These people fell in love with the coworking industry, hated working for other people and, in their own unique ways, forged their own paths. Each one of them has an incredibly different approach to the things they do and they each value entirely different things. But they all have one thing in common: what they are building is theirs and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Three lessons that you can take from this:

If you’re the coworking brand that pays employees more, provides better benefits, and treats your staff with respect, autonomy, and generosity you’ll attract the best talent which means you’ll have a better community and a better business.

If you’re the employee that is tired of being treated like you’re a replaceable cog, start building a reputation, get to know some real estate investors, then go do your own thing. (Investors optional.)

If you’re an investor in the coworking industry, be highly aware of the senior management’s treatment of employees. I’d hate to be the investor whose company was at the wrong end of a labor dispute and hemorrhaging great talent.


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