5 CoWorking Spaces in Chicago

During my short 5-year stay in Chicago I worked at 5 different coworking spaces.

If this is you, you might need a coworking space:

  • You work from home…in your PJs
  • Your breaks consists of watching TV and Xbox
  • You feel like a recluse at home
  • You are starting to talk to yourself…out loud.
  • You are tired of working from Starbucks or the public library
  • You hate Regus

1. OfficePort Chi

This was my first space. Great location in the loop, a walk away to everything.

They have a great floor, conference rooms, phone rooms, free coffee, 24hr access. And it was cheap too. I was paying $300 for an assigned desk that included a big file cabinet.

I could make phone calls all day out loud and nobody cared. I liked that, because I was on the phone all the time.

I liked their open-floor plan, loft style. Which made it easier to just walk up to anybody and talk to them. Although later on they started to build a lot of closed-door offices.

I met a few good people at this office.

This place was selling as “Collaborative Workspace”. Back then I thought this meant: community, networking and a sense of “let’s help each other”.

This was not so organic.

I left this office because they had so many internet problems.

It seemed like the owners installed the cheapest hardware. They were flying over their tech from Kansas City to maintain the network. I guess Chicago doesn’t have any IT people to hire for this.

People complained. I complained. They made promises that didn’t happen. Until I decided to tweet about it.

I tweeted “The internet at OfficePort never works”. 5 minutes later I get a visit from the office manager who calls me into the conference room and asks me “Do we have a problem?”. And told me to leave.

2. The Coop

I started to like this place more because it was right outside of a Brown Line station. The place is very nice inside, it is loft style but it looked like the owners cared about making it look nice.

I worked here on and off, when I was traveling a lot.

I was paying monthly $300 for a fixed desk, that was more like first come first served. I was embarrassed to ask somebody “why are you at my desk?”.

At the OfficePort I learned I was using the file cabinet to store junk. So I didn’t get one here.

A couple of people were nice to me. Some people were not. The office manager and the folks over at Desktime were really nice. I initially thought that most of the coworking people were unfriendly. But maybe they were friends with the people that were there the most and didn’t make an effort with folks like me who were coming and going.

The place ended up being too quiet to me. I felt awkward making a lot of calls, because most of the people seemed to be the non-calling types so it was very quiet.

I left to find a space closer to where I lived.

3. Ravenswood Coworking

This place was a 5 min commute. While at OfficePort and the Coop the ride was 45 minutes. Ravenswood was really really close.

The guys over there were very nice to me. The office manager was very friendly.

He let me try the space for a week. He even bought me lunch once. This place was much smaller but very comfortable.

I really regret not staying there.

The bad was that if there was a meetup I had to take the train all the way down to the loop. I did it once and it was a pain.

I left to go to 1871.

4. 1871

While commuting at the previous places, the word on the street was that they were going to open a tech hub in Chicago and everybody wanted to be there. I applied too.

While working at Ravenswood they told me I was approved to work there.

The best comparison of 1871 would be like The Ivy in Los Angeles. If you don’t watch TMZ, this is the place where you spot all the movie celebrities.

At 1871 you spot all the Chicago celebrities and more. And I was there like the paparazzi I like to be.

I even volunteered for the opening of 1871.

The place has offices for a lot of the local VCs, business schools, CodeAcademy and a built-in Intelligentsia coffee shop.

The office space is divided into shared spaces and assigned desks. Shared was more like “sit anywhere there is room” and assigned had assigned desks behind a glassed room with access cards.

I was working at the shared space.

1871 is a place for startups. From a investor point of view it makes sense. Put a lot of startups in one place, watch them closely and out of 10 or 20 you might hit a home run. From a startup point of view is a hit and miss. If you are there networking you are not really working, if you are there working you are missing on networking.

Like the good paparazzi that I am, I was trying to stalk every living soul in tech Chicago. It worked, because I met a lot of people.

If I really wanted to work I had to sit down in a corner facing the wall where I would not see anybody.

The guy running the office Kevin Willer is an excellent person. Very friendly and open to talk to anybody.

It was fun to work there but it was an efficiency wreck if you wanted to get some work done.

All the VCs have an office there and they would come and go. What I learned was that only because VCs were there you couldn’t really go into their office and say hi. They would not give you any preference just because you worked at 1871. They treat you nice and with respect, but just cause you worked at 1871 didn’t mean your startup was the next Groupon.

5. Starbucks and the Public Library

These 2 places are the most underestimated coworking spaces. Now that Starbucks offers free Wifi there are more people freelancing there.

In particular the Starbucks on Chicago and Franklin, right outside the Chicago Brown Line station. This place looks like it was built with the purpose of being an office space. It has high long tables to sit a bunch of people and it has outlets everywhere. It also host the weekly Code and Coffee on Tuesday, where you can stalk all the usual suspects of Ruby on Rails in Chicago.

The public libraries in Chicago are the most underused real estate and working spaces. I worked at a Public Library in Ravenswood that has 50 computer stations that were not used for half a day.

It is the best place to get some work done that does not involve making calls. The bad thing is that you cannot really leave your stuff unattended while you take a bathroom brake. Maybe you could but I don’t trust Chicago.

6. My ideal coworking space.

  • Less than 20min commute
  • Aeron chairs
  • Cubicles that have high tables where you can either work standing or sit at the table
  • Free premium coffee (not the crappy one)
  • A conference room

What is you coworking space like?