Literally social insurance

On employer-sponsored premiums for employees' eroding sense of community

June 4, 2019
Jonathan Libov

I always thought WeWork owed its success to the rise of Facebook and Google as hyper-efficient user acquisition machines. The more easily a business idea can be tested and scaled, so the thinking goes, the greater the number of companies form, the more desks are in demand.

After speaking to someone who was present for the company's founding, I think I was wrong about this. WeWork’s stated mission from the get-go was to build community in the workplace.

So why did the world need more community during the years of WeWork's growth?

One answer might be that humans have an unquenchable thirst for more social interaction no matter how much they have at present, and the WeWork team is just better at building community-centric co-working spaces than anyone else.

Another answer is that feelings of community and social gratification declined in the past decade, and WeWork picked up the slack. Ironically this would mean that WeWork didn’t stand on the shoulders of Facebook as a user acquisition machine so much as it cleaned up what Facebook left in its wake as an alienation machine. I don't need to recount all the reasons why online communities and iPhones and Instagram and Netflix and Fortnite may have eroded our senses of belonging and feelings of well-being. A major appeal of WeWork, therefore, is that for a premium you can buy into a real-world community that skews young and vibrant (and single).

In the same vein, Slack provides a functional service, but in many ways promises fulfillment through shared experience. In a world where shared experiences are scarcer, and meatspace grows less social, Slack helps fill the void by making work, a rare shared experience, funnier and more social.

Slack is the online version of WeWork. They're materially different but share a Job to Be Done. They also share another important trait: Much as people increasingly rely on their employer to pay the premium for health insurance, many people now rely on their employer to pay the premium for insurance against the erosion of their social life.

Hardly a cause for either company's success, but certainly a tailwind.