The concept of remote work isn't a new one, and neither is coworking. It might surprise some to know coworking came about in 1995, long before WeWork's $47 billion valuation. Coworking as a concept emphasized independent workers seeking shared spaces and a free-flowing community. It appealed to freelancers and entrepreneurs, evolving into the $8 billion industry it is today.
WeWork is undoubtedly the most (in)famous face of coworking. The fraught company finally IPO'ed in 2021 and holds office space in 34 U.S. cities and an additional 36 countries.
Our prior examination of U.S. coworking companies showed a declining industry, with 10% foot traffic loss between June and September 2021. Refreshed WeWork foot traffic data bears this out:
WeWork traffic dropped 60% following COVID-19. It's made modest traffic gains through 2021 (August 2021 traffic was higher compared to January of the same year), but users are nowhere near the levels seen pre-pandemic. August 2021 remains the peak of post-pandemic activity, with January 2022 figures 10% lower. We should bear in mind that full 2022 figures will prove a better comparison point than looking at summer to winter traffic patterns, but overall...
WeWork in the United States isn't showing signs of recovering the traffic they possessed in 2018 and 2019.
WeWork actually has more international locations these days compared to United States venues. U.S.-based venues are close to 300, but there are nearly 500 global locations. Of course, we wanted to review international WeWork performance to see if their 2014 international expansion paid off.
Our analysis for London focused on a single stand-alone WeWork location to ensure our traffic analysis applies purely to WeWork.
Normalized traffic trends for this London WeWork show year-on-year growth from 2020 to 2021, with exceptional performance in October 2021.
A holiday dip in traffic recovered by February 2022, with traffic on track to match or exceed October figures. Though this data provides indication for a single WeWork, it's compelling to see traffic increase so substantially throughout the pandemic. For an apples-to-apples comparison, we zeroed in on a comparable New York City WeWork location across the same timeline and a similar scope of normalization:
This New York City WeWork experienced its highest traffic in pre-pandemic January 2020, and though traffic inched upwards throughout the "new normal" pandemic era, the tail has dropped since March 2021. Meanwhile, WeWork's London venue is gravitating skyward following the holiday season.
Direct comparison between a London and New York City WeWork shows London may be a burgeoning center of coworking.
We veered back across the pond to a WeWork in Toronto and found a similar trend:
This Toronto location matches our analysis of New York City, with peak traffic pre-pandemic and reduced traffic through 2020 and in the first half of 2021. What's extraordinary here is the reversal of this decrease by July 2021. Summer WeWork traffic at this location was within 10% of the peak level seen pre-pandemic. Traffic has also remained relatively high throughout the latter half of 2021 and going into 2022.
This Toronto WeWork experienced 180% higher traffic in January 2022 compared to January 2021.
What happened in July of 2021 to explain this reversal? Canada eased its mandatory two-week quarantine restriction for citizens and residents. By the end of July, vaccinated travelers were also allowed entry. This is a useful insight into coworking, and it repeats when we examine our London WeWork data. The visitation spike observed in October 2021 for the London WeWork matches easing of international travel restrictions into the UK.
Lifting of travel restrictions improved overall coworking usage in London and Toronto, exposing a subset of coworking users that are international travelers.
It's likely these travelers are individuals living abroad perhaps visiting family after a long hiatus, or these are business travelers setting up face-to-face meetings and in need of temporary desks. Understanding these coworking users, where they come from, and when they're likely to visit is key to evaluating coworking's future and how coworking companies can position themselves and where.
Speaking of the future, we took a deeper dive into WeWork's U.S. data to see if there are any glimmers of increased traffic. Google Trends shows the highest instance of WeWork "googles" come from the Washington D.C. area, and it appears WeWork's College Park location north of D.C. has seen distinct traffic peaks and an overall rising traffic trend.
No other U.S. region besides Washington D.C. has seen increased WeWork traffic post-pandemic. Is D.C. a key market for coworking growth in 2022?
Overall, it appears lifting of travel restrictions abroad may be a key driver of coworking traffic in major international cities. U.S. coworking is trending downward, and with Americans returning to their permanent office spaces, it's likely 2022 will bring further traffic reductions. Everywhere except maybe D.C.!
WeWork's expansion beyond the U.S. is a good financial move. Digging deeper into the origin locations of coworking users, dwell time, distance traveled, and exploring a wider network of locations will also help coworking firms and investors in planning for the future of flexible office space. This is all possible using the power of location data.