With the rise of remote working and work from home after the pandemic, coworking spaces are booming.
But coworking didn’t start in 2020 – the history of coworking is much longer than that.
In 1995, a hackerspace called C-Base opened in Berlin, Germany. Hackerspaces were community centers where people with an interest in technology and engineering could come together to brainstorm and work together. Because of the collaborative, community-focused nature of hackerspaces, they are often considered precursors to coworking spaces.
The Beginning of Coworking
The first recorded use of the word “coworking” was in 1999, by an American game designer and author Bernard DeKoven. He, however, was not referring to coworking as a space to work in. He considered coworking a way of working that was more focused on collaboