The History of Coworking is not a particularly long one, but it is an explosive one. In a relatively minuscule length of time, coworking has gone from a part-time, small-scale venture to a global worldwide phenomenon. Today, we are nearing two million coworkers working from thousands of spaces all over the globe – spaces which were essentially unavailable less than twenty years ago.
However quickly coworking has grown over the past few decades, the key values seem to have endured. Today coworking spaces run the whole gamut, from the small and the niche to the large and the expansive. Yet, there still remains a through-line that can be found in the emergence of coworking. Namely, a focus on providing community, productivity and an improved work-life to those who may otherwise have been isolated or struggling in dysfunctional ‘workspaces’.
From the experimental workspaces of the nineties to the big name spaces of this decade, this innovative and forward-thinking through-line can be seen throughout the key moments in the short history of coworking.
1995 – In the autumn of 1995, seventeen computer engineers create one of the first ever ‘hackerspaces’, C-Base, in Berlin, Germany. Hackerspaces are obvious precursors to coworking spaces. The hackerspace is intended as a not-for-profit space which brings together computer enthusiasts, offering them facilities, as well as an opportunity to collaborate, share knowledge and equipment. Given the dawn of the internet, computer engineers no longer need a fixed place to work, so the space is set up to give them a place to work alongside others in their field, where they can collaborate and share new ideas.
1999 – The phrase ‘coworking’ is coined by Bernard DeKoven. However, the term refers to something different than today’s concept of coworking. DeKoven, a game designer, uses ‘coworking’ to refer to the way we work, not the space that we work in. He hopes to evolve ways of working that involve collaboration, a breakdown of hierarchy and seeing co-workers as equals.
1999 – 42 West 24, another precursor to the coworking spaces we know today, opens in New York City. The space is started by a software company and provides the impressive work environment and short-term flexible desk space we know of coworking today. However, the space places no emphasis on the community aspect of coworking, not focusing on networking or events. Despite this, 42 West 24 is still a huge breakthrough, with members still enjoying the appealing work environment and flexible desk space to this day.
2002 – Two Austrian entrepreneurs set up an ‘entrepreneurial center’, Schraubenfabrik, in an old factory in Vienna. The space is aimed at entrepreneurs, giving them a place to avoid having to work from home, where they can collaborate and work with like-minded people. The space included architects, PR consultants, startups and freelancers. This space is clearly the mother of coworking and although not called a ‘coworking space’, it’s undoubtedly a clear precursor to what we know today.
2005 – On August 9th, Brad Neuberg sets up the first-ever official coworking space, San Francisco Coworking Space, at a feminist collective called Spiral Muse in the Mission district of San Francisco. The space is intended to maintain the freedom of working independently whilst providing the structure and community of working with others. Neuberg has to pay $300 (£230) a month to use the space for two days a week. For the first month, no one turns up. After more outreach from Neuberg, an athlete and startup developer named Ray Baxter arrives, becoming the spaces first member and in turn the world’s first official coworker.
2006 – After a year, the San Francisco Coworking Space closes and is replaced by the Hat Factory. This is of real significance, as Neuberg, working with around ten others, including Chris Messina and Tara Hunt, creates the first full-time workspace referred to as a ‘coworking space’.
2006 – Chris Messina, the inventor of the Twitter hashtag, sets up an open source online resource called The Coworking Wiki. This helps coworkers around the world connect and find coworking spaces in new cities, whilst also helping coworking spaces get their name out.
2006 – From 2006, the number of coworking spaces and coworking members approximately doubles each year for the next seven years. This exponential growth will soon become known as the coworking revolution.
2008 – Coworking visas are introduced, meaning that members of specific coworking spaces are given free access to other coworking spaces also included in the agreement. This means that workers who travel can use coworking offices all around the world without having to spend extra money and also develops the global coworking community. The key ideas around coworking and collaborative working are developed and continue to spread around the globe.
2009 – “I’m Outta Here! How coworking is making the office obsolete” is released. This is the first book on coworking and charts the course of the people and the places involved in the coworking revolution, as well as how coworking is changing the way we view the traditional office.
2010 – On the 9th of August, five years after Neuberg opened the first official coworking space in San Francisco, the first #CoworkingDay is celebrated. Now International Coworking Day is celebrated at coworking spaces around the globe on August 9th each year.
2010 – After meetups of coworking enthusiasts in 2008 and 2009 at SXSW, Loosecubes decided to create a fully-fledged event. With the help of Liz Elam of Link Coworking, they staged the first ever Coworking Unconference. 120 coworking enthusiasts from around the globe attended. Liz then took over the conference and began planning the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) in 2011. Today GCUC is an enormous coworking staple, with thousands attending events all across the globe.
2011 – Hera Hub is founded. Felena Hanson sets up the coworking space and business accelerator to focus on and specifically help support female freelancers and businesses. She aims to have a less male-focused workspace where women can innovate, collaborate and develop ideas.
2013 – Coworking Ontario launches the first health insurance plan for coworking spaces. The world’s first Coworking Health Insurance Plan, or COHIP, was created by Ashley Proctor and for the first time, freelancers and similar workers without the backing of a company are given securities by their workplace provider. As larger coworking companies begin to take over the market, the values of community still persist in coworking spaces around the world.
2016 – In September, HSBC moves 300 of its staff into coworking space. This is one of many examples of large corporations choosing the new workspaces over leased offices. KPMG sends many of its employees to work in coworking spaces in London and New York. In recent times Microsoft and IBM have also chosen to have some of their employees work from coworking spaces. This trend of large corporations choosing coworking spaces is forecast to continue growing.
2018 – After attaining its 50th location in New York City, WeWork is now the second-biggest private office tenant in Manhattan. The company expects to take over JP Morgan Chase, the largest private office tenant, estimating a further 750,000 square feet of office space in NYC predicted for the year. The company are valuated at over £15 billion pounds, with 250,000 members in 431 offices across 80 cities.
2018 – London is currently the capital of coworking, with more coworking spaces than New York, San Francisco and Berlin. Coworking occupies 10.7 million square feet of office space in Central London alone.