WeWork wants to turn office buildings into giant gadgets

Co-working company uses beacons to track members

From left: David Fano and a WeWork space
From left: David Fano and a WeWork space

“Real estate, historically, is a very gut kind of business,” WeWork’s chief product officer David Fano said Wednesday. He’s out to change that. The $16 billion company is looking to gather a slew of data on its members to guide how it designs its spaces.

Speaking to journalists on the sixth floor of WeWork’s Times Square location — which the company has turned into a testing site for new technology — Fano likened the ideal office building to an iPhone: all parts are connected and governed by technology.

In practice, this means that WeWork members may soon have their every step tracked in the name of running buildings better. For example, the company is testing beacons – a technology increasingly used by retailers that tracks movement and connects with user’s iPhones. If, for example, a member walks into a conference room she hasn’t booked, her phone will instantly buzz with a notification offering to book said room via the WeWork app.

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Another retail technology WeWork is also looking to transport into office space creates heat maps of where members work and linger, which offers clues on what kind of rooms and desks are more popular. This can in turn guide how the company places walls and desks. Ceiling cameras have turned every door into a virtual turnstile that counts the number of people passing through.

Beyond the confines of its buildings, WeWork is also gathering data on neighborhoods in order to better pick locations for new spaces. By mapping bars, coffee shops, office buildings and where its members live, the company is hoping to get a sense of where a WeWork space has the potential to be successful.

WeWork’s use of beacons and bluetooth technology isn’t exactly novel in the hospitality/real estate space. Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2014 began using a custom-built app to document features in thousands of rooms. It also uses beacons to automate some of the check-in process at over 1,200 properties.

Fano joined WeWork almost exactly a year ago when the company acquired his startup, the building information consultancy Case. WeWork has since built up a technology and data team, hiring Perkins+Will veteran Joshua Emig as its head of product research. The company also recently hired Uber’s former head of public policy Corey Owens.