Inside WeWork's Data-Driven Design Process

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By Heather Corcoran / Published by Dwell
The coworking giant is using its own sites as case studies in efficient design. Here's how.

With more than 60,000 members in 30 cities tapping into its global network of shared spaces, WeWork is at the forefront of a sweeping workplace sea change.

To better serve these communities, the WeWork Product Research team thinks about real estate in a way that might just change the construction and design industries: They look at each of their buildings as a data set. 

And, as today's building's account for 40 percent of world energy use and two-thirds of all electric consumption, they believe that learning from our surrounding could be the key to a more sustainable future—if we think of them as products. Imagine, if you will, Conference Room 2.0.

Inside WeWork's Data-Driven Design Process - Photo 1 of 3 - Though each WeWork location is unique, the design team has developed a storefront system for offices and conference rooms that can easily be fabricated to fit any space.

Though each WeWork location is unique, the design team has developed a storefront system for offices and conference rooms that can easily be fabricated to fit any space.

The WeWork team gathers data about member's habits and preferences using a system of sensors, beacons, Bluetooth identification, and mobile messaging to map and even encourage patterns of behavior. Much of this research takes place on the sixth floor of the brand's Times Square location, a "beta floor" where new concepts are tried and tested. 

Since WeWork rents existing office spaces and can't make structural changes, they can use the information to reconfigure spaces to better suit—and even anticipate—members' needs, from conference room scheduling, to seating arrangements, white board allocation, and even temperature control. 

Inside WeWork's Data-Driven Design Process - Photo 2 of 3 - A computer model maps the most efficient use of WeWork's standardized panel system within an existing space. 

A computer model maps the most efficient use of WeWork's standardized panel system within an existing space. 

One of the key elements in creating a more efficient way of building is a storefront system of standardized, repeatable plug-and-play parts. To maximize the system, the buildings research team begins by evaluating the structures in their existing states (see the image of a WeWork location in Austin based on a point-cloud from a Lidar 3D laser scan, above). This information allows the design team to understand the base conditions of potential buildings, and track progress throughout construction with incredible detail, limiting waste and construction time.

Inside WeWork's Data-Driven Design Process - Photo 3 of 3 - Despite its playful style, there's a lot of science behind the design of WeWork locations.

Despite its playful style, there's a lot of science behind the design of WeWork locations.

As WeWork rebrands space into a service, the company's research doesn't just take place at existing WeWork buildings. New locations are chosen with the help of algorithms that takes into account local amenities like restaurants, cafes, and public transportation, as well as models of social media traffic (think: Twitter clusters) and commuter patterns. 

"It's not like architecture where you go in and you hope everybody's happy," says Joshua Emig, WeWork's head of product research of the brand's constantly shape-shifting approach. "Our scale is our opportunity and our challenge." 

To succeed, his team is betting on data. As Emig puts it, in today's age of smart technology: "Buildings are becoming giant computers." 

What has your building done for you lately?