Everything you need to know about WeWork in 2022

Once upon a time, WeWork was the future of all modern workspaces. But after a string of recent controversies we ask: is it the right choice for SMEs?

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WeWork was once one of the real estate industry’s biggest names. But it’s had a huge fall from grace since a failed initial public offering (IPO) in 2019. A string of reputational controversies and a dramatic decline in company value has left many would-be tenants looking for alternative places to cowork.

Appetite for coworking spaces is at an all-time high, as the real estate sector caters to big post-pandemic priorities such as flexible office space and shorter leases. But, WeWork's meteoric rise then humiliating loss of face has somewhat tarnished the entire sector, leaving many would-be coworking tenants concerned about the security of the business model.

The below guide will take you through the true state of WeWork in 2022, as well as help you to understand the alternative workspaces and options available, so you can decide on a coworking space that is truly the best for your small business – rather than the just biggest name you’ve heard of.

Looking to save time? If you’d like a helping hand with finding your ideal flexible office space, we’ve designed a simple cost comparison form to give you tailored quotes from providers across the UK, so you can find the right solution for your region.

WeWork in the spotlight

An upcoming HBO documentary is soon to air in the UK, which will go into close detail about WeWork’s various issues. You can watch the trailer below.

Compare quotes from the top office providers. Are you currently in an office space? Get the best deal in just one minute.

What is the state of WeWork in 2022?

You might be new to the coworking market, or still learning about the business model and how it works. However, you’ve probably still heard of the WeWork name – and it’s likely not all been good things.

A global coworking provider, WeWork has established over 800 locations worldwide since its inception in 2010. Founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, WeWork’s “Do What You Love” ethos, bountiful beer taps and sleek glass walls have helped to influence a new era of office working focused on modern, open common spaces and a sense of community.

Around 40% of WeWork clients are large or enterprise clients, but 80% of its space is used by small or individual businesses. WeWork’s website currently claims to provide thousands of UK startups with “dynamic environments for creativity, focus, and connection”.

But of course, that overlooks the reality of how bruising the pandemic and its lockdowns have been for WeWork, with tenants staying home and swanky offices shuttered for months.

On top of this, over the past couple of years, the media has showcased a much less flattering portrayal of WeWork than the company has self-evangelised. Various controversies have emerged around the company culture and the business’s staggeringly inflated valuation, signalling a period of trouble for the firm that isn’t over yet.

Where did WeWork go wrong?

If you’re a small business owner debating whether to sign a contract with WeWork for flexible coworking space, there is important context you should know before making your decision.

Profitability? Never heard of it.

Following a meteoric rise to success, WeWork attempted to go public. Big time. In August 2019, it filed an IPO that was valued at a huge £34.5 billion.

After the filing, concerns were raised about just how accurate that valuation was. The company didn’t seem to be making much profit. It rented extremely high-cost properties across the globe, and yet was subletting them out for a comparatively low cost.

Quickly, the launch was delayed, and the valuation dropped to a measly £6.6 billion. In November 2019, the business laid off 2,400 employees and WeWork’s reputation became officially tarnished as a firm that prioritised profit over honesty.

Toxic working environment

Around this time, it emerged that WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann had instilled a toxic culture at the company during his tenure.

Between 2018 and 2019, multiple lawsuits for alleged race discrimination and sexual harrassment were filed against the company, the latter of which claimed to have been enabled by what court documents described as “an entitled frat-boy culture that permeates from the top down”.

Such high-profile criticism shed new light on Neumann, with further allegations of eccentric behaviour and drug use being referenced. SoftBank, WeWork’s main investor, paid Neumann £1.24 billion to step down and sever all ties with the firm. He did so in October 2019.

Questions about COVID-19

Much of the controversy surrounding WeWork stems from the above causes, but there are other, more recent issues that are also raising questions.

WeWork was criticised for charging individual offices full rent during the pandemic. This impacted smaller tenants more than enterprise businesses, as SMEs could not afford to pay for a building they were not actually using, sending many into debt.

