Chicago: A Vast Footprint of Shared Workspaces

By Amanda Fanoun · 14.03.2017 · 4 MIN READ

In our continued series of events throughout the US, essensys visited Chicago, a city with a large footprint of shared workspaces. From WorkBetter in the soaring Willis Tower to 25N and LifeWorking in the suburbs, there is no shortage of workspaces to fulfill the growing market demand.

essensys partook in QTLY Chicago, a workspace industry event intended specifically for owners and operators of Coworking and shared workspaces in local markets. Much like the Atlanta event, attendees received a state-of-the-market update, insight into operational reporting and metrics for a profitable workspace business, and a very productive unconference session to share ideas and thoughts on the not-so-easy aspects of running a shared workspace.

Just because it’s the windy city, operators in Chicago aren’t throwing caution to the wind. The operators we met at QTLY are methodical and very measured about everything from ICT and operations to how they engage their community members. While many are still testing out tools and techniques, such as using slack for Community messaging and how to integrate members into community, on the whole Chicago is a mature and serious market with great potential. Much like Atlanta, each workspace seems to create a very niche community.

Here are our key takeaways from Chicago:

Defining Your Space

Operators are defining their workspace to differentiate among other providers in the Chicago area, much like we’ve seen in many other local markets. Knowing your workspace value system is key to understanding how to sell and who to sell to. As we saw in Atlanta, operators in Chicago are plugging into each other without posing a threat. There’s a workspace flavor for everyone. End-users seek spaces that meet the needs of their companies and business objectives and your workspace might not always be a fit for those looking. However, it will be a fit for end-users seeking the value, resources or niche-community that you’ve defined to sell.


The Challenge of Non-profits

Running a not for profit Coworking space can be tricky, especially when boards and budgets impede upon the speed and ease at which business is conducted. Limited budgets can hinder the pace that managers can make important business decisions such as selecting a new vendor or approving membership of a new applicant to the space. The workaround? Get the buy-in from your financial supporters on the changes you have planned for your space and be able to clearly demonstrate the value the results will have on the organization as a whole.


Community Communication

Facebook boards, Google communities, Slack messenger, these and other applications are being used across the Coworking world for members and managers to interact. There are pros and cons to each. The key that we found in Chicago, was being sure that there is a community manager to establish, curate and monitor the conversation on these channels. Overlooking to preventing when one member has too much influence or an unfair commercial advantage over the others can become bothersome to other members and strain your community. Many operators are turning to Slack for messaging. Control can be defined to a workspace admin to create themed channels that members can decide to join or not.


Engaging Members

A theme in the unconference in Chicago was how to onboard and engage members to not only become active members of the community but compliant as well. Withholding access to perks, community messaging boards and other workspace services until new members sit through a face-to-face onboarding session is a compelling technique to ensure that they know your space and what to expect. Engaging businesses in your space by featuring a week long social media spotlight is a fun and engaging way to highlight a new member and introduce them to your broader network.



This is a non-exhaustive list of what’s on the minds of Chicago operators. It was refreshing to see such an energized group of business operators not only there to improve their own workspace, but to take steps to engage a broader community of workspace owners and community managers in their market. The glaring trend throughout our visits to regional US markets is that operators aren’t seeing each other as cut-throat competitors. Our young market is still growing and generating demand for all.

About the Author

Amanda Fanoun

I've been writing content about flexible office and technology for essensys since 2015. My focus is to bring engaging and insightful perspectives to the flexible workspace sector of the commercial real estate industry.