And here, beneath the aspirational jargon, is a nugget of truth: WeWork is in the personal-fulfillment business. Because it’s offering a service that can be provided by anyone who can wrangle together a few desks and a French press, the product it’s actually selling is the contact high of being part of something that feels revolutionary. WeWork is promoting a mythology for those in the brave new gig economy: You, precarious worker who will never have a pension, are not a simple cog in a machine. You are an artist, the ceo of your own company, and the face of a dynamic personal brand. Your work is not merely labour, for which you deserve decent pay and security, but an extension of your personality. You’re doing what you love and paying $500 per month for the desk from which to do it.
During my final week at WeWork, the building held a party. All six floors were crowded with tenants and guests eagerly drinking WeWork margaritas and awkwardly swaying to Drake. A young, blond exec cut the music for a moment to stand up on a riser and say how much she loved fulfilling the company’s mission. “This is more like a bar or a club than a workspace,” said the local member of provincial parliament, taking in the scene. Entrepreneurial caterers handed out business cards along with their miniature cups of artisanal pho. This party was work, of course, just like work was always a party. I ate a plate of duck-ragù pasta served on a pillow of cauliflower foam, drank a craft beer called Food Truck, and felt an inexplicable and totally disproportionate sense of despair.
The next morning, my last at WeWork, the building felt collectively hungover. I wandered in at 10:30 and found the place nearly empty, the desks still pushed to the edges of the office. I drank my citrus water and listlessly checked my email. A member of the cleaning staff— a young Spanish-speaking woman with a tight ponytail— was one of the few people actually working. She moved quietly, picking up the dirty mugs that people had left lying about and stacking them into the dishwasher. Her shirt was emblazoned with the company slogan: Do What You Love.