Long-term leases have also started dropping, as an increasing number of companies move towards a hybrid working model, and thousands of tenants have halted payments. In 2020, this led to WeWork withholding payments to landlords at some locations, raising questions about how long they can remain solvent with a clearly limited cash flow.

In early 2021, a spokesperson for the firm said: “The extent to which COVID-19 could continue to impact WeWork’s global business and its operations in the UK depends on future developments which are uncertain, cannot be predicted and are outside our control.”

WeWork is by no means in its death throes, despite this onslaught of setbacks and bad press. It is still a coworking giant, with half a million users across the world, so it’s not accurate to refer to a ‘demise’ just yet.

At the moment, the company seems to be staying afloat, and the removal of Adam Neumann could signal a new era of growth.

However, it’s unclear just how much longer WeWork can continue from a position of security, in light of the huge number of tenants it has lost during the pandemic.

In May 2021, the company reported lost earnings of over $2 billion for the first quarter of the year. The lack of clarity over how well WeWork is currently performing means if you’re debating signing a coworking contract for the year 2022, it’s wise to shop about and see if a more suitable competitor is available.

How has WeWork responded to COVID-19?

WeWork stairs

Flexible working brings with it plenty of benefits. However, in a post-pandemic world, concerns have also arisen around how businesses can safely operate without defined boundaries.

WeWork has introduced several new policies and has even redesigned many of its buildings to ensure that its users can use workspaces safely and with social distancing measures in place.

Additional measures include increased sanitisation, and cleanliness is now key. Common areas are frequently cleaned and disinfected. Sitewide cleaning standards have also been introduced, with all users given access to gloves, face masks and other safety products.

Spaces have been recalibrated. New rules for communal spaces, such as lifts, are clearly signposted and touch-free hand sanitising stations are located nearby. Seating has also been moved around to free up space and make it easier to social distance.

Smart sensors mean technology is also playing a role. These have been installed across buildings to monitor air quality and ensure that there is plenty of fresh air being circulated throughout the property.

WeWork pricing

WeWork has a few different workplace solutions available for tenants. But as the company is currently diversifying its product range in the wake of COVID-19, you should note that the below costs are likely to change.

Dedicated spaces

Dedicated spaces are confined office areas that can be sublet for a month-to-month or long-term commitment. There are four options available for users, although availability differs depending on location.

 Dedicated DeskStandard OfficeOffice SuiteFull-floor Office
What you get:Single desk in a shared office area (“hotdesk”)Standard office that’s private and lockableOffice suite with private amenitiesConfigurable space on a private floor
CostEst. £250 per user, per monthEst. £400 per user, per monthContact salesContact sales
How is it billed?Monthly subscriptionMonthly subscriptionMonthly or annual subscriptionAnnual subscription
UsersOne user1-2020-100+20-100+

Pricing

For a WeWork dedicated desk in one location, costs start at around £285 per month. Pricing for a standard office starts from £450 per month.

The prices of WeWork’s higher-tiered payment plans are more difficult to estimate as there is greater variation in team sizes. However, for an office suite, tenants should expect to pay around £1,000-£1,500 per month.

Large-scale businesses are the target audience for full-floor offices, which afford the greatest amount of flexibility and even include personalised branding. The Full-Floor Office plan is only purchasable as an annual subscription, and would likely set you back by around £3,000 per month.

It’s also important to note that all members get access to the WeWork growth camp – a mentoring scheme designed specifically for SMEs and startups.

What is the WeGrowth campus?

Among some of WeWork’s recent initiatives for small businesses is its WeWork Growth Campus, which it describes as “a £15 million investment in space and resources specifically aiming to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UK.”

Members have access to expert advice and mentorship, and can also easily locate products and services to enable growth.

Are there any discounts available?

New members can take advantage of a couple of cost-saving incentives for dedicated spaces.

. One month free with a 6-month or more membership commitment
. Two months free with a 12-month or more membership commitment

WeWork All Access

The best choice for remote working, this plan offers global access to every WeWork location. It has the greatest amount of flexibility for teams that have freelancers or staff members in multiple locations.

