Make It

WeWork's co-founder wants employees to speak up if they're not happy with their salaries

Getty Images | Bloomberg

WeWork, the unicorn-status start-up that helped launch the current co-working movement, has been growing exponentially. In June, co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann said the company has $1 billion in annual revenue and has plans for an IPO, according to the Commercial Observer. It is now valued at a reported $17 billion, with its most recent $4.4 billion investment from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank and its Softbank Vision Fund.

But this kind of explosive expansion has posed a unique challenge for Miguel McKelvey, who co-founded the business with Neumann in 2010. As the corporation scales, he needs to make sure the company's culture does too.

"We've certainly have had a culture of intensity and working really hard," McKelvey tells CNBC Make It. "When you're 30, 40, 50 people and you're all in the room and that energy flows, that's sort of easy to maintain and I think we've learned to love that," he says. But "when you become 500 or 1,000 or 2,000, there's just more complexity." According to data from Mattermark, WeWork currently has over 2000 employees. McKelvey says that WeWork didn't even have a human resources department to speak of a year and a half ago.

Getting the culture right is what can keep McKelvey up at night about the business.

"We've set this forever ambition to make WeWork the best place" for employees, Mckelvey tells CNBC Make It at Collision Conference in May. "So any time I hear a crack in that, any time I hear someone feels like unsatisfied by their job or with a certain situation, those things bother me.

"But at the same time I'm inviting them all the time. I want to be a person who says 'Hey, if something is going on, come and tell me about it.'"

McKelvey says he wants his employees to speak up about anything from small inefficiencies to more complex policy matters.

That even includes dissatisfaction with pay. "If someone feels like they're not being compensated fairly, then they could feel like, 'Hey, this isn't fair.'"

In fact, WeWork did "a huge compensation study," says Mckelvey. He hired experts and spent months delving into "all the specifics" to make sure everyone in the company was being paid relative to the market, including things like equity.

Another "big, interesting challenge" McKelvey is facing is "figuring out how to make sure you're uncovering all the people who are doing great work and not just say the people have the loudest voice," he says.

"The quiet person in the corner who might be awesome, but doesn't necessarily get as much recognition naturally," he says. "How do you uncover that person's work and make sure they feel like they're getting what they deserve?

"So it goes from the very specifics like policy levels to just more ephemeral sort of topics, which again could easily go ignored without this really rigorous interest in trying to uncover them and solve them," he says.

Part of WeWork's mission is to "humanize the way people work," according to Neumann. And that also extends to the company's own employees. With teams in places like Europe and Israel, and now with $1.4 billion of the SoftBank money going to expansion in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, McKelvey and WeWork have their work cut out for them.

It seems McKelvey's up for the challenge. "Everybody's job is important and we want to make it a great place to work for all of them [so] they're engaged and excited and happy to come to work and happy to do the work that they're doing."

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