WeWork National Building located at 125 S. Clark Street in Chicago

It is estimated that there are now more than 14,000 coworking spaces and over 1,300 coworking providers throughout the world. Those figures are expected to double by 2022.

It’s not shocking to see the growth of coworking in the startup age. Coworking offices, which offer their members amenities aplenty, now account for 27 million square feet of office space in the U.S. alone. In Chicago, coworking occupies 2.6 million square feet across 99 locations, and that’s just in the CBD.

But what exactly goes into creating these spaces? Ross Hanchett, Project Engineer with Summit Design + Build who has managed the construction of three coworking locations totaling 238,000 square feet, lays out how the spaces, and teams, come together.

The Anatomy of Coworking

By Ross Hanchett


Many coworking providers are well known for their design – bright, inspiring spaces with colorful artwork, miles of storefront glass, phone booths and everyone’s favorite, the community bar.

However, taking on intricate design from a 2D plan to a finished product is a challenge the project team faces. We first have to ensure we understand the true design intent. As the GC, we are given a set of documents created by the architect at the direction of the client. But, these don’t always illustrate the designer’s vision clearly.

At the onset of the project, we come together with key subcontractors and the owner’s designer to better understand the general feel and to identify design centerpieces. These meetings and regular follow-up are critical to maintaining the overall aesthetic as the design of the space often changes during the course of construction. These meetings also establish communication with the designer early in the project which is instrumental when working through fabrication and installation.


One of the benefits of a shared work environment is that it lends itself to a variety of different layouts to suit the provider’s, and the member’s, needs. Whether the intent is to build more open spaces for large entities or an individual suite for a single person, the approach from a constructability standpoint is the same.

As coworking has become more popular and not just for startups, the layouts have evolved, catering to more expansive companies often with their own specifications and requests. For example, we completed a 90,000 square foot build-out for a single enterprise member which had all the amenities of a typical coworking office plus additional high-end finishes and IT infrastructure.

One theme that is carried throughout each shared office is a central community space for networking. Not only is it difficult having multiple companies in one office space, but it is also no small feat for these companies, all with different missions, to interact. These local interactions open new dialogues, and ensuring the spaces lend themselves to that can be a challenge.


To our coworking clients, one of the most important pieces of the construction process is the schedule.  It goes without saying that the better we are able to manage our schedule, the earlier our clients can move members into the space. In order to meet our client’s deadlines, many members of the project team need to work overtime. This is especially true during the final weeks leading up to the grand opening. Although managing the schedule can be incredibly challenging, having completed multiple coworking spaces helps you recognize when you are falling behind. And while the schedule is the backbone of the project, there is one final piece that brings it all together.


In all the coworking spaces we have built, the central theme that ties everyone together is community, and bringing the right team together is something that we focus on. As the GC, we are the cornerstone tying together everyone in the construction process. This includes the client, architect, designers, subcontractors, landlord, and every consultant and expert that will contribute to the finished product. It is our responsibility to make sure we are working through the process together and providing the client with everything they have come to expect from Summit Design + Build.

Since 2010, Summit has completed 11 coworking build-outs totaling 557,500 square feet. We’ve been at the forefront of the coworking movement in Chicago which shows no signs of slowing down. And while each provider and space is unique, one common thread remains throughout: nothing is more important than the team that brings it to life.