These Chicago Tech Companies Outgrew Their Offices in 2021

Local darlings and tech giants alike announced new Chicago offices this year, but these offices will look very different in a post-Covid world.

Written by Gordon Gottsegen
Published on Dec. 14, 2021
These Chicago Tech Companies Outgrew Their Offices in 2021
chicago skyline tech office openings 2021
Photo: Shutterstock

You may remember what working from home felt like at the start of the pandemic. There was a general feeling of uncertainty as businesses had to pivot or lay people off. Maybe you had to learn new software tools just to do the same job you’ve been doing for years. Boundaries between your work-life balance began to blur into simultaneous anxiety and fatigue. Days were spent in the clothes you woke up in. You may have longed for casual human interaction, a sense of purpose, a glimmer of hope or maybe even the kombucha on tap that your office kept freshly stocked.

For many of us, working from home became a part of our lives throughout 2020 and 2021. But as people got vaccinated and learned to cope with Covid, many of the companies that sent people home indefinitely in 2020 made plans to bring back in-person work in 2021. Doing so, however, was more complicated than simply unlocking the office doors.

Offices in 2021 had to provide a safe space for employees to gather while the threat of Covid was still looming in the background. This meant desk setups that provided space for social distancing, masking rules, vaccine requirements, sanitized communal spaces and so on. Offices in 2021 also had to entice employees to leave the comfort of their homes in favor of in-person collaboration.

On top of this, countless Chicago tech companies actually grew in 2020 and 2021, as the pandemic spurred a new era of tech adoption and many local startups — like Cameo and ShipBob — achieved unicorn status. So many tech companies welcomed far more employees back into the office than they had when the office was closed.

These factors led many Chicago companies to open new offices in 2021. These companies included big national tech names, Chicago startup successes and everything in between, and their new offices included luxe amenities, spacious floor plan layouts and more.

Built In has collected a handful of the new Chicago tech office openings that made headlines this year. These office openings offer a sense of who’s growing on the local tech scene, what 2022 might look like — and why the CTA is so crowded during rush hour again.

 

The 167 N. Green building exterior
The exterior of 167 N Green. | Photo: Shapack Partners

The Fulton Market Frontier

What do you think about when you hear the term “office perks?” Maybe catered meals, a plethora of conference rooms, lounge spaces to relax in, amenities like fitness rooms and so on. Before the pandemic, these were the things that made you actually want to spend time in your office, and what set your office apart from other fluorescently lit rooms with open floor plans.

Several companies realized that in order to make an office be a compelling place to be in 2021, they’d have to open offices that felt premium or special. So what better place to open an office like this than 167 N Green Street?

167 N Green Street is a 17-story glass building located in the West Loop. The building was designed by famed architectural firm Gensler and completed in late 2020. It has a clean look from the outside, which makes it feel at home in the hip Fulton Market neighborhood. It’s LEED Gold-certified with state of the art features like its own smart building app for tenants. On top of that, it has a “mews” pedestrian pathway on the ground floor, where the public can walk through and visit a variety of street-level retail shops.

But the inside is where it stands out. The building is filled with luxe amenities, including a spacious rooftop terrace, gym, game room, lounges and a full basketball court that doubles as a town hall space. And those are just the communal spaces.

So when Chicago logistics startup MoLo Solutions was deciding where to open its new office, it knew 167 N Green was the right choice.

167 N Green basketball court
167 N Green's full-sized basketball court. | Photo: Shapack Partners

“We wanted to build the best work environment and the best culture for our people,” MoLo COO Matt Vogrich previously told Built In. “We think that the people are the tip of the spear in this industry, since this is a relationship-driven business. So we want our people to be happy, excited and passionate about the work that they do — so that they provide the best experience for our drivers and our shippers.”

Like many other companies, MoLo has adapted to a hybrid work model, supporting both in-person and remote work. It acknowledges that not everyone will want to return to in-person work right away, and many will opt to only work in-person a few times a week or month. So it has to balance both of these needs for employees — providing flexibility for people to work remotely and providing a luxe space to make employees happy when they work in person.

Chicago IoT startup Hologram also signed a lease for the 167 N Green building earlier this year. Hologram has also been operating remotely for the bulk of 2020 and 2021, and while it plans to prioritize remote work, it wanted to have an office space that could act as a central hub and meeting space.

“We’ve had a ‘remote-first’ philosophy from the beginning and that has not changed — we’re continuing to hire the best talent, no matter their locations. That’s why we have great team members throughout the country,” Hologram CEO and co-founder Ben Forgan told Built In.

