Published on 19 July 2022 by BusinessDesk

John Moffett take on the hit Apple docuseries WeLearned, and what Generator can take away from it...

When John Moffett is out and about at work, he's constantly asked about WeCrashed, the entertaining Apple TV series about the dramatic rise and fall of what was once one of the world’s most valuable startups.

Moffett is General Manager of New Zealand’s leading flexible workspace provider, Generator, which started about the same time as WeWork, the office-sharing company that became a global disruptor worth $47 billion.

But where WeWork is legendary for its early days, a festive atmosphere with free alcohol and frat-style wild parties, Generator has kept its feet firmly on the ground, providing stylish, flexible spaces where work and networking can actually take place.

And where WeWork’s co-founder Adam Neumann was known for his flamboyant lifestyle, and a spectacular gift of the gab that led him to great heights before he was eventually kicked out of the business, Moffett takes a more practical approach.

“We always used to talk about the fact that Generator wasn't the seventh-form common room,” Moffett says.

“Although we have big community events, and we have parties and we have bars, Generator and flexible working today is a million miles from WeWork’s early days and what is shown in WeCrashed, because, you know, the industry has grown up and we want to be a functioning business.”

Both businesses, he says, were born out of the global financial crisis (GFC), when many people were laid off and started their own businesses. Unwilling or unable to work from home, demand from these newly independent contractors and agencies grew for co-working and flexible spaces.

Generator was started by founder Ryan Wilson 11 years ago at 28 Customs St, in Auckland, in a space that is still in use as Generator’s first.

Now owned by NZX-listed Precinct, the company has experienced massive growth, from one-and-a-half floors and fewer than 30 members a decade ago, to more than 22,000 square metres today. Generator now has four sites across Auckland and Wellington, with one more in Wellington to open this spring, for more than 1600 members from 250 companies, with an additional 1300 companies that use Generator for event and one-off spaces.

Generator opened its first Wellington site late last year and is already operating at 94% occupancy. The demand for high quality office space in the capital is high. 

"Our Waring Taylor site has really set the standard for flexible workspace in the capital. There was just nothing like it in the market, and Wellingtonians have really responded, as well as many Auckland members who are using it as their Wellington base.

“We are excited to open our second Wellington site at Bowen Campus near parliament later this year. Where WeWork excelled, Moffett says, was finding prominent spaces and taking leases, and finding investment to keep growing. They were also very good at creating communities.

The modern WeWork, sans founder Adam Neumann, is a more mature company that is more responsive to the needs of its customers, and one that Moffett is very keen to emphasise that he respects and admires.

“The whole industry of co-working spaces has matured. It was once the domain of one-man bands and startups,” says Moffett, “but now our members represent a cross-section of the New Zealand economy.”

Generator continues to evolve to meet new trends and working styles. Only 15% of its desks are now in open co-working spaces, with the rest taking their own offices.

Smaller businesses that lack the scale to have their own bar, executive boardroom, lounge and multiple meeting rooms, are taking advantage of the shared facilities Generator offers, combined with access to private, secure office suites.

Covid-19 has also impacted the business model.

Many businesses now only have a full staff in twice a week, with smaller numbers occupying desks the rest of the time, Moffett says. His members now want flexible spaces that can handle overflow and large occasional meetings, with the ability to flex down the rest of the time.

Some larger employers are responding to the current environment and the increased demand for flexibility by employees. They are taking flexible office spaces while they wait to see what the next five years will bring. Large and small companies, startups and established global corporates all find something they need at Generator.

“One of our key takeaways is that we’re finding employers have to earn their employees’ commute,” Moffett says.

“People don't really want to come into the office all the time any more. So, you need to make it something that they want to get up for, to shower, and to sit in the car or the bus in something other than comfortable trackies.

“Now, the office needs to offer them things they can’t get at home: professional IT equipment, the ability to connect and collaborate with others, and a space they are proud to show clients.”

This story featured on BusinessDesk.