(Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)
At the beginning of the month, coworking giant WeWork opened its most recent space in the D.C. area — its seventh that’s currently in operation — in the towering Metropolitan Square office building just across 15th Street from the White House. Yes, the same building that houses Old Ebbitt Grill, from which the smell of lunch wafted as I took my tour.
Met Square is gigantic. In total the space boasts over 2,000 desks, spread over two floors — the upstairs floor was just receiving its finishing touches last Thursday. And it’s not just the general space that’s big. Sure, the space has the typical hot desks and two- to ten-person private offices. But then there are the offices that are significantly larger than those on offer in WeWork’s other D.C. locations — the biggest accommodates 146 desks.
What kind of D.C. startup needs a 146 person office inside a WeWork? At that size, couldn’t they get their own office?
These might not be the right questions to ask, a WeWork spokesperson suggests. “The same things that appeal to a two-person startup appeal to Deutsche Bank,” I’m told.
With that 146-desk office, WeWork is testing a theory we’ve heard come up in panel discussions on coworking and the workplace and beyond — coworking isn’t just a convenience for the lil guys, it’s the future of work spaces, period.
“It used to be that there’s coworking and then traditional offices. And that’s just crazy — there are like 76 flavors in between,” the WeWork spokesperson told me. Yes, at 146 employees you could probably swing a proprietary office. But then you’d have to deal with all the operations like WiFi and coffee and fruit water — all of which WeWork is more than happy to take care of. For a price. So why not? (So the thinking goes, WeWork hopes.)
It’ll be interesting to watch what happens with the bigger offices at Met Square. To date, WeWork has focused on the small business and creative market, and now the company is looking to move beyond it. Whether 146-person companies are also ready to move forward in this direction would seem a strong indicator of whether coworking (or something like it) is indeed the future of work — or just an idea along the way.