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WeWork Restricts Employee Travel, Increases Cleaning As Coronavirus Spreads


WeWork has hundreds of locations and hundreds of thousands of members across the globe — including in some of the hot spots of the novel coronavirus outbreak. All but two of those locations are currently open, but Tuesday afternoon the company sent new guidance to its members about the steps it is taking amid the global health crisis.

WeWork sent a notice to all of its U.S. members detailing its current policies in dealing with the outbreak just before 4 p.m. ET. It said it would increase its daytime cleaning and sanitize "touchpoints" more often, ensure soap is stocked and more hand sanitizer dispensers are installed and distribute wipes to its community teams. (Disclosure: Bisnow has offices at multiple WeWork locations.)

WeWork also will require employees who travel to Mainland China, South Korea, Singapore and the Lombardy region of Italy to work from home for two weeks after they return, and it will restrict nonessential travel to those areas for the time being. It encouraged its members to follow the same guidelines, including to stay home if they are feeling sick.

"We have a robust global preparedness plan in place in the event any member or employee has contracted the coronavirus, with designated regional crisis management teams who are prepared to execute additional measures in the event a location is directly at risk," WeWork told members in the memo. 

In a statement provided to Bisnow Tuesday evening through a spokesperson, WeWork reiterated the guidance it gave to its members in the memo, and added that it has already closed some locations temporarily in response to the pathogen.

"WeWork locations in higher-risk regions have heightened levels of preventative measures, including temporary building closures in some instances," WeWork said. "We continue to communicate directly with members, vendors and employees affected by changes to our procedures and operations based on their locations."

WeWork has more than 100 locations in China, 19 locations in South Korea, 28 in Japan and 14 in Singapore, according to its website. Last month, WeWork Chairman Marcelo Claure told CNBC the company closed 100 locations in China temporarily.

All but two WeWork locations in China have since reopened, the company said, with the exception of coworking spaces in Wuhan, the city that became ground zero of the outbreak in December.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 90,000 positive cases of coronavirus, also called COVID-19, and more than 3,100 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. South Korea is the most affected country after China, with cases nearing 5,000, most of which are in the southern city of Daegu, where WeWork has two locations.

The Lombardy region of Italy, along with Iran, is the other place with a concentrated outbreak of the pathogen, which is now killing roughly 3.4% of those diagnosed, according to revised WHO figures. WeWork has one open location in Lombardy's business hub, Milan, with plans to open five more.

The virus is still new, and while therapies are being developed, health professionals say it spreads through human contact much in the same way as the flu. Coworking locations, which are typically dense, highly trafficked and contain shared bathrooms and kitchens, could be particularly susceptible in the event of a localized outbreak.

Coronavirus has already caused heavy disruptions to the global economy, as airlines have canceled flights to the most affected areas and major events — including the annual MIPIM commercial real estate conference in Cannes, France — have been canceled or postponed as a precaution. 

The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage point Tuesday in an attempt to stimulate the flagging economy, but stock indexes ended the day down more than 2% as concerns rose about the outbreak's spread. Nine U.S. deaths have been attributed to the pathogen as of Tuesday afternoon, and two cases have been confirmed in New York, where WeWork is headquartered and leases millions of square feet.

"As a global business, we are monitoring the situation closely and may implement further measures in coordination with best practices and updated guidance from the relevant authorities," WeWork said in the memo circulated to its members. "We will make every effort to keep buildings operational for our members. However in certain circumstances, including under notification from local authorities, we may close buildings or recommend members do not come to work, to protect the safety of our employees, members and the wider community."

CORRECTION, MARCH 3, 11:20 P.M. ETA previous version of this story misstated the number of open locations WeWork has in Italy, South Korea and Japan. It has 28 open in Japan, 19 open in South Korea and one open in Italy, with additional locations planned in each country. This story has been updated.

Related Topics: WeWork, coronavirus, COVID-19