On an overcast June Wednesday in downtown Chicago, the Research team at G2 Crowd set out to experience the varied wonders of local coworking spaces. Each selected a space to tour and work out of for the day, taking in the surroundings and whatever snacks or coffee they could get their hands on. Below are their firsthand accounts.
Brynne Ramella — Industrious
When I first heard about coworking spaces, I pictured a large, sparsely-decorated, quiet room. Visitors would occupy a seat at a large table, leaving space between themselves and nearby strangers. Apparently I thought visiting a coworking space would be like visiting a library. My trip to Industrious taught me that coworking is anything but that.
Industrious’ River North location changed my view. The space is pretty gorgeous. I was taken with the dark hardwood floors and Edison lightbulbs. As the community manager Mallory took me around the space, she talked about the sense of community they work to build with an in-office cafe and member events, such as the Dry Rub Class taking place in anticipation of Father’s Day. Throughout the day, I could see that Mallory’s talk of community wasn’t only talk. I observed members chit-chatting in the common areas, exchanging warm hellos and catching up with those who have been absent for a couple of days. I did miss being a part of the office culture, but I was a visitor on my first day; I had a skewed perspective.
As we walked around, I noticed that the space was mainly private offices, with fewer spots for solo members to work. Mallory confirmed that due to trends in coworking, they cater more to businesses looking for temporary homes than single workers. It is my understanding that Industrious is running with this trend to set themselves apart from other coworking spaces. They sometimes lean a little too hard into this — I felt the seating for us solo workers was not as comfortable as those renting the offices.
Industrious is a place that clearly values its members and wants them to feel as if this is their office. And if you and your team members need a temporary place to work, this is a great place to check out.
Grace Pinegar — MakeOffices
MakeOffices at the Loop has a surprisingly quiet location on State Street, a high-rise nestled between the kitschy storefronts that attract gaggles of Chicago tourists on these long-awaited summer days. The space can house up to 500 tenants — and so it does, in its other locations — but the two-story office at 1 N State St is currently home to a cozier 300.
My day there was quiet, shrouded in anonymity as I observed the permanent dwellers sitting alone at tables or conversing on the couches. I must have resembled some sort of corporate Goldilocks, testing out every piece of furniture and lighting arrangement to find what, in another life, may have been “my spot.” By far my favorite was the massage chair located in a quiet relaxation room, but I knew that was no place to accomplish reports.
I didn’t say much to anyone throughout the day, although I did learn the location has designated social evenings for those companies which would like to network or participate in a community atmosphere. People were cordial, yet busy, which makes sense in an environment where many begin, I suppose, so they may end up somewhere else. Secluded offices with soundproof glass featured more quietly working professionals whom I would pass on my way to the women’s room. I saw many offices in an in-between state with walls barren but desks messy, as though they weren’t interested in settling in, but rather focused on the grind.
I’m into coworking, but definitely realized the importance of having my own team around. During this out-of-office field trip, I found myself missing my lunch buddies and those little afternoon kitchen conversations that distract me just enough to help my mind get back into work. I think if my people had been around, I could have envisioned myself as a semi-permanent office holder. Being that I’m often energized by those little interactions that remind us we are real, I don’t think I’d excel at going it alone.
Andrew Zangre — Serendipity Labs
It was serendipity indeed, as Serendipity Labs is located mere steps away from the Civic Opera Building that houses G2 Crowd. I entered the glorious One South Wacker building, one short block from the Willis (né Sears) Tower, and was directed to the second floor. Brittany, the Director of Sales at Serendipity, welcomed me and gave me a tour of the immaculate space. She showed me to an open desk and even gave me an ottoman on which to rest my recovering foot. (Sledding accident … a story for another time.)
I kept mostly to myself on this particular occasion, as I was juggling a number of projects and urgent conversations, but was glad to hear numerous members of the space interacting and trading pleasantries throughout the day. I have some previous experience at coworking spaces and have seen friendships, work partnerships and even puppy love spawn from the organic mingling in these environments. It can be a double-edged sword, but Serendipity seems to create a nice balance of socialization and hard work. During my brief tour, I learned that Airbnb previously rented several private offices at S. Labs, and American Express still does to this day, so there must be a certain spice in the gumbo.
More than anything, what struck me about Serendipity Labs was the serene aesthetic. Save for the TV in the main cafe that was broadcasting the news — which is anything but relaxing, particularly in recent months — there was a sense of calm instilled by everything from the furniture choices to the lighting to the just-audible-enough background music (select cuts included Tycho and a mellow cover of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”) Some coworking spaces may gravitate toward a more colorful palette and lively mood, and for people who function better with beer and dogs in the room, this space would be less than ideal. But for ambitious and focused entrepreneurs who need a warm but peaceful room to thrive in, Serendipity Labs will continue to be a convenient oasis.
I wrapped up my productive day, thanked the staff, and grabbed a bus home just before the overcast sky devolved into a thunderstorm. But not before grabbing one of the complimentary Cuties that are a staple of the Serendipity Labs experience. Petite and sweet, like a peck on the cheek.
