Meet the man who re-designed work: WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey

You might not have heard of Miguel McKelvey, but if you’re part of the growing co-working space movement, he just may have changed your life.

Co-founder of co-working phenomenon WeWork, McKelvey is the man who lead the company’s dramatic revolution of the physical office space. A trained architect and interior designer, it’s safe to say that he, quite literally, redesigned work.

I wanted to know more about this elusive character. His company is one of the fastest growing in the world, has raised upwards of $969 million (at time of writing), is valued at a cool $10 billion, and has barely celebrated it’s sixth birthday. Clearly he’s doing something right.

WeWork is famous for its modern spaces, glass walls and beer on tap, but I wanted to understand the deeper philosophies behind this workplace revolution. Specifically, I wanted to know what McKelvey thought was wrong with traditional office spaces, why he felt it was so important to challenge the status quo, and what significance he believes our physical environment plays in our overall experience of this we call ‘work’. 

At the core of McKelvey and WeWork's philosophy is the belief that everybody has their own unique ways of working.

"We’ve found that people have different working styles and find productivity in their own way. Some of our members focus better in an office of their own, and some are most productive when working from a comfortable couch in a common area. There are members who rely on conference rooms to strategise and others who brainstorm over a game of ping pong – it’s really cool to see the ways our members naturally interact with the space."

Read more: Can convergent design enhance productivity, creativity and wellbeing?

This stands in stark contrast to traditional office culture, where people are expected to conform to pre-determined notions of ‘productivity’ and ‘performance’. McKelvey’s emphasis on tailoring WeWork’s spaces to suit a kaleidoscope of human needs is reflective of the hyper-personalisation that’s trending across a number of industries, from HR to health insurance. When it comes to co-working, WeWork is perhaps the iconic trendsetter.

What’s truly impressive about WeWork’s rapid expansion is how they’ve managed to successfully scale the experience of working across their locations. Every space feels like it’s been made with you in mind, and the interior design creates a consistent but uniquely local experience whether you’re in New York City, London or Tel Aviv.

"We like to borrow from the local culture and preserve the history of our buildings whenever possible, and it’s little touches like these that make people stop, digest, and absorb.

"The specifics of the design or architecture or art may vary from city to city, but at the end of the day, the energy of our members is global."

If I had to put my finger on it, I would suggest that it’s the intersection of productivity, inspiration and positive energy that McKelvey has pioneered through WeWork. Inspiration is high on the agenda for McKelvey, who believes that the traditional office space is growing past its sell-by date.

"When people think of a stereotypical office space they tend to think grey carpet, cubicles, and fluorescent lighting. That’s not very inspiring, and it’s hard to feel motivated when you’re not energised by your surroundings.

"I like to think we’ve challenged the traditional office environment by acknowledging the different ways people find inspiration. As an example, we are testing out the effect of having a barista in one of our locations. The purpose isn’t just to serve members fancy coffee; it’s because we know that when people are standing in line, they’re likely to start a conversation and make a connection."

Members of WeWork around the world are united by the belief that the work they do should give them something more than just a way to pay the bills. Instead, they see work as an opportunity for personal fulfilment, creative self-expression and contribution to a higher cause. McKelvey’s vision is to create WeWork as the physical expression of this movement, a place to inspire and encourage its members to ‘create your life’s work’.

Read more: The secret science of sound in workplace design

Positivity is a crucial piece of the puzzle for McKelvey. "Happiness, that feeling of positivity, really is the foundation of productivity, so we design our spaces to keep our members motivated.

"We want to create productive environments conducive to getting work done, but we also want our members to feel energised by their surroundings. We like to stimulate creativity by adding some unexpected touches to our offices, whether that means a large mural in the common area or custom wallpaper in the conference rooms."

So what are the secrets of WeWork’s design? How does the physical space itself contribute to productivity, inspiration and positivity?

McKelvey highlights two key aspects: glass and natural light. "We like to ensure that there’s lots of natural light. We intentionally seek out properties that are on a corner or that have a lot of light, and then we make interior walls out of glass, or if that’s not possible, we’ll plan out where to place solid walls so we don’t block people’s access to daylight. Another benefit of glass walls: it adds an element of transparency and accountability. When you’re surrounded by other people who are working hard, you’re more likely to work hard, too."

Whilst it’s clear that McKelvey takes great pride in his disruptive office design, WeWork is about something more than bricks and mortar. It’s a culture, a community, a movement. But every community needs a home, a physical space that inspires, captivates and motivates us.

Meet Miguel McKelvey, the man who re-designed work.

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