Redefining the future of work, turning a profit on dead space, all while overcoming the significant roadblocks the hospitality industry has faced because of the pandemic are just some of the things that have kept WorkChew busy since its founding. We spoke with WorkChew co-founders Maisha Burt and Allyson McDougal to hear how the nimble company sets the tone for safe remote work options for companies and individuals in the time of COVID-19 and beyond.
What was WorkChews’s direction pre-pandemic? And, how has that shifted with the stay-at-home order in effect?
WorkChew (WC): Pre-pandemic, we were focused on creating affordable workspaces that elevate the remote work experience by partnering with restaurants to leverage their underutilized space or off-peak hours. These spaces have beautiful assets going untouched for hours (even full seasons) at a time. With that in mind, we established drop-in workspaces around the District for professionals on the go requiring flexibility and mobility. As we saw our services gain traction, we began expanding in the Chicago area—but then the pandemic hit, and everything shut down.
As everyone knows, the hospitality industry was severely impacted. This in turn, affected our business model. Our partners were either no longer open or not operating in the same capacity. This required us to stop, reassess our direction, and get creative on weathering this unpredictable storm. We played around with several different paths to see what would engage our audience. In the height of quarantine, we curated virtual events like bartending classes or workshops with restaurants. We were surprised to witness our audience expand! Since our programming was no longer attached to a fixed location, folks from across the country were engaging with our services. This helped us get a sense of what people wanted in terms of programming and ultimately figure out our niche as a holistic remote work lifestyle company.
How have the various phases of reopening impacted or informed WorkChew’s vision as a remote work lifestyle company?
WC: Since the pandemic changed the way a lot of people work (i.e. remotely full-time at home), we saw an opportunity to safely build a sense of community while also supporting a struggling industry. With District leadership spearheading the city’s reopening, we were able to test out new services and products with WorkChew partners that were open to adapting their business models. We worked closely with them to figure out how to best use their layout, amenities, and outdoor space (if they have) to facilitate a safe and beautiful “third space” for those who need to get out of the house but don’t want to (or can’t) go into the office. We’re a one-stop-shop and take the headache out of remote working, particularly in the time of COVID-19.
A new initiative we started playing around with in June is “Work From.” We collaborated with one of our original partners, Halfsmoke, to test out the logistics and see if customers would bite. Essentially, we started hosting outdoor remote work meetups one day a week on their patio. We capped registration at the socially distanced maximum per time block. Customers sign-up knowing that they have a seat waiting for them and have access to unlimited free coffee. It turned out to be such a success that participating restaurants saw a significant increase in revenue on the days they hosted “Work From.” It also gave us a way to demonstrate that communal working can be done safely and in accordance with the health regulations set forth. We’ve added two options for individuals—a $20/month pass and a $10/day drop-in rate, both of which are loaded with perks.
Are there any other projects in the pipeline that you’re excited about?
WC: Yes! At the beginning of October, we launched our enterprise offering, a standard package for companies looking to set up their employees with the WorkChew experience. We’re solving two problems here. First, what is the company’s hybrid workplace model going to look like once offices begin to reopen (given that most likely, companies will stagger staff coming into the office)? Second, how will companies keep their remote employees engaged and happy?
By addressing these two major questions, we’re addressing workspace equity. Traditional coworking options are primarily in urban corridors, leaving behind employees who may live and commute outside the city. WorkChew helps level the playing field for companies’ employees. We’re making sure everyone can have access to high-quality workspaces wherever they are. It’s a solution that means less miles traveled by the employee, fewer dollars spent by the company on otherwise expensive coworking space, and incremental revenue generated for our hospitality partners. Furthermore, we are recommending that our partners become Trust 20 certified, which is a third-party COVID-19 specific safety certification. So, our clients can rest assured that everything is safe, and the necessary precautions are at the forefront of our partners’ operations.
Thus far, we’ve been running a two-month free trial for our corporate customers to see how easy it is to navigate our platform and understand the benefits it brings to their employees and their business at large. We are doing exceptionally well with mid-sized companies (ranging from 100 to 500 employees). They are investing in an affordable way to keep their employees happy and productive. It’s been such a success that we’re adding between two to three locations a week. That is in addition to our existing supply of hospitality partner locations.
What keeps you and your team moving forward?
WC: As co-founders, we both believe in and are driven by wanting to support people in achieving their goals. Our way of doing that is by building environments that give people the spaces and tools they need to elevate their productivity, brand, and side-hustle without the high price-tag.
In September, we began a rigorous but rewarding journey as a part of Comcast NBC Universal Lift Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars. Being a part of this program has provided us with many opportunities to strengthen and expand the WorkChew platform. It has also provided us with incredible hands-on mentorship.
The future of work is changing, and we’re motivated to be at the forefront of forging that new path. We are reimagining what communal workspaces look like, cost (without impacting profit), and feel like for the end-user. We are creating something new and fresh that benefits our partners, customers, and the community at large. The District is our home and we want to support the city and its people. Our platform leverages the many beautiful spaces that DC has to offer!
Maisha Burt + Allyson McDougal