Jasmine Lee — COCO Coworking and Collaborative Space
COCO, a collaborative coworking space with roots in Minneapolis, has a serene, rustic location in the West Loop of Chicago. Chicago’s COCO is a bit smaller in size than its Minneapolis predecessors, but its mission remains the same: offer an inclusive, come-and-go shared office space for entrepreneurs, freelancers and small startups. Located in the space previously taken up by Enerspace Chicago, another coworking space, COCO expanded to take over the entire second floor. This means that there are essentially two functioning areas in the space. Campsites (dedicated, open-space desks that can accommodate up to eight people) are in the front, and startup suites (closed-door office spaces for startups that range from two workers to 10) are in the back. Throughout the space are tables — both small and big, in differing sizes — comfortable armchairs, meeting rooms, a shower, mother’s rooms, phone booths, a giant kitchen and dogs. The front half of COCO is rustic, warm and full of natural light, and the back half is modern, minimal and industrial.
COCO is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Aside from the campsites and startup suites, COCO offers flexible, monthly membership plans: An individual member can utilize “flex” times (a designated number of drop-in times), be full-time traveling members (which allows them to use any of the open desks and meeting rooms at any time of day), or have a dedicated desk (where they can store their office essentials, dual monitors and standup desks for however many months they paid for). While COCO doesn’t have snacks (it does have a kitchen with all the bells and whistles; I saw someone bring in a bag of dried pasta and a jar of sauce), it does have amazing Metropolis coffee and Rishi tea.
COCO fits a certain vibe: those who work well in almost-dead silence, with upbeat ‘80s music piped all day. The Chicago space is managed by two women, Alissa and Alysha-Aubrey, and they make a point to befriend their members. COCO hosts events and happy hours as well. Alissa, the community manager, has amazing rapport with the members — she’s cheerful, helpful and can call them by first names. I overheard one of the members plan for an upcoming happy hour the next day, just finalizing plans on stocking the kitchen, etc. For individuals and groups that thrive in a quiet, library setting, COCO is for you. COCO isn’t a boisterous, booming coworking space; rather, it supports and encourages those who work best when there’s little distraction.
Rob Light — Assemble Shared Office
Aptly named “Assemble” due to its ability to construct a productive workplace with a variety of cool and innovative companies.
Silent enough for me to get my work done, yet energetic enough to feel like I’m part of something bigger.
Suave enough for me to feel like a hip millennial, with the nice wooden desks and communal kitchen.
Everything provided for you: Pencils, pens, printers, coffee and cool desks.
Meeting rooms abound, for enhanced collaboration.
Beers in the fridge, and even though they weren’t mine and I didn’t drink one, still makes the place feel like home.
Lighting was a hinderance due to the lack of windows, but I was still able to be productive and efficient with my work. Also, no window washers distracted me midday with their incredible bravery.
End of the day was welcomed, because I had accomplished plenty and enjoyed my experience. While it was a fun experience, and makes too much sense if you are a small company or remote, I was happy to return to my desk and the familiarity of my office.
Aaron Walker — Forum West Loop
Forum West Loop was conveniently located adjacent to the Morgan Green Line CTA stop, though I did walk about 15 minutes from the Blue Line since the weather was wonderful. Upon arrival Hunter was welcoming, giving me a bit of the space’s history and a wonderful tour. He also gave another tour while I was there, so it seemed to be common. He also gave me suggestions on food around the neighborhood (which was quite abundant). The space itself was in a bit of flux, as the space had recently moved upstairs and some construction was going on. Still, once I settled into my relatively isolated and private working space, noise was not an issue.
My internet connection was solid and didn’t pose any problems throughout the day. Most coworking spaces I’ve visited had more open areas and glass doors and a modern feel, but Forum did feel like more of a traditional office. One company occupied about one-third of the existing space, which was separated from the remaining areas. The open spots consisted of a few singular desks and about 10 offices ranging from one- to five-person areas. There was also a full kitchen, coffee machine and adjacent seating area.
Everyone working there was friendly and kept to themselves for the most part. People looking for a handful of desks, some meeting rooms and a convenient location would not be disappointed. It’s not ideal for individuals unless you’re willing to rent one whole personal office, which range in price between about $1,300 and $2,200 per month. The staff there did seem open to help accommodate larger teams and provide the necessary resources.
All in all, the space seems ideal for small teams, rather than individuals. It’s not the totally glamorous West Loop Loft with high, open ceilings and glass windows, but it does provide the resources, like desks and meeting rooms, to comfortably house a small team. They have private IT server management to ensure reliable connectivity and little perks like free coffee and a great massage chair. Once construction is done, some minor clutter will be reduced. It’s in a cool, up-and-coming location. The staff is friendly and helpful. It’s more on the minimal end of modern coworking spaces, but it gets the job done.
Tom Hardin — Coalition: Impact
Coalition: Impact offers a variety of spaces for entrepreneurs, companies and freelancers to focus, collaborate and simply produce better work. I love this concept, as it brings people, ideas and knowledge together.
As I walk into my day of coworking, the pleasing aesthetics are the first thing to catch my eye. Reclaimed wood decorates the walls in the lobby and main workspace areas, while minimalist furniture and modern photography hang in half-enclosed boardrooms. I even found out later that the third floor features a room full of hammocks and a spacious kitchen.
Upon further exploration, I discover that they have seven floors that can take roughly 70 people each. On this day, however, it was quite calm on most floors, allowing for a quiet, relaxing atmosphere that allows me to focus on my tasks without distraction.
Although I enjoyed my experience at Coalition, there was one key ingredient missing: my team. If anything, being out of the office made me appreciate the people I am surrounded with every day. I like the concept of coworking, and if people were with me, I could see myself spending more and more time in a space like Coalition.