Co-working enabler WeWork is participating in the ongoing beta test for the Alexa for Business platform, with WeWork employees using Amazon Echo devices that have been integrated into the meeting rooms at the company's New York City headquarters, according to TechCrunch.
WeWork employees have been testing Alexa for Business capabilities and use cases for about a month, but the platform should be rolled out to WeWork customers later in the year.
An "Ask WeWork" skill allows users to reserve meeting rooms, see which meeting rooms are empty, control the lighting in a meeting room, or find out the status of a meeting scheduled for a particular room.
The report also says that WeWork has integrated Alexa for Business, which was formally announced this week, with customer service software from Zendesk so users can report problems in a meeting room by using voice commands. Alexa for Business could also become a key component of WeWork's "Powered by We" offering, a white label product under which WeWork handles a variety of aspect of office set-up for large businesses.
It will be interesting to see where all this goes, given WeWork's apparent plans to get more involved in the retail sector, especially considering the anxiety most retailers have when it comes to working with Amazon. Indeed, Amazon's virtual assistant, though paired with Kohl's and Sears, has been largely shunned by other retailers — oftentimes in preference to a more neutral partner, Google Home. Big players like Home Depot, Walmart and eBay have all chosen to pair with Google for voice shopping, likely uncomfortable over partnering with their powerful online rival.
Alexa for Business, aimed mainly at making the lives of business owners and operators easier, allows users to control things like utilities and security functions through the Echo smart speaker, and helps them replenish supplies more efficiently by asking Alexa to order them. It's a smart move, as Amazon continues to expand in a market where it already holds the majority of the market share, but other retailers have reason to be wary: integrating the voice assistant into the workplace could mean that the majority of business purchases come from Amazon, not retailers like Staples or Office Depot.
While the platform certainly isn't tested yet, partnering with companies like WeWork could make it too valuable and too widely applicable too ignore.