One of our favorite new places, Workshop Chicago, is a beautiful co-working space in Chicago's River West neighborhood. Exposed beams, brick walls and skyline views - a source of inspiration for all it's members and guests. Workshop also serves as a community space to learn and connect. A variety of fun events have been hosted at the venue, including a craft beer gathering with FORMA and Good Beer Hunting, a Creative Mornings talk with Dallas Clayton, a screen printing class, and more.
Workshop is our host for June 21st' floral arrangement yoga+ event. Today we're going behind the brand in an interview with Ben Skoda, Workshop's proprietor.
How did workshop come to be? What originally intrigued you about co-working?
Although I've had a few different career changes, when I look back I can see common themes of community development, learning and growing in my past, all of which get me excited. Last year I was living in Chicago and doing communications for a non profit based in Minneapolis. Working remotely meant that a corner of home or the local coffee shop became my office for a day. While at first this freedom of space can seem cool, by just a couple weeks in I found myself unmotivated to work when I wasn't surrounded by others.
Around that time I stumbled on an article about co-working. Chicago does not suffer from a lack of co-working spaces, and after trying out a few the one that stuck was the Coup (now Next Space). Co-working venues were a solution to the problem many remote workers were experiencing - a lack of human interaction on a daily basis. I got to know The Coup's founder Sam Rosen, and I have to say, I was slightly envious of the way that he was able to connect people and build community just by creating a physical space for them to share.
Co-working opened me up to a new world of city life - the people of this city are amazing and doing cool things. I wanted to learn from them, know about them and support them. While I had no experience in business or real estate or other things you think would be crucial to know when opening your own business, it didn't stop me. I shared my vision for Workshop with a bunch of friends and their support was amazing. I knew it would take some effort as this wasn't my area of expertise, but the vision was powerful enough to take it on and run with it.
What makes Workshop Chicago unique from other co-working spaces in the city?
The people and the community are what make our space unique, especially the vision of the people that started our community. With Workshop, there isn’t a specific industry that we're trying to appeal to; instead we focus more on the quality and character of people, as building a diverse community is of most importance to us. Our members have a similar value set and are like minded - they value everyday connections and being around people. Sharing doesn't happen just because they're in the same room. Our members share their life, their connections, and are the kind of people who care if another member shows up on a given day. This is a comforting feeling for remote workers who may have become ‘vocational ghosts’ due to the fact that there was no physical location they were previously connected to.
At Workshop we're also big into celebrating our members, especially when they reach a milestone, no matter how big or small. It's important to recognize hard work and a job well done. And if you can do your work in this space, we encourage you to join us. Sometimes it's less about the actual work that our members do, focusing instead on supporting each person behind the work.
How would you describe your current Workshop Members?
Some are entrepreneurs, but most have never worked out of a shared workspace before - co-working first timers. I like to think Workshop is a good place of support for people who are freelancing and going out on their own for the first time. I want to help solo entrepreneurs get their feet on the ground. I kind of hope our members' work is interrupted throughout the day by interaction with others working in the space.
What do you do to facilitate connections for your Members?
Today there are so many start-ups, businesses, books, and blogs all trying to give you a pattern for how to do business well. However, Workshop is community and people-centric place - you need to know the person and listen to them - it isn't as simple as just following a book. To build connections we've done blog posts on our members so people in the broader community know the individuals that make up our community. I've been planning for a weekly series of lunch talks where we'll order food for delivery one time a week and gather people for lunch. I plan to utilize this shared lunch time to have people share the story about their work and their life, allowing others to ask questions.
Another newer program that I hopes becomes a foundation block for Workshop is something I'm calling 'Human Resources'; currently made up of two different groups of 6-7 people who meet semi-regularly. So far, I've met with each group once by inviting them to Workshop to talk about where they are at, current challenges, let others ask questions, and offering support and advice. It's intentional sharing between some members and some non-members through curated groups I've created. People are at different stages in their careers and I enjoy mixing it up across industries to create heterogeneous learning groups. I had this support from others when I was starting Workshop and I want everyone to feel that kind of support with any project that they’re working on.
As a result of using a shared space, how have you seen your members collaborate?
It’s definitely happening. A few Fridays ago one of our members, Michael, was looking for input on a design project. He called a few people over to get some feedback, then went to work on the improvements. Later that day he proudly emailed the new + awesome version of the project to his boss, then stood up and shouted out 'This is co-working!’. Another one of our members, Katie, is a project manager for a PR firm. She's actually been able to hire people from the Workshop community to work on projects for her agency. It's neat to see water cooler conversations turn into something!
Hosting events (specifically classes and workshops) seem to be a natural extension of your philosophy to learn, grow and share.
It’s been fun to have the everyday concept of Workshop, followed by these events that have been popping up that are little snapshots of our concept manifesting itself in creative ways. Many of the workshops we've hosted have been for people from my personal network and I love having this space and offering it up as a platform for them to showcase their skills with a broader audience. We've done a happy hour lecture/q&a with my friend Andrew who does data analysts for social good. I believe you can make the world a better place by supporting people and connecting them on an individual level, as well as supporting others who are making the world better a better place. I want Workshop to also be a place that can highlight and support the do-gooders and social activists.
What has surprised you most about running a co-working space? Where do you see Workshop in a year from now?
I am surprised by how quickly the concept of Workshop has caught on as a business, even as the business model is still being refined and we're constantly evolving within this new space of the co-working industry. The way the community of people have embraced what Workshop stands for is exciting and encouraging, but also comes with a responsibility to fulfill that understanding and continue to provide value to these people. Social media has also really helped grow our reach; in particular the Instagram community, which has been so supportive. If Workshop is a community that is based on our values, it’s not fair to just limit it to people who can co-work, so I'm excited to bring value to others outside of co-workers through our community events that are open to the public.
In a year, my goal would be to have around 25 members. Some days it's quiet and we'll have 1 to 2 people in the space, while other days we get 8 to 10 people co-working together. The growth of Workshop's daily critical mass is somewhat slower than they expected, but event growth has been crazy organic. I'm eager to find a sweet spot for how co-working and outside events merge into the future. I also really want to see growth among our Human Resources groups, using workshop’s community to help individuals brainstorm or launch a new project.
What made you excited about partnering with Yoga+?
I'm excited about what you two are doing. People have common interests and connecting them is valuable. I also like how you're taking concepts that might seem disparate and bringing them together.
Thanks for sharing Ben! We're so excited to see what this next year has in store for Workshop!
Yoga+ Larkspur Floral Arrangement Workshop will take place at Workshop Chicago on Saturday June 21st from 1 - 3:30pm. Event details and tickets can be found at www.yogapluschicago.com/events.
Photos courtesy of Workshop Chicago