The Remote Workplace Problem

Recently I had an idea to solve a growing problem. The fundamental problem is that more and more people are working remotely and yet there is no ideal workplace designed for them to work.

WeWork generated more than $40 billion worth of hype because the problem it sought to solve is very real and the market opportunity for those who solve it is accordingly massive. Their business model, however, proved to be unsustainable and the financial world now views WeWork was a colossal failure having lost roughly 90% of its value in a matter of months.

From a consumer perspective, WeWork and similar solutions may still seem relatively popular as a result of all the early hype and unwarranted buzz, but the reality is that last year only 8% of remote workers identified coworking spaces (WeWork et al.) as their primary location for work. An even lesser 4% of them said that they work primarily from coffee shops. A whopping 83% on the other hand said that they primarily work from home.

Clearly, working from home is the most popular option for remote workers, but the four most popular struggles that remote workers report are unplugging after work, loneliness, collaboration, and distractions at home. Some of these struggles I have experienced myself in only a few weeks of primarily working at home. Today I made a plan with my buddy Harry to meet up and work separately but together for the afternoon. Harry is a good example of the increasingly popular employee who works mostly in an office but many days remotely, and always or almost always from home. In the bustling East Village of Manhattan, in the city with more than twice the number of coffee shops as any other city in the country, we could hardly find a workable one.

First, I went to abraco, an awesome looking spot that I had passed by and wanted to try but which, after ordering a cappuccino, I realized had a no laptops policy which I totally respect and in fact think makes it a better cafe, but which also was a non-starter in considering it as an option for Harry and I to sit down and work for a few hours on our respective laptops. After a focused cappuccino undistracted by the typical primary attention grabbers of technology, I tried Saltwater Coffee, which had only a few seats, half of which were at a pretty crammed and unworkable high-top window-facing counter, and all of which were already occupied. Next I went to Third Rail Coffee. Two people were walking out as I walked in but someone new had already taken their seat… 0 for 3. My final failure was at Mud Spot which served me a remarkable Sunday brunch experience that I wrote about in this post a couple of Mondays ago, but which I found out today does not have WiFi. Four failures and an hour or so after I set out to find a satisfactory place for my friend Harry and I to work, I finally found one in 787 coffee, a recently opened coffee shop that was the first in the area to satisfy the bare minimum of having open seats, WiFi, and no anti-laptop rule. Even still, we had to leave after a couple of hours because it did not have a working bathroom. That is how hard it was to find a place to work with a friend in New York City without having to pay between $370 and $760 per person per month to gain minimum cost access to a local WeWork.

In summary, WeWork is too expensive for workers and not expensive enough to be near profitable. Coffee shops, as evidenced by my not atypical experience today, simply do not work. Coffee shops are great for the purpose that they serve, but they were not designed for the future of work in which more and more people will be working remotely more and more of the time. More than 8 in 10 remote workers are working remotely mostly from home, maybe because it is the best option they have, or more likely because it is the only option that they have. These people are often lonely and they struggle to unplug after work or to collaborate with others or to avoid distractions at home. There must be a better solution for this large and growing population of people and I am pretty sure I have it, but I am not going to write about it just yet.