He continued, “Following our $65 million Series B funding led by Tiger Global, we knew we’d need additional space as we’re on track to triple our team. We thought 167 N Green was the perfect space for us given that we wanted more than just office space. Our goal is to have a collaborative hub where we can conduct team training sessions, brainstorming sessions and more.”

 

The lobby of Chicago’s old main post office
The interior of Chicago’s Old Post Office in 2020. | Photo: Shutterstock

The Old Post Office Is New Again

Some office openings in 2021 were merely the fruition of plans made pre-Covid.

Chicago’s Old Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St. has been one of the city’s most impressive art deco buildings since it was built in the early 20th century. But in 1997, the building stopped serving its original purpose as a post office. After sitting vacant for a few years, real estate company 601W Companies purchased the building in 2016 with plans to turn it into office spaces. The renovated building started accepting leases for new tenants in 2019, but it didn’t have much time before the pandemic caused companies to shut down their offices.

However, one of the building’s major tenants came back in 2021. Ride-hailing tech giant Uber signed its lease for the Old Post Office in 2019, but didn’t officially move in until October 2021. In 2019, Uber had revealed its plans to hire 2,000 Chicago-based jobs over the next few years — a feat which would make Uber one of the largest tech employers in Chicago. When Uber did finally move in, it celebrated the grand opening of its 460,000-square-foot office with an event attended by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and local press.

“Today’s opening is an exciting moment for our city and we look forward to continuing to find ways to spur dynamic and inclusive economic growth across Chicago,” Lightfoot said at the event.

But Uber wasn’t the only San Francisco tech giant to move into the building. Telecom company Cisco also announced that it would open its regional HQ in the Old Post Office. Cisco revealed that it would lease 130,000 square feet in the building, which would provide enough space for 1,200 employees. Cisco also said that it planned to invest $21 million into building out its Chicago office.

And of course, this major move also caught the attention of Mayor Lightfoot.

“On behalf of our great city, I am thrilled to welcome Cisco to Chicago,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “As a part of our growing business community, Cisco will be able to benefit from the tremendous amount of advantages our city provides, including convenient access to global markets and a diverse workforce and talent pipeline. I look forward to formally welcoming Cisco to our city in the very near future and identifying ways we can partner together to continue driving inclusive and equitable economic development.”

THE OLD POST OFFICE LIBRARY
The Old Post Office Library. | Photo: Post433

These two SF tech companies had already set up roots in Chicago, and grown over the course of the following years. That growth continued while their offices were closed in 2020, so when 2021 rolled around, they needed hundreds of thousands of square feet to accommodate their local employee bases. Both of them turned to the Old Post Office as one of the few office buildings with this much space to offer.

But not every company to open offices in the building in 2021 needed space for thousands of employees.

Crypto ATM startup CoinFlip also announced that it was moving into the Old Post Office this year, leasing 44,000 square feet of office space. As interest in cryptocurrency exploded over the past few years, so has CoinFlip. The company ranked No. 1 on the Crain’s annual Fast 50 list, with 1,715,091.9 percent growth over the past five years. CoinFlip also revealed its plans to hire for over 30 jobs while retaining at least 138 employees.

Chicago UX and digital design firm Codal also moved into the building earlier this year. Like the other companies, Codal needed the new space to accommodate its growth plans, since it expected to double in size. But on top of that, company leaders at Codal cited the need for in-person collaboration for its business. Working remotely just wasn’t the same.

“Team collaboration is a core value at Codal, and it is essential to our client experience. After over a year of working remotely, we are thrilled to invite our team and clients back with our new space when it is safe to do so. This office not only offers room for growth but allows us to welcome our staff back to an invigorating space that we hope will be a breath of fresh air for our team as they make the transition back into the office after working from home,” Codal COO Matt Gierut said in a statement.

 

175 W Jackson exterior
175 W Jackson | Photo: Brookfield Properties

The Loop Is Healing

These two buildings are far from the only buildings welcoming new corporate tenants, and the companies mentioned above are far from the only ones getting new offices in Chicago. Logistics tech company Loadsmart got a new office at 175 W. Jackson, market intelligence platform Tegus got a new office too, Built In got a new office (humble brag) and the list goes on.

These companies are slowly bringing people back to the Loop and the bordering downtown neighborhoods. As that happens, these typically dense neighborhoods are starting to resemble their pre-pandemic days.

But with these new offices, things are different than how they were before. Companies have grown and have to fit a lot more people while providing social distancing, companies have to adhere to municipal Covid regulations like masking, companies have to accommodate employees who want to stay remote and so on. So while there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in an office soon, don’t be surprised when people still call into meetings via Zoom.

 

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