The slogan for Creative Coworking is “Your Office Home.” While this may seem like an oxymoron, one soon finds that it is not. Set in a small storefront at 922 Davis St. the space, from the outside could pass for just another three flat of apartments. Walking in, one encounters what feels like a comfortable living room that gives way to a long hall and then to a modern kitchen and a deck in the back. Though no one actually lives there, some might wish that they could.
The changing forms of the modern office are all over and nowhere more evident than in cooperative arrangements like these. Far from the static offices of the past, where employees were bound to their corded phones and mounds of files, the new version allows individuals to figure out for themselves where they can be most productive. Often all they need is a quiet place with a desk, WiFi and a printer. Though this freedom is wonderful in many respects, it can also present a dilemma.
Homes can be full of personal distractions. Cafes can be subject to overbearing conversations at the next table or intrusive music at the whim of the barista. Libraries may have the requisite silence but feel too sterile and public. This was the situation faced by Angela Valavanis when she decided to open Creative Coworking work space about four years ago. She could not find a good place to do her editorial freelancing that was not too far from Evanston to be practical. Working on one’s own without a colleague to occasionally consult on some issue, could also be isolating. She figured others were probably in the same situation.
Thanks to technology and other economic forces, the kind of place where the only unaccustomed faces are the latest recruits has been transformed into one where people from all walks of life gather to pursue different, hopefully profitable ideas. Ms. Valavanis used the term “solopreneur” to describe many of the folks who gravitate to her space, which manages to be professional without losing the human touch.
She said the space attracted people from across the occupational spectrum: journalists, life coaches, software developers, tutors, and attorneys, to name a few. Groups might also periodically use a conference room for a PTA meeting, a book launch party or a board meeting of a nonprofit. Perhaps in part because of decreased commuting time, a recent study showed that 70% of people in coworking settings feel better-focused and healthier.
Ms. Valavanis said that the mix of people sometimes leads to “the water cooler effect,” where a kind of natural networking takes place. Someone might need a web designer or a marketing person, or some skill specific to a particular project. Regulars are bound to have chance encounters while grabbing a cup of coffee. A sense of community springs-up and sometimes even various forms of collaboration.
She said that occasionally a new business will be hatched there, an example being “Bottle and Botega,” which also sponsors and organizes art related parties. She added the Evanston Chamber of Commerce was very helpful when she was making the transition from editor to running a building.
One of the most distinguishing features of Creative Coworking is its association with art. Original paintings from local artists adorn the walls throughout, producing a kind of informal gallery. Ms. Valavanis sponsors bimonthly “Art and Wine Nights” that promote the original works on a rotating basis. She chooses the art to be displayed and says that she is careful that it complement rather than overwhelm the space. She also does not charge any gallery fee. The use of the art both enhances the interior’s charm and gives exposure to the artists themselves, helping to form a unique, symbiotic relationship.
Some members just use meeting rooms for clients or special gatherings. Some require more private spaces; others, more open ones; and the folks who might be there at any given time are always changing. Some needs may be sporadic or seasonal, affected by growth or downsizing or travel. There is a new member every week, and yet the first member who joined is still there.
There is 24/7 access and different levels of membership, according to frequency and privacy needs. The second floor is quieter, while the third is more phone friendly. Tours and testing out the space are available by appointment. There are interns to be hired at reasonable rates for social media support, trade show assistance, brochure design etc.
For those who need a place to hatch the next big idea, work in solitude or chat with people who are similarly venturing out on their own, this urban sanctuary might be as appealing as the shades of light in a favorite Renoir.