Coworking & OfficePort, and Why I Chose It Over Moving Out

Last night, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight had a segment on what is being called “coworking,” and part of the segment was about OfficePort.

For those who don’t know, or haven’t heard the term before, “coworking” refers to an office-like setting where people, mostly freelancers and entrepreneurs, share office space, ideas and things found in general “Corporate America” office settings. However, office politics doesn’t play much of a role, and the only person looking over your shoulder, checking your work is you. In a “coworking” space like OfficePort, the people looking over your shoulder are actually looking at you, bouncing off ideas, listening patiently, offering suggestions or guidance or just shooting the breeze. I’ve come to think of it as the more enjoyable parts of “Corporate America” office settings, the parts that developed friendships, mentors and the like.

If you’ve followed this blog, or you’ve followed me on Twitter, my plight over the last year is no secret. I’m more used to suffering quietly, but once September 2008 hit and layoffs went through the roof, I thought it might be helpful to start sharing my experiences, having been laid off in April 2008 and experienced a steady stream of rejections (or absolute silence) since. Even starting a consulting company has proven fraught with challenges no book or person can offer solutions on how to overcome.

Life moves pretty fast, yes, but sometimes it moves in the wrong direction.

But anyway. Back to this whole “coworking” thing.

Since moving back into my parents house last October (lease was up + no job + grad school = no money), I turned my mother’s dinning room into an “office.” I basically took over the dinning room table, moving only when company was expected. I had papers and law books spread out when I was completely my Master of Science degree, and those have now been replaced with attendance rosters from teaching, articles, mail of various types, useless insurance papers and pads of paper full of notes from conference calls, business ideas and what not. My mother, bless her heart, has been willing to forgo the mess knowing I’m “starting up” and thus rather short on funds.

One project has paid off handsomely, decidedly better than expected, and there is just enough wiggle room to find an office, if the price is right, or an apartment and move out. Bare in mind money is tight. I had to pay off student loans, which though excellent to have off the books, also set me back a bit. I have enough to either move out, or rent office space, but not both.

The temptation to move into an apartment was unbelievable. Being 28 and living at home with your folks, especially way up by Wisconsin, sucks. I enjoyed my four years in the city, in the Lakeview neighborhood, and longed for the day to move back. Perhaps not to the same neighborhood, but back to the city. My two and a half hour commute would be cut considerably.

Yes. You read that correctly. 2.5 hours. Doesn’t matter if I take Metra or drive to Linden (Wilmette) and take the Purple Line. Metra might shave off half an hour, but it is still 20 minutes to the train station, when the weather is nice.

So moving out was enticing. When I lost my job and had to move home last year, though, I made myself a promise. I would not move out until I was absolutely certain I would not move back again. Sounds like a rather hefty goal, and it is, but I think it is achievable. Not in the time frame I originally envisioned, but still attainable.

Earlier this month, I was presented with two options: Sublet an apartment from a friend of mine who got a job that required relocation, or rent office space from OfficePort.

It was not an easy decision, but renting office space from OfficePort is the more strategic, long term move. Why? Because building my business is a necessary step to achieving my goal of permanently moving out of my parents house. Building a business, consulting or otherwise, requires finding and cultivating relationships. Strategic relationships, meaning I need to be around people who possess skills I don’t necessarily possess. As it turns out, there are a number of skills I don’t possess, but that is actually a good thing. Why? Because it means there are many new things for me to learn!

OfficePort, it turns out, is full of people who are bursting with ideas, and share them freely. Sound familiar? I bet it does. Being a big believe in open source, making things freely available, the office setting at OfficePort felt completely natural. I found this out by attending a number of events hosted at OfficePort, like Twitter Networking Lunches on Wednesdays, and TechThursdays. The vibe is just awesome, which was made even more so after SocialDevCamp that produced AwesomeLists.

And that energy is feeding an idea I’ve had rolling around in my brain for the past few months, which I’ll write about at a later date.

On the Chicago Tonight segment, my portmate, Sally Odowd was interviewed, and talked about working from home and the challenges that entails. It hadn’t occurred to me that watching TV, or doing anything other than working while at home, was a distraction. Perhaps because I don’t watch much TV, I watch stuff online. Working at home though, can be quite boring. There’s no one here during the day but me, and though Twitter, Facebook and Skype provide more interaction than me talking to myself, it doesn’t quite do the same as talking to people in the flesh.

Technology has yet to convey the same type of energy you get from just being around people. And at OfficePort, the energy is good, positive energy. From Sally to Justin to Maura to Jason to the others whose Twitter handles I still need to commit to memory…the people make the office.

So if you’re like me, having been laid off and decided striking out on your own is, if nothing else, a way to pass the time, check out OfficePort. Or check out other “coworking” locations to see which one feels right. Talk to other people there, attend events, do whatever you need to do find the right spot. I can tell you from experience, it makes a big difference.

And if a 2.5 hour commute down to the office (yes, that is 5 hrs round trip) doesn’t stop me, what is stopping you?


One Response to Coworking & OfficePort, and Why I Chose It Over Moving Out

  1. Jason says:

    Great post, Gwynne. Few people can stick to their guns like you have. Glad to have you as a coworker. I’ll be watching for you to roll out that Big Idea.

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