• Nicole Vasquez

Coworking Around Chicago: An Inside Look at The Roof Crop, Officeport, & Free Range

Updated: Dec 31, 2018

In the age of Airbnb and Uber, people are sharing their homes, their cars, and now they’re sharing workspaces. Chicago has seen a boom in “coworking spaces” due to the rapidly growing rate of remote workers, creative professionals, startups, and people who can work from anyplace with a solid WiFi signal.

Coworking spaces provide a solution to the isolation and distraction of working from home, offer an escape from fighting for a table at Starbucks, and are more affordable than renting your own office. Additionally, coworking spaces are known to be breeding grounds for cross-industry collaboration and networking that happens naturally due to daily interaction with other professionals.

Yet coworking is not a one-size-fits-all industry. Coworking spaces, like neighborhoods in Chicago, each have their own unique personality, environment, services, and amenities. A space’s ownership, location, and partnerships can also play a role in its offerings to members, and many are actively involved in their local communities.

For The Green Thumb | The Roof Crop

The Roof Crop (1516 W. Carroll Ave, Chicago IL 60607)

An urban farm with a sunlight-filled workspace, event space, and photo studio.

Perfect For: West Town and Fulton Market residents wanting a quiet spot outside of the daytime bustle along Chicago Ave, Randolph and Lake streets. Downtowners looking for a unique, yet nearby space to work from, hold off-site meetings, or host events. Or, any green-minded person and urban farm enthusiast.

Not A Good Fit For: Someone who prefers a busy, people-packed work environment.

Environment: Although The Roof Crop is located in the industrial part of town, it’s coworking space is calm, cozy, and bright. Surrounded by windows, the open area loft space is drenched in sunlight and surrounded by greenery and florals. The cleanly exposed brick and smooth wood floors are complimented by white chairs and soft-blue colored walls. With an adjoining rooftop deck and gorgeous skyline views, you’ll find it hard not to take your workday outdoors.

Unique Services: The rooftop farm harvests produce weekly from May through December.  Coworkers can sign up for the weekly harvest, meaning they can come in to get work done and leave with a bag of fresh produce picked that day!

Unique Amenities: A rooftop deck with WiFi and plenty of sun. A popcorn machine for midday snacks, and a ping-pong table and dartboard for friendly coworker competition.

Partnerships & Collaboration: Coinciding with their focus on food and the urban environment, The Roof Crop has partnered with a variety of local chefs, farmers markets, restaurants, and catering companies. Recently, they collaborated with Lakeview restaurant Bites Asian Tapas to host a Ramen Pop-Up event.

Ownership: Robin Ryan and Hannah Perron are the Project Coordinators that oversee The Roof Crop’s coworking space along with the daily happenings of the whole building including the farm, deck, and event space. The Roof Crop itself is a collaboration of businesses such as The Runner Collective and Omni Ecosystems, and nonprofits Empowerment through Education and Exposure (EEE), and Urban Habitat.

For The Loop Bound | Officeport

Officeport (9 W. Washington, Chicago IL 60602)

Modern offices and open coworking, in a newly renovated loop location, with a buttoned-down approach to the professional environment.

Perfect For: Attorneys needing to run back and forth to the Daley Center which is just around the corner, or anyone working in the public sector needing easy access to the various state, federal, and government offices nearby. People who take multiple train lines or bus routes throughout the day. Anyone looking for a central location in the loop.

Not Good For: Professionals looking for the buttoned-up, rigid feel often found in downtown offices.

Environment: While the main workspace of Officeport has the classic modern look: white walls, clean lines, and glass doors, its newly redecorated lobby and lounge areas are outfitted with mid-century modern furniture and bronze accents creating a Mad Men era luxury aesthetic. Mix in 2017 amenities like beer on tap and a shuffleboard table, and you’ll discover why Officeport is not your typical Loop location.

Unique Services: Implementing the request of several of their current members, Officeport will roll out a staffing assistance program this summer.

Unique Amenities: Bike racks are hard to come by in the loop, and with the thousands of people walking around daily, Officeport installed bike racks inside their office plus added a shower for an extra biker-friendly amenity.

Partnerships: Officeport recently underwent a full renovation and worked closely with BAUX, a company that designs environmentally-friendly, recyclable material made from wood wool, cement, and water to create their acoustic panels which are strategically placed throughout the space for ultimate, but still aesthetically-pleasing, sound management.

Collaboration: The diversity of industry amongst Officeport’s members naturally encourages cross-collaboration. According to management, the software companies regularly share ideas with attorney groups, and startups like the wine club Direct Cellars, and auto-tech company CarVi are a flexible, collaborative presence in the space.

Ownership: Clay Cowherd is the owner and operator of Officeport, with assistance from part-time office managers. Clay’s attention to detail was the driving force behind the successful renovation that turned Officeport into a gorgeous place to work. Adding in Clay’s friendly and accommodating personality, Officeport is also a place that encourages its tenants to work hard, but at the end of the day have a little fun.

For The Bucktowner | Free Range Office

Free Range Office (2141 W. North Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago IL 60647)

A private loft apartment turned into a coworking space with a living room meets coffee shop vibe.

Perfect For: Remote workers and freelancers who want the relaxed, work-from-home atmosphere without the distractions of working from home (pets, laundry, fridge, naps). Wicker Park/Bucktown residents and coffee shop hoppers.

Not Good For: Nights and weekend workers. Evening are quiet at Free Range, and on weekends the workspace is often rented out for private events such as baby showers and wedding showers.

Environment: What makes Free Range truly unique is its location in a converted private loft space, on the second floor of a turn-of-the-century building with residences on the first floor.

Everything about Free Range feels like a classic Chicago apartment: the carpeted entryway staircase, long hallways and tall ceilings, living room furniture, and the occasional hidden creak as you walk across the wooden floor. Large windows border the entire space, letting natural light stream in from every angle.

Throughout the workday you’ll hear a mix of comfortable sounds: people making coffee in the kitchen, heating water in the tea kettle, or warming their lunch on the stovetop.

Unique Services: Free Range may attract the work-from-home crowd, but they can provide all the bells and whistles of a traditional office: A private line for a VoIP phones,  a commercial mailbox and dedicated suite number for your business address, along with their very own IT Department that can answer your tech problems within an hour!

Unique Amenities: A small outdoor terrace provides coworkers the opportunity for a peaceful retreat from the hectic workday, and feels more like an English garden than an office.

Partnerships: Free Range currently works with the SBA, SCORE mentors, and private consultants to host small business Lunch and Learn events, all of which are free for members and the public.

With a female founder and community manager, Free Range is committed to continuing women’s advocacy in Chicago and has future plans to provide onsite childcare for their coworking community.

Collaboration: Given the intimate and approachable environment, it is no surprise that collaboration amongst members happens regularly. Examples include a tech startup hiring a freelance backend web developer who sat a few desks away, a PR professional working with a new fashion brand, and a graphic designer helping another member with their logo.

Ownership: Free Range Office was founded in 2013 by Liane Jackson, a mom of two, an entrepreneur, attorney and journalist. Renée Fetty, who has worked for several startups including launching a brewpub, is the Free Range Community Manager who’s friendly, accommodating manner makes everyone feel right at home.

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