Users have access to conference rooms, hot desks and private offices worldwide, as well as shared amenities and communal areas within the buildings.

Pricing

WeWork All Access is a monthly membership plan, so you can sign up quickly and leave just as easily. It can be purchased as either an Individual or Teams option – the latter of which is designed for 10+ members.

At the moment there is a special introductory rate for new members which offers a discount for the first three months. In this initial period, you will pay £199 plus VAT, per member, per month. After four months, the amount rises dramatically to £220 per member, per month.

WeWork On Demand

This solution is best-suited to sole traders or hybrid workers, and is built around a pay-as-you-go pricing model.

ONS figures from May 2021 show that, post-pandemic, 85% of home working adults want to use a “hybrid” approach of both home and office working in future. So, if your employees are only looking to work from an office for half of the week, the On Demand plan will save you buckets in comparison to monthly memberships.

Users can download the WeWork On Demand app and book a shared workspace or a meeting room without a monthly subscription. The service applies to over 285 workspaces across 50+ major cities. You can check availability online.

Pricing

Access to shared workspaces starts at £45 a day, while meeting rooms are bookable for £15 per person, per hour.

How do WeWork costs compare to competitor costs?

Cost is one of the biggest considerations for small businesses. As the business world works towards an economic recovery from COVID-19, resources are thin and need to be managed smartly – which is why many business owners choose to invest in a flexible workspace.

Kat Patterson is the managing director of Art of the Possible Agency, which is based at coworking venue Venture X Chiswick Park. Patterson said: “I think when you add up the cost of having an independent office (insurance, rates, heating, security, keys, reception, cleaners, printers, etc.) and the level of support you get, [coworking spaces] are incredibly good value. My clients love coming into the office and all of the team make them feel really welcome. We also have access to a variety of meeting rooms, parking, and resources that we wouldn’t otherwise have at this stage.”

Is WeWork the cheapest coworking option?

The short answer is no. In fact, WeWork is one of the most expensive options – particularly if you’re based outside of London.

In its failed initial IPO, WeWork reported total rental costs for its 800+ global properties to be £13,196 billion. Perhaps due to these vast running costs, the prices that WeWork charges its tenants are far from competitive.

Here’s a quick breakdown of WeWork’s costs for one month, and how they compare to three of its rivals on the UK coworking market:*

 WeWorkSpaces (owned by Regus)Regus (inc. lounge and receptionist services.)Spacemade
Price per user, per month£285 From £197£197From £229 + VAT

*Prices are based on dedicated desks in a London office. All prices are accurate to October 2021.

As the above chart shows, WeWork stands out for being much more costly than the other available options.

If you want to learn more about the cheapest coworking spaces in London, read our online guide.

What are the best UK WeWork alternatives for SMEs?

These are particularly attractive options for SMEs, which are often thinner on resources. If 2020 was the year that the working world went remote, then 2021 is the year it went flexible.

But this is still a relatively new commercial space, and it can be confusing for newcomers to understand. New pricing models crop up annually. Tenant benefits differ, depending on the real estate company used, and some have performed much, much better than others during COVID-19.

Luckily, our experts have been monitoring the sector since before WeWork’s conception. Below, we’ve picked out what we think are some of the best coworking providers, nationally.

But the world is currently in a coworking boom thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which has accelerated businesses’ desire for hybrid work environments and more flexible rental contracts.

As a result, there are many smaller coworking companies cropping up in cities across the UK, opening up lots of regional market competition. Whether you’re based in Bristol or Aberdeen, we recommend you research local coworking spaces in your area to find the best option for your small firm.

Research is the most time-consuming part of finding the best provider. Thankfully, we’ve done the work for you, designing a simple online form for you to compare costs and find your coworking diamond in the rough.

Regus

Regus is owned by IWC plc – the largest global provider for flexible coworking spaces, with around 3,000 spaces in 120 locations – and is one of its most famous operating brands. It is showing comparable ambitions to WeWork – and the similarities don’t end there.

