Why Portal A Replaced Its Offices With WeWork Memberships

Our journey to a workspace solution that balances autonomy and collaboration

Portal A opened for business a decade ago in the dark basement of an old San Francisco Victorian. It was my partners and me, an intern, a barely functional video camera and a dream.

As we bootstrapped and grew the company, we occupied ad hoc spaces—a few desks with a sister company in a tough area of Los Angeles, a carpeted room in a corporate legal office in Century City and a retail storefront in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.

Eventually, we opened offices of our own in two locations—a beautiful space overlooking a revitalized area of downtown L.A. and a classic converted warehouse in the tech-centric SoMa neighborhood in S.F. We had 15,000 square feet to call our own.

Five years later, the pandemic changed everything. The paradigm shifted immediately—Slack became our digital HQ, Google Meet the new meeting space, athleisure acceptable work attire and the bed to office commute clocked in at 30 seconds. We lamented every rent check.

To our genuine surprise, our team embraced it wholeheartedly. Some of the best work came during periods of virtual work. Our productivity did not suffer in the least. And while it may seem hard to believe, some of the most dynamic culture and connection we'd ever had blossomed during this period. 

When the world began opening up, as so many companies in the creative industry were forcing their teams into the old paradigm, we considered a variety of options to reflect what we had learned during the height of Covid. And we listened to our team. 

From a 2021 company-wide survey, on a 1-10 scale:

  • How would you rate our team's collaboration during this period of remote work: 9.2
  • How would you rate your ability to contribute effectively while working remotely: 9.5
  • How would you rate the job Portal A has done supporting you while working remotely: 9.4
  • How would you rate your desire for Portal A to remain primarily a remote work company beyond Covid: 9.1

We took a closer look at how our team was working, living and creating. We saw that a painfully long commute, highly structured days and the intensity of being present in an office every day did not lead to more creativity, better collaboration, or increased happiness. We intuitively knew that the best and most creative work comes from people who have the time and space to tap into their imaginations. 

But we also knew that there were limits to an exclusively remote approach—Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon, it's good for the soul to get out of the house and people need connection.

We sought out a solution to reflect the best of both worlds, exploring an approach where our team could have access to collaborative work spaces, while also having flexibility and autonomy to pursue the approach that maximized their personal productivity and happiness.

After making a call to my brother-in-law (a former WeWork sales leader), we decided to offer all access WeWork memberships to our entire staff. We wound down both our offices—spaces we had come to love.

Ninety percent of our team expressed interest in the model in a new survey, and a quarter into the program, nearly our entire team has taken advantage of the membership. If you see us on calls, there is a high likelihood that we are at one of the hundreds of WeWorks around the globe.

This model gives us the best of all worlds—beautifully designed and maintained spaces for in-person creative brainstorms, collaborations with colleagues and clients, or quiet space to work outside of the home, while also giving our team the discretion to go into the office as frequently or infrequently as they would like. Perhaps the best perk of all, dogs are welcome.

People have hours back in their days, and no matter where they are, there is almost always a workspace in their immediate vicinity—from L.A. to Dallas to the Bay Area to NYC to Seoul. 

From a business perspective, we have maximum leverage—we've replaced 5-year lease obligations with month-to-month flexibility. We've outsourced all office management and maintenance to WeWork, giving us countless hours back to focus on what matters most to the success of our business—our partners, our people and our team's creativity. 

And we're saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on occupancy expenses, funds that we are re-allocating back into our team, through a variety of benefits that we've rolled out since the pandemic began—childcare reimbursements, increased medical insurance coverage, connectivity expenses covered, counseling services, generous wellness stipends, and more. 

A lot of ink has been devoted to the benefits and drawbacks of remote work. But we all know that we're at the dawn of a new work era, and organizations must respond. For us, one thing is certain—Portal A won't go back to the old paradigm. We've seen the light.    

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Zach Blume
Zach Blume is co-founder and president of Portal A, an award-winning branded and original content company.

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