What can managers learn from the downfall of WeWork?

WeWork became the poster child for a shared office industry riding two waves: excess capital and surging demand. The pandemic brought further disruption to the office model, with significantly more remote work and the normalisation of flexible work patterns.

According to the ONS, 40% of adults currently work from home at least once a week.

Pre-pandemic, 5% of workdays were remote in the US, whereas it’s now 30% after peaking at 60% in 2020.

One thing is clear: flexible working is here to stay. This only amplifies the need for coaching and motivational skills.

Managers have by far the biggest impact on employee engagement, yet fewer than 20% of employers provide them with training. So, what can businesses learn from the downfall of WeWork?

Invest in managers today for the workplace of tomorrow

Managers are often left to cope in whatever way they can until they get to senior positions, at which point they are showered with leadership training and executive coaching.

The ROI of this back-ended investment is limited because senior people have less day-to-day engagement with employees.

It’s a vicious cycle that keeps managers from fulfilling their potential and stops businesses from unlocking productivity and wellbeing gains.

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Middle managers are the beating heart of an organisation and in recent times have even been referred to as the ‘B-suite’. They wear multiple hats, as contributors, supervisors, mentors and coaches.

Remote working has made their role and responsibilities even more challenging.

Managers are the vital bridge between senior executives and everyone else. The onus is on managers to create and sustain open lines of effective communication, to lead people virtually and in person.

Managers have to be skilled at fostering psychological safety and inclusion, be great listeners and coaches to their teams (especially on-screen and in hectic co-working spaces), and they need to create time for quality team conversations in multiple formats.

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Where do we go from here?

The solution lies in personalised, highly practical, tech-enabled training for managers so they can confidently handle the challenges of leading teams.

If you compare this to the training and preparation before passing your driving test, for example, it’s not a standard, mass training class you attend before you’re let out onto the road.

Rather, it’s dedicated, personalised guidance from experts who make you aware of your strengths and your opportunities to improve in real-time. It involves hours of real practice.

Managing people is a skilled craft just like any other. Most of us have the capacity to be a great manager but it takes time, guidance, and dedication.

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It’s also something you need to keep improving over time, continuously integrating best practices and the latest scientific findings.

The fall of WeWork serves as a timely reminder of the ever-evolving nature of work, aided by technology, now including AI.

Even if you argue that the third of workdays carried out remotely will come down further, it is unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic levels.

We would therefore be wise to start investing in managers’ abilities to lead teams virtually and in person. Managers are the most powerful agents for bringing about culture change and boosting employee engagement.

They are the leaders of tomorrow. Creating yet more generations of accidental managers who don’t have the necessary skills could be the costliest mistake businesses make in the years to come, especially as managing teams has never been more challenging than it is now.

Farley Thomas is CEO and co-founder of Manageable