Coworking, the practice of sharing a workspace with others who are working on different endeavors for different companies or for themselves, is becoming more common across America. While this is particularly true in major cities, the trend is also taking root in suburbs and smaller cities. A number of coworking locations have opened in Evanston, among them coLab, Industrious and just last week, Office Depot’s Workonomy Hub.

Elisabeth Foran, part of the Industrious team that opened their 909 Davis St. space in May 2018, said that this is the first non-major downtown metropolitan area location for the company, which has 75 locations across more than 40 major cities. “The Evanston location was an experiment to see how it would do,” said Ms. Foran.

Industrious spaces include private offices for individuals and groups as well as common areas for individuals who do not need their own private space – small and large tables, as well as big cushy chairs with small work tables. Ms. Foran said that one of the key differences the Industrious team initially noticed between Evanston and its Chicago locations was the demand for smaller, one- to two-person individual office spaces. But she said that as the Evanston location has grown, the demand has increased for medium and large offices.

Ms. Foran also said that while Chicago locations have opened with higher occupancy demands, Evanston has grown steadily. “Our Fulton Market location opened with around 75% demand. We opened at a much lower occupancy, but scaled at a really healthy rate. That prompted our real estate team to expand into the rest of the floor we’re on. Now we’re at about 75% occupancy, even after the expansion.” Industrious Evanston occupies the entire fifth floor of 909 Davis St.

Ms. Foran said that beautiful design and hospitality are top priorities for Industrious. She attributes much of their success to this formula and said that she has been told by a City leader that places like this keep people in Evanston. “People don’t want to take Metra into downtown Chicago every day, and they can work here instead,” said Ms. Foran.

She said the Industrious team works to “curate” opportunities for its members, including connecting them with other members who have similar interests. “We are all about hospitality and making sure that everything is running smoothly for you,” said Ms. Foran. “This is at the core of who we are – and we want our members to be proud and excited to come to work.”

Ms. Foran said that Industrious employees are evaluated on the happiness of location members and not on their sale of memberships. “At the end of the day, if I sell an office someone is not happy with, I’ll get bad feedback or they aren’t going to be happy here,” she said. “I shouldn’t encourage someone to be here if they aren’t going to be happy here. I have the option not to. I’d rather you be where you’re going to be happy.”

Another coworking space, coLab, which is located near the corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street, has been in business since 2011. “My partner and I were thinking about launching a couple of startups – and that working in a space on them would be fun,” said Miguel Wong, one of the owners of coLab. “So we said, ‘Let’s get a space to run projects from and at the same time see if we can make a thing of it’. … A lot of it was that we wanted to have a space that satisfied our own needs – and then it formalized into coLab.” coLab’s new location at 1880 Oak St. became operational about a year ago, but they are still putting final touches on the space.

Mr. Wong said that coLab’s niche is very clear, that they created space for those who run one or a number of small businesses working with contractors or freelancers. “A lot of people want to collaborate on a contract basis, and that’s how I run my business,” said Mr. Wong. “We address the needs of entrepreneurs like myself. I understand the pains and needs intimately of our target market. If you join a very large coworking space, the conversation ends at ‘Thank you, fill out this form, here’s a key card, start coming to work.’ I want to do more than that.”

Mr. Wong said that a startup nonprofit which had just been funded recently joined coLab. “I was able to give input, connect them with bookkeepers and a couple of others that have gone through a similar situation so they can get feedback and any words of wisdom. That dynamic sets us apart,” said Mr. Wong.

Mr. Wong said that he has seen a growing population of freelancers in Evanston and that many of them are looking for coworking spaces. He said he has been very impressed. “There are a lot of highly experienced business folks who have key positions in companies who are now doing freelance work and who reside in Evanston,” said Mr. Wong.

In addition to individual desks, Mr. Wong said coLab provides shared areas – private rooms or desks in open workspaces that can be shared.

Mr. Wong said that his main job is consulting, that he travels quite a bit both domestically and internationally and that he uses coworking spaces wherever he goes. “The ones that I enjoy most are not the chain ones. I like to work where the needs of the owner inform the workspace. I’ve seen that work in a number of places. If the owner and operator of the space has similar needs to the membership base, it serves everybody well.”

Last week the Office Depot on Green Bay Road opened its own version of coworking, the Workonomy Hub. Like other coworking spaces in Evanston, the Workonomy Hub has a day-to-day workspace for members. It is set up for client and business partner meetings and is conducive to networking and the exchange of ideas among members.

Shera Bishop, Communications Specialist at Office Depot headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., said, “We believe Office Depot’s current suite of products and services paired with a physical coworking space will create a comprehensive offering for Evanston small business owners to run and grow their businesses in one convenient location.” 

The Evanston location, one of eight recently opened across the U.S., includes 5,300 square feet of office space that holds 11 private offices, a conference room, a breakroom, desks available for drop-in use and desks available for dedicated use by members.

“Our coworking space provides our customers with a place to work independently or connect and exchange ideas with other entrepreneurs in the Evanston community from different backgrounds and industries,” said Elaine Kemna-Irish, Coworking Business Manager at the Evanston location.

Ned Schaub

Ned Schaub is a feature story writer for the RoundTable. He has served as reporter, content developer and communications manager across his career in the field of nonprofit communications. Ned studied...