The net and a desk
Is 'coworking' the office of the future?
05/13/2009 10:00 PM
Freelancers, telecommuters and independent contractors these days have a new way to get things done, and it’s called “coworking” (enthusiasts insist there is no hyphen). A new coworking space that opened last January in a former chicken processing plant aims to provide Chicago’s independent workers with a different kind of occupational environment.
The Coop, 845 W. Fulton, is a hip office space where graphic designers, programmers, Internet entrepreneurs and other tech workers can pay $20, $90 or $300 to rent a desk with fast internet access for a day, week or month respectively.
“It’s great. I spent probably at least a year working out of my apartment, and doing that just kind of drove me insane,” said Brett Yates, a freelance computer programmer and a client of Coop. “I started to find I was getting a lot less done – I’d go to coffee shops and get more done in two hours than in a full day at home.”
That lack of productivity drove Yates to explore coworking. “I got out and kind of checked out a couple different places and this one seemed exactly like I was looking for.”
Sam Rosen, 23, operates his Web design business, One Design Company, in one section of the loft. The other portion is reserved for independent workers and freelancers to use for coworking. The easily reconfigurable loft space can comfortably house perhaps a half dozen such workers at a time and offers a relaxed workspace with exposed brick walls laden with art.
Rosen sees the space as a resource for generating business and for fleshing out new ideas and not merely as a useful place for getting work done.
“It’s an incubator model,” said Rosen. “We’re not by any means asking for a stake in anyone’s venture, but the idea is if they come here and they’re starting up something, and it works, they’re going to need help. And we can help, or we know people to help. That’s cool, and that seems a lot more natural and nicer.”
Dan Hodos, Linsey Burritt and Brett Yates toil at The Coop, a shared-rental office space.
The coworking movement began several years ago in California, but has rapidly become a global phenomenon. Chicago hasn’t yet gotten completely on board with the idea of coworking, but it’s catching on.
“It was kind of a slow start for us, getting things out there and advertising,” said Linsey Burritt, a designer for One Design Company and a leader of Coop. “People in Chicago haven’t heard about it as much as other cities.”
An informal “coworker visa” program lets members of one coworking space use the facilities of other coworking groups when they travel.
Eric Marden, a freelance web programmer and coworking advocate who helps run a coworking space in Orlando, Fla, said trend is becoming more widespread. More people in more cities are opening spaces, and some places have multiple locations. Austin, Texas, Marden said, has three coworking venues.
Marden used Coop recently to work on programming projects while visiting his family in Chicago. He. traded ideas with Rosen and Burritt during his stay.
“The coworking [in Florida] kind of grew out of our BarCamps,” the open conferences on technology and culture, Marden said. “For us, it’s the physical hub now. Sort of the creative club house for all the stuff that was already happening all over the city, but it kind of lets us gel and have an area to work. We still all do our own thing, but we all kind of come together for that sort of stuff.”
Coworking may not yet be mainstream, but Rosen said it has caught the attention of many successful independent professionals.
“We’re lucky because we’re busy, but you hear so much about how people are struggling,” Rosen said. “People who come here are not struggling. People who come in here are thriving. The people who are sitting down working, they’re here because they have too much work to do. They need a place to focus. That’s interesting.”