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WeWork CEO: Traditional Office Is The New Retail, And We're E-Commerce

The entrance to a WeWork location in D.C.'s Navy Yard

WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani is out with a new message to shareholders: “This is WeWork’s moment.”

In an investor letter released Wednesday, Mathrani positioned his company as a solution to the uncertain future — and some say the dire state — of office real estate. WeWork released data showing its occupancy ended the year up 17%, and it highlighted how its leasing activity in some major cities outpaced that of the traditional office market. 

Still, the company is losing hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter and its stock price has dipped below $1 per share, leading investor SoftBank to consider a financial restructuring plan. 

As part of its efforts to entice stock market investors, Mathrani argued that his company is meaningfully differentiated from the traditional office real estate sector by drawing an analogy: If the conventional office is brick-and-mortar retail, WeWork is e-commerce.

He pointed to the exponential growth of e-commerce over the last two decades, growing from 1% of retail sales in 2000 to 21% in 2021. 

“Just as we saw the brick-and-mortar retail industry transform with e-commerce, we believe a seismic behavioral shift is transforming the traditional commercial office landscape — putting WeWork front and center as the flexible solution,” Mathrani wrote. 

The picture painted of WeWork as a disrupter in the office real estate space isn’t a new argument for the company, but it is one that comes at an especially turbulent time for the sector. As of last week, the return to office stood at about 48% of what it was prior to the pandemic, according to Kastle Systemsweekly report.

In the letter, Mathrani noted the differentiators between WeWork spaces and traditional office space: flexible payment structures, immediate starts to memberships and ready-to-go workspaces.

It’s a model the company claims is working: WeWork said its occupancy at the end of 2022 was 75%, up 17% from one year earlier, adding that its global membership total of 682,000 was the highest in the company’s history.

WeWork also provided data on its leasing activity in select cities and compared it to the overall office market.

With an average of 60 SF per workstation, WeWork said it filled 950K SF of its New York City coworking spaces in the fourth quarter, equivalent to 23% of the total amount of office space leased in the city during the quarter. It said it leased 240K SF in San Francisco, or 13% of the market’s overall leasing activity. And it reported 170K SF of leasing in Chicago, equivalent to 19% of the market’s overall activity. 

“The growth pace of our market share accelerated during the fourth quarter in many of our largest markets,” Mathrani said in the letter. 

Despite its spaces filling up, WeWork has closed dozens of locations in recent months as it tries to cut costs and reduce its quarterly losses. 

WeWork lost roughly $2.3B last year, down from its $4.6B loss in 2021. The company exited 40 leases in November, and in January it announced 300 job cuts globally. Its share price dropped below $1 this month and was trading at $0.73 per share at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday. 

Since 2020, WeWork has fully exited 250 leases, a statistic the company positions as a move toward its “optimization” effort — planting locations where it sees the most value. WeWork says it doesn’t have public information for how many locations have opened in that time, but pointed to recent expansions in Paris, Atlanta and Singapore

As of December, WeWork had 779 open locations across 39 countries.