A nice alternative to work-from-home
Workvana host Cassandra Testyon is shown working at Workvana’s Elmhurst Location at Red Arrow. Workvana offers distraction-free workspace for remote employees.

By Julia Locanto

For The Elmhurst Independent

Working from home can yield numerous challenges. This reason, among others, is why Workvana was born. Workvana opened its newest remote-work location this July at Red Arrow restaurant in Elmhurst, located at 111 E. First St.

Workvana provides day-time space for employees who can work remotely. By converting restaurants that are only open for dinner into a workspace, Workvana allows members to be productive in a distraction free space from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.—and stay close to home.

“Life is all about work-life integration,” co-founder Kami Bond said. “I’m nowhere near as productive or present when I’m multitasking.”

Workvana is for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and anyone looking for a space to be productive. Members can choose from three monthly packages, or nonmembers can buy a day pass. They have access to coffee and tea, Wi-Fi, outlets, white noise machines and a Workvana host. The space creates opportunities for networking, social connectivity and small meetings.

Bond said she and her co-founders, Marcello Navarro and Jason Freiman, are remote workers who got frustrated while working from home.

“I got worried about all the other things I needed to do around the house and couldn’t focus and be productive,” Bond said.

She tried working in coffee shops, but said it was loud and uncomfortable.

Navarro said he had other frustrations.

“I started to feel isolated and lonely working out of my own place,” he said.

The founders met and decided to run with their idea. They opened their first Workvana location at Angry Pig Tavern in Wicker Park in 2019, and later moved to Little Victories in Ukrainian Village.

Bond said choosing the right restaurant is important. The founders look for restaurants that well-represent the community, are located on main streets, have a capacity of around 100 seats, and have sound barriers. Restaurants can sign up online to become a partner.

After the success of Workvana’s Chicago location, the founders decided to expand. They hoped to open a location in Elmhurst at Red Arrow in March, Bond said. However, COVID-19 put a halt to their plans.

One month into the pandemic, Bond said they reached out to their members to see if they were interested in coming back under social distancing guidelines.

“Everyone wanted to come back,” she said. “They really wanted to get out of the house.”

Workvana staff made some adjustments to their setup, including hand sanitizer, frequent cleanings and socially distanced tables. Workvana’s Little Victories location tripled its membership, and the founders were finally able to open their Elmhurst location in July.

Although COVID-19 made it difficult for Workvana to reopen, Navarro said the virus caused a very sudden explosion of remote work. More than 75% of employers currently have people working from home, according to a report by SHRM’s Covid-19 Business Index.

“People and corporations are realizing that working from home is not necessarily remote work,” Navarro said.

For some people, COVID-19 generated their interest in Workvana. Member Tom Fullerton said staying home with four kids made it nearly impossible to be productive.

“It’s very quiet at the locations,” he said of Workvana. “You never know if a coffee shop is going to be loud. There is more certainty about this.”

Fullerton said he enjoys not having a far commute and being home in time for dinner. He said he is considering changing his routine even after COVID-19 subsides.

“My experience commuting downtown is going to be permanently altered,” Fullerton said.

Workvana is hoping to attract not only workers with children, but also younger workers. For millennials, a flexible work life is one of the highest-ranking employee benefits, according to a State of the American Workplace report by Gallup. Bond said she believes Workvana will appeal to this trend in younger generations.

In addition to benefitting members, Workvana also helps support restaurants and local communities. During COVID-19 especially, restaurants can benefit from a new revenue source, Navarro said. Additionally, Workvana locations draw more attention to restaurants and surrounding businesses.

“We care about reigniting the main streets of suburbs,” he said. “We hope it will create more foot traffic in downtown areas and neighborhoods.”

As for the future, Bond said they hope to expand Workvana outside of Illinois. Two new locations are opening soon in Chicago in Logan Square and River North. Workvana’s Naperville location is opening on Oct. 5 at Red Arrow restaurant.


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