Building Communities by Reinventing Work

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Plato famously wrote, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And because the 2008 financial crisis, many of us were driven out of economic and social necessity to (re)invent work for ourselves — and for those around us.

Enter one such reinvention: the shared workspace concept. Today, the actual definition and cursory view of a coworking space and its attributes vary widely among operators and members. Many were repurposed real estate that otherwise was being underutilized by the property’s owners.

Opus Coworking Space
Opus Environments’ Coworking Space

But in just five years since the financial meltdown, coworking spaces now total 2,072 — an increase of 250 percent since 2010 — with 110,000 members in operation around the globe.

Yet beyond the economics of shared space lies personal and social benefits discussed at the 2013 Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC). In a recent blog post by GCUC, the group validated that individuals who cowork get measurable boosts in their creativity, self-confidence, productivity, and health.

Driven more by that draw of personal fulfillment rather than by economics, I set out in 2008 to create a shared space in the River North area of my city, Chicago.

When I decided to leave my 20-year career at Merchandise Mart, I wanted to pursue my own ventures while still being around like-minded, passionate people.   The confined, singular nature of a home office or transient nature of a coffee house didn’t seem to offer the personal and business growth opportunities a shared space might provide. Yet the concept of coworking was still in its infancy.

Reinventing how I needed to work, I envisioned a space based on the “Form follows function” principle of intended purpose and the “experience” of integrating facility, design, nature, and community.

Opus Environments Space
Opus Environments

So I took a risk in 2009 and launched Opus Environments, an incubator and coworking space. My goal was to find talented individuals who were committed to their pursuits, and I would act as a catalyst for their success. So I chose “Opus” to recognize that every individual’s personal venture is a masterpiece in its own right.

I also chose not to silo our definition or purpose. And with no model or rules to follow, we quickly became a unique blend of incubation, collaboration, shared space, investment, and community. As a result, we steered clear of a transient environment and strove to advance the common good of the whole.

Opus Environments
Opus Environments

The space itself is an open loft with full-height windows, commons areas, and green-park access. And we maintain optimal density through design-centric, semi-private workspaces and open-concept solutions.

In fact, we’re consistently commended for our superior contract furniture environment. The space is anchored by refurbished Herman Miller “My Studio” and Knoll “Villa” work environments. Haworth and Fluid Concepts are recent additions, as well.

In 2.5 years since opening, Opus has become a sustainable and fluid coworking experience that’s based on exceptional design; one that meets the changing needs of its members.

Opus Environments
Opus Environments

We’ve become the sandbox of choice for nearly 30 ventures, all launched by diverse, passionate entrepreneurs who collaborate to grow their businesses. Successes include an Emmy Award winner, Intel Latin America Startup of the Year, and Startup Challenge finalists. We also support Chicago Innovation Chase and DECA through speaking and competition judging.

I firmly believe that necessity is the mother of re-invention, renewal, and repurposing. Through my experience with Opus, I’ve discovered that not all value can be quantified when solely tied to the financial statement — or the greatest and best use. It also can be found in the real social outcomes that result from building communities.

Early on, I made various conjectures on the “perfect space” and found that the only element certain is the important relationship between humans and the spaces they inhabit. And those spaces must be exceptionally well-designed.

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