Both have conference rooms, designated desks and kitchen areas. There are private and teams-based office options, and business support is enabled through networking events.

However, compared to WeWork, Regus offers a much more privacy-focused workspace solution. WeWork’s glass walls aren’t for everyone, and if you’re looking to prioritise flexibility over public coworking, we’d recommend Regus instead.

In terms of pricing, Regus also dramatically outperforms WeWork, costing around £100 less for its ‘Coworking’ payment plan. This offer gives you access to a designated desk as well as a lounge and reception area. You can also easily book and edit your workspace using the Regus app.

Paul Lindsell is managing director at ThoughtSpark, a marketing agency. Lindsell told us: “As a marketing agency, we have to have a presence in Central London as a convenient node for both staff and clients.

We looked at various options, including WeWork and other providers, and simply the best deal in town was Regus in W2. The facilities are smart, central, easily accessible for our people and clients flying in from abroad, and the staff are charming and helpful. WeWork and others offered trendy add-ons – beer in the fridge, ‘brainstorm spaces’, and so on – but this is all pretentious nonsense in our view! We just wanted a smart location and good service.

The flexibility means that we can scale access to the Regus workcentre for our changing workforce at just a month’s notice. The whole process is easy – having easy back-office processes to scale up and down is not something many SMEs think of, but it’s been invaluable to us. The change in work-life balance for us all – with flexible working policies plus a professional place to go once or twice a week – has improved all of our lives. The key thing, we find, is to coordinate so we’re all in on the same day and can benefit from each other’s company and fit in those brainstorming sessions that are so difficult to achieve online.”

Spaces

Acquired by IWG in 2015, Spaces still operates as a separate brand. In terms of what makes it different, Spaces can generally be described as the more creative brother of Regus. As well as general office space, it also boasts specialist facilities for artists, entrepreneurs, startups and ‘digital nomads’.

Spaces coworking

Users choose from a variety of plans offering office space and coworking memberships, as well as meeting rooms and designated desks, which cost around £197 per person, per month.

As well as trendier, more design-focused properties, Spaces also offers a virtual office plan from £61 per month. This provides you with a business address and also means you can access mail handling and telephone answering services – a smart idea for startups that are looking to scale but aren’t in need of an office just yet.

Spacemade

Spacemade’s USP is also what makes it a much more affordable option compared to WeWork: it operates as a partner to building owners, enabling them to transform forgotten buildings into individual and vibrant workspaces.

Because of this, the majority of its locations are based outside of Central London, concentrating on the cheaper suburban belt of the city. It also has coworking options available in Leeds and Bristol.

Founded only two years ago, Spacemade featured as one of our top 100 Startups for 2021 thanks to its impressive market disruption and smart operation style. At an average of £220 per office, Spacemade is a great way to get around expensive brands such as WeWork.

Compare quotes from the top office providers. Are you currently in an office space? Get the best deal in just one minute.

Conclusion – should you use WeWork in 2022?

Signing a contract with WeWork does not necessarily need to bring fear into the hearts of small business owners.

There are benefits that come with the WeWork brand, such as its SME-focused ‘WeGrowth’ campus. Plus, plenty of flexible payment choices mean it can be a particularly cost-effective method of working for SMEs.

However, despite the company’s famous glass walls, WeWork has been anything but transparent in the past few years, and there are lots of things to consider if you’re debating choosing WeWork as a building operator.

Most concerning is the firm’s questionable working culture and misleading business reporting, which has left many wondering just how it has survived the turmoil of the past two years – and if it will have a long future to come.

As this guide has shown, alternative companies can offer WeWork’s products, services and more, all for a lower cost.

Given the current boom in the coworking market, now is a particularly smart time to move away from WeWork. We think small businesses should take advantage of new competition in the market to find the best discounts and deals.

If you’d like more expert help to find the best flexible workspace for you, you can fill in the form
at the top of this page to receive quotes and offers from coworking spaces in particular UK regions.

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Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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