Co-working slowly becomes a success story in suburbs

Even among suburban employees - ever protective of their own personal space - the value of escaping the home office for an actual work environment is beginning to catch on.

The trend toward co-working is gaining steam among entrepreneurs, freelancers and former corporate types, as they find they can join a communal workplace without necessarily giving up their desk, their door, their private office.

"Co-working in the suburbs is a lot different than in the city," said Michael Copeland, executive director of the Elgin Technology Center, a co-working facility established in 2010. "People do want their walls."

The right business model for providing a low-cost office with meeting rooms, communication systems and technology for a variety of employees to share took some time to find. But suburban co-working center operators say they've now established several philosophies that work, and their facilities are expanding.

"We knew our first space was a prototype and we'd learn from it," said Mara Hauser, founder and CEO of 25N Coworking, which has a location in Geneva and a new space in Arlington Heights hosting a grand opening from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 9.

More than five years after the idea of co-working first came to the region as an offshoot of business incubators and startup culture, there are at least 15 facilities offering some form of co-working in the North, Northwest and West suburbs. Users say these facilities counter work-from-home loneliness, offer professional environments and help them afford a place to be productive - without paying for an entire office.

"I get a lot more done here," said David Jakes, an educational design consultant from Naperville who co-works at 25N in Geneva. "I don't want to work at home because I'm at home too much."

Facilities where workers like Jakes spend their days vary in cost, culture, community, design, amenities and location - and that's what makes them work, operators say.

  Plenty of desks and common areas make up the new co-working space at 25N Coworking in Arlington Heights, which opened in January. The expansion from its original location in Geneva puts 25N among 39 percent of roughly 14,000 co-working facilities worldwide that plan to expand by opening new locations this year. Bob Chwedyk/

They're part of a movement that will involve 1.2 million workers and 14,000 facilities worldwide in 2017, according to the Global Co-working Survey conducted by Deskmag, an online magazine that tracks the co-working industry.

Co-working in cities caters to a crowd of recent graduates and technology types, seeking camaraderie as they delve into their first jobs or start their own businesses - often in large facilities housing an average of 129 members, according to Deskmag's co-working survey.

But co-working in the suburbs serves a workforce that's often older, seeking convenience, concentration, motivation and a simple setup away from their homes to make their living.

  Tim Allen, left, and Rick Carlino are the co-founders of Fox.Build, a makerspace and co-working space that opened a year ago in St. Charles and features technical workshop tools and machinery for software, hardware and computer engineers to use while working on their businesses. Rick West/

Some co-working centers favor a community model, such as Fox.Build in St. Charles, which bills itself as a makerspace and hackerspace. It costs only $60 a month for open access, and founders Tim Allen and Rick Carlino say they put nearly all the money they make back into new machinery and tech capabilities for the workshop-like space.

25N Coworking also builds community among members with potlucks, socials, business advisory services and monthly pitch practice sessions.

But other co-working centers exist as a means to a property management end, filling previously unleased space by divvying it up and renting it to small tenants and independent workers. That's the story with Envisage Coworking in Elgin, which leases space for between $100 and $1,500 a month and has plans to open two similar facilities in other suburbs soon.

  Meagan Schoenrock, director of community development at 25N Coworking, says corporate employees who need suburban desks, freelancers who don't want to work from home and small businesses that can't afford an office of their own are among roughly 230 co-working members at 25N in Geneva. Brian Hill/

"Property owners count on us to drive occupancy, and renters count on us to lower the market barriers to opening office space," said Kevin Echevarria, manager of PKE Enterprises, which operates Envisage Coworking and a food-based startup center called Shared Dream Kitchen in Lake in the Hills. "We really want to focus on making this work from a real estate standpoint."

With its expansion plans, Envisage is among 39 percent of co-working centers worldwide that plan to grow by opening new locations this year, according to Deskmag, which also found 66 percent of all co-working spaces plan to increase capacity in some way - be it by moving, offering more desks or creating satellite facilities.

Yet another model with growth plans is emerging in downtown Aurora, where Bureau Gravity owner Jimi Allen is building out a 110-year-old former auto garage to become Gravity Building, a hub for clients of his marketing company, who will have access to people providing video production, imagery and writing services in house.

Allen said the idea grew from co-working into a new model that focuses more on allowing small businesses to eliminate their overhead costs, benefit from creative services and revitalize an underdeveloped area - all at once.

"It's an evolution of co-working," he said. "We're giving them more than a desk. That's the key."

Co-working facilities in the suburbs

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