WeWork’s Adam Neumann Was Right About One Thing: Someone Needs to Reinvent Work

www.wsj.com

The gripping saga that is WeWork reached a crescendo this week as CEO Adam Neumann (and most of his close compatriots) stepped down. Neumann is transitioning to a non-executive Chairman role and his voting rights have been slashed by 85%. There are a number of pieces on how we got here, but this one from the WSJ struck me as unique. Writer Sam Walker suggests Neumann was able to raise so much money and paint such a lofty picture of WeWork because he was taking aim at work itself, the rulebook for how we work, written a century ago by another innovator with a messianic streak: Henry Ford. Ford not only reengineered the automobile, he "viewed building a company as a chance to re-engineer society". He established the 9-5 a century ago, its repetition and mundaneness largely unsatisfying but enough to satisfy life's other needs. However, life's needs have changed significantly, and understandably so.

Modern workers aren’t just content to be happy at home. They want work to be fulfilling, too...young workers have never been less likely to thrive in the old Ford system. Research shows they’re better educated, more concerned with finding social purpose at work and less resistant to changing jobs. High debt loads often force them to delay or forgo buying a home, getting married or having kids.

Today workforce management is more critical than ever, as employees demand more than just a steady paycheck. Workers demand scheduling flexibility, compelling work and the ability to grow. Investors know this, companies know this and workers know this. This is what Adam Neumann seemed to be tapping into - a new way to work, live and play built for the millennial age.

Mr. Neumann may not be the Millennial Prophet, but it’s easy to understand why investors might have tolerated, or even appreciated his quirks and grand ambitions. After all, Henry Ford was a deeply flawed fellow with a messianic streak.
It’s also possible that there simply isn’t any profitable way to turn offices into human fulfillment zones. Maybe the problem with work is that no matter how you dress it up, it’s still work. Maybe Henry Ford’s deal is the best one we’ll get.
One thing is certain, though. There’s a fortune to be made by trying.

We will just have to wait and see.

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