How to Pick the Right Coworking Space For You
By Jamie Russo on June 26th, 2013
So you’re ready to get out of your house or your local Starbucks and into a coworking space. But you’ve never shopped for a coworking space before so where do you start?
The goal of this post is to give you a coworking shopping guide and do a round up of coworking options in Chicago.Step 1: Decide What You Want Out of Your Coworking Space
Here’s what you should expect from every coworking space:
- A variety of membership options to fit your needs
- High speed wifi
- A desk
- A comfortable chair (these vary greatly in quality)
- Free caffeine
Additional offerings/amenities that you might add to your list:
An actively managed community. Every coworking space will use the word “community” or “collaboration” in their marketing. If this component is important to you, make sure you understand how it’s played out. Evidence of an active community will include photos of member events, an “events” section on the website, someone that greets you for your tour that has the title “community manager” vs. “operations manager.” This part is the most subjective and based on culture. A major benefit of coworking is access to a community of other entrepreneurs and mobile professionals. You may want more or less of this. Get a sense from the spaces’ website and tour guide how much of this goes on and how easy it is for you to opt in or out.
A niche community - i.e., “makers,” photographers, architects, screen printers, filmmakers, developers, high tech start-ups, brewers (ok, this one is not in Chicago but it SHOULD be!)
Niche amenities - yoga classes, fitness space, partner discounts, video conferencing, high-end conference rooms, espresso machines
Events - You’re an entrepreneur or a mobile employee into professional development – on-site events are certainly efficient, convenient and a great way to interact with space and community members.
Private offices – Not all coworking spaces offer private offices. If your team needs private space, make sure to look for this option or email the space for availability.
Configurable seating – Maybe you don’t need a private office but you would like to sit in a “pod” with your team for easy collaboration/interaction. Some coworking spaces are designed to support this, some are not. Another thing to email the space about if this is a priority.
Phone rooms for a brief, private phone call – most spaces have these but can’t hurt to check.
Conference rooms – Most spaces also have these, but if you have specific needs, make sure your membership includes enough hours and that the conference room quality/amenities meet your needs.
Bike Racks/Storage – ’nuff said.
Showers – Biking to work or running at lunch? Showers are awesome for that.
Kitchen – These range from just a microwave to full kitchen with stove/oven, dishwasher, fridge/freezer.
Lunch options - Most spaces in Chicago are at least within Jimmy John’s delivery range but think about what you like to do for lunch and make sure the relevant options exist. A space in the loop will have endless options while a neighborhood space will have fewer but probably more local/interesting options. The neighborhood spaces probably have better kitchens.
Furniture/space design/natural light – Coworking is still very new and you will find quite a range of spaces that range from “I had some extra space and got some furniture off of Craig’s List so you could come hang out with me during the day” to “I hired a space designer and an IT engineer and this space is pimped out.”
Storage – mobile peds, lockers, cubbies. Find out what’s included and what’s available for an extra fee.
Printing – most of us just don’t print that much anymore but if you have specific needs, make sure to check the printing equipment and policies. Most spaces offer some black and white printing for free each month and charge for color printing.
24/7 access – Some do, some don’t. Make sure to ask.
Staff - Most spaces are staffed. Some offer more service than others. For example, Workspring uses the term “highly hosted” while many other coworking spaces are going to have their staff focus on making sure you have enough coffee and internet, the space is neat and tidy and the community is growing and developing.
Location – It’s like the gym, if it’s not convenient, you won’t want to go. Unless your boss works there and says you have to. As coworking advances, Chicago is seeing spaces pop up in every neighborhood. So decide if you want a neighborhood location or a Loop/near loop location. That probably depends on how often you need to be in the Loop for client meetings and networking events. Decide if you want to be able to drive and park or take public transpo.Step 2: Determine your budget
You’ve decided you’re willing to pay for productivity, community, and gosh-darn it, a wi-fi signal stronger than 4mbs. Next decide how much you’ll use the space. Are you the all-in type that wants a dedicated desk that you can personalize? Or do you and your Macbook Air just want to show up a few times a month when you need some company or some super-focused time?
Remember that as with all things in life, you get what you pay for. More expensive spaces have better design, better Internet, comfier chairs, better staff, better coffee, more convenient location. Coworking space owners are not getting rich. They have a personal guarantee on at least a 5-year lease and they’re spending $300 to $800/month just on coffee for you crazy kids. So nicer spaces have to charge you more because it costs them more to make the space nice.
In additon to membership fees, consider other costs – How much will it cost you to get there every day? If you need to get into the Loop frequently, what will you spend on cabs or CTA rides? If they don’t have a kitchen, how much will you spend on eating lunch out every day?Step 3: Review the options online
The go-to resource for finding coworking spaces in Chicago is a directory run by Sam Rosen who also runs the Coop, a coworking space in River North. Space owners create a listing and post for free. The spaces are listed in order of distance from some location that is probably State and Madison. So if you’re looking for a non-loop location, keep scrolling! If you’re looking for a space to work or a meeting room on a very occasional basis, Liquidspace is the next-best resource.Step 4: Narrow down your list and go visit
If you use Desktime, you can email inquiries to your list of spaces right through their system. Or you can email/call each of them to schedule a tour. Some will offer a free day pass which is a great way to get a feel for the space before committing.
Your tour guide is probably the “community manager.” This person might also own the space – depends on the size of the space and the age of the coworking space. As spaces get bigger and more mature, they tend to hire more staff to support the space and the people. This person is probably a pretty good representation of the vibe of the space and how much support you’ll get there. Ask lots of questions from your “What I want out of my coworking space” list and take notes. Better yet, stay and work for a few hours so that you can get a better feel for the space.
A few notes on what to look for:
- Is the kitchen/coffee area in a state that works for you?
- Is the aesthetic as nice as the pictures you saw online?
- Will the noise level work for you?
- Are there a variety of settings that meet different needs, i.e., meeting space, quiet space, lounge space.
- Ask about member events – what are they, what’s turnout like.
- If there are requirements to get in, this is a good time to understand those better by asking the community manager about them.
- How does it feel? Aside from the more objective criteria you’re looking for, how does it feel? Does it give you energy? Are you excited to sit down and get to it, do you have that positive feeling of anticipation around meeting some of the people you encounter? Does your “little voice” tell you that this is going to be the place where you do your best work?
Platform Coworking – 4,000 sq feet in Ravenswood. Fresh, clean, modern with a mix of work spaces including private offices. Right off of the Montrose Brown Line.
Workspring is a “highly hosted,” highly designed coworking space at 30 West Monroe. Catering more to corporate clients, it’s still a beautiful space for an individual to do work. It is the highest priced option in Chicago but per my note above, you get what you pay for.
River North Space:
The Coop: One of THE original coworking spaces in the country. Founder Sam Rosen found a hot spot right off of the brown line. Great light, great people, great location.
Worth Waiting For:
Industrious – Best for those that need private space. In River North at Ohio and Orleans. This 17,000 square feet space will focus more on private space. It’ll have 72 offices with some open seating.
Grind Spaces – Best for those that want to be in the Loop. Their first location is in Manhattan. Opening in Summer 2013 on the 14th floor at 2 North LaSalle, it’ll have beautiful views and lots of light. Their typical model is all open space and application only.
Suburban Special Mention:
Plugin Workspace - Best for those nea Highland Park that run a business and want to be out and working with other entrepreneurs and mobile professionals without having to commute into the city.
*This post purposefully does not address spaces like 1871 or Tech Nexus. They are widely known and written about and are for a very specific segment of the population. It also doesn’t include executive suites that also offer coworking.