WeWork doesn’t just run coworking spaces with ping-pong tables and beer on tap these days. It also operates shared living apartment buildings, gyms, and even a school. And now, WeWork is turning office space into a service.
Last week, WeWork acquired analytics company Teem, which aims to help companies plan and use their offices effectively with a host of data-based technologies. It’s part of a broader move on the startup’s part to offer office management services to enterprises directly, an initiative called Powered by We. But the acquisition also points to companies’ growing desire to use office space as efficiently as possible, whether that means eliminating unnecessary conference rooms or stuffing as many people as possible into an open office. As the second largest tenant in New York City with substantial real estate holdings around the country, WeWork thinks it is best poised to help companies organize and run their spaces based on data–not design.
Salt Lake City-based Teem makes software that enables office managers to manage desk and meeting room reservations and analyze how that space is being used. The technology, which is already integrated into popular office tools like Slack, Office 365, and Google, is used by high-profile companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox, and GE. By understanding how employees utilize the different areas of an office, companies can save money by taking advantage of every room that’s gathering dust. For instance, WeWork was once able to retrofit a Chicago area business’s office so completely that it went from three floors down to only two, with the same number of employees. The more you quantify space, the theory goes, the more you can make your office into an efficient productivity machine–or at least one that costs way less per employee.
WeWork isn’t the only company trying to quantify the office, of course. Traditional furniture makers like Herman Miller have introduced connected office products, and countless startups have launched wearables and other kinds of trackers in an attempt to put a number on productivity. WeWork offers more than just the numbers: It’s trying to sell companies on tracking, office management, and its unique design ethos.
With all this data comes a catch: Less and less privacy for the humans who work in these spaces and are increasingly crammed into open offices in the name of collaboration (even if open offices tend to decrease the amount of face time people spend with each other). As WeWork and other companies continue to quantify offices, the value of the workers inside feels more and more like lines on a balance sheet.