Is WeWork's Ecosystems Approach a Model for Healthcare Platforms?

Kim BellardMaybe you don't work in a WeWork office setting. Maybe you haven't ever visited one. Maybe you haven't even heard of WeWork. In that case, then you'll probably be surprised that this audacious real estate start-up now has a valuation close to $50b, with over 400,000 "members" in 100 cities across 27 countries (and they claim to "touch" 5 million people worldwide). Or that their plans go well beyond their unique twist towards office sharing.

Who in healthcare is thinking about them, and who should be worried...or intrigued?

Earlier this year WeWork rebranded itself as The We Company, saying its "guiding mission will be to elevate the world's consciousness." No one should be surprised by the lofty mission; WeWork was never just about finding people and companies office space: it wanted to "help people work to make a life, not just a living." It focused on building a culture in its spaces, complete with amenities and events to help build a community among its members.

The We Company has three main divisions: WeWork, the office space sharing division; WeLive, which tries to extend the WeWork culture to residential spaces; WeGrow, an early education effort. The Wall Street Journal reports that WeGrow stems from a personal interest of co-founder/CEO Adam Neumann, as did investments in a natural food company and a wave pool maker.

And WeBank may be coming soon.

The 2009 vision for the WeWork ecosystem, drawn by co-founder Miguel McKelveyThey've already made more traditional real estate competitors nervous. Fast Company reported on how several real estate companies, such as Rudin Management Company, are beefing up their tech to better match WeWork's capabilities. Georgia Collins the head of workplace experiences for real estate firm CBRE, told Fast Company: "As we're building smarter buildings the idea of connecting the building technology to something that is user facing is much more real and appealing."

No wonder, when people in WeWork's corporate offices wear t-shirts that say "Buildings equal data." Huh -- buildings equal data? Archinect News says: "It's hard to overstate how essential data is to WeWork's operations. Specifically, architectural data." They use this data to drive analytics to help design and create better workspaces.

Quick show of hands: how many health systems view data from their many buildings as an asset, much less a design tool?

Just as Starbucks was never really about the coffee but about becoming "the third place," WeWork has been about the culture their spaces try to create. Gideon Lewis-Kraus did a deep dive on this for The New York Times recently. It's not just the nice coffee or the yoga classes but it's also the community manager, who acts sort of like a super-charged concierge. He describes the "relentless sociability" that serves as powerful personal and professional networking for the tenants/members.

WeWork gathering space - Credit WeWorkDave Fano, the head of growth for WeWork, described (to Fast Company) WeWork as "infrastructure as a service," but Mr. Lewis-Kraus sees it differently: they're selling "office culture as a service." They are selling their "CultureOS" not just to entrepreneurs but even to larger companies trying to gain/regain that entrepreneurial spirit, and maybe help recruit younger workers.

That is a powerful concept, way beyond simple office sharing. Michael Schneider writes in Inc.:

The WeWork model is a reminder that great cultures aren't a result of forcing predetermined values to unite employees under one flag, but instead focusing on fostering an ecosystem that allows the freedom to connect with others based on their own beliefs and interests.

Whenever I think about culture and health, I can't help but think about Steve Downs' call to "build health into the OS." I.e., make health part of our everyday lives, not an after-thought, and use tech to help accomplish this. I think The We Company would get this.

They've already seized on wellness, going way beyond on-site yoga classes to Rise By We, whose vision they state as "drive a cultural shift towards greater well-being." It seeks to connect where people work and live with the same kind of community its work locations foster. Its only current location is in New York City, but we can expect more to come.

Other health initiatives include:

  • "Collaboration hubs" for the Biden Cancer Initiative, putting together cancer researchers, patients, and oncology companies. A WeWork spokesman said: "We believe this partnership is a step toward knocking down barriers that so often prevent the sharing of important information."
  • Hosting space for Parsley Health, direct primary care practice, the only medical practice WeWorks hosts. CEO Robin Berzin, M.D., told Forbes: "WeWork heard my story about what I was trying to start with Parsley Health, believed in it and made an exception [to their policy] - it's been awesome."

Small steps, perhaps, but big enough to suggest that the possibilities in healthcare are endless.

So, where is the company whose platform sells a "healthy culture" as a service? Where is the company whose platform has a CultureOS built around health and wellness? It is not The We Company, not yet, but it could be someday, and it most definitely should be someone.

Think about when you walk into a medical office building, hospital, or another health facility. Do you get the feeling that the people working there are happy to be there? Do you feel the atmosphere encourages them to collaborate and network? Do you feel that the buildings and the spaces in them are designed to encourage health and wellness?

I didn't think so.

Don't think about the buildings, think about what the buildings are intended to help accomplish, and how we can continuously "learn" from them to make them better. Don't think about just housing healthcare professionals, think about enriching their professional and personal lives. Don't think about having places to treat patients, think about them as spaces that help foster their health.

Tech has gotten big by reliance on platforms, and many have questioned where healthcare's platforms are. The We Company may be giving a hint about what they could be.

Is WeWork's Ecosystems Approach a Model for Healthcare Platforms? was authored by Kim Bellard and first published in his blog, From a Different Perspective.... It is reprinted by Open Health News with permission from the author. The original post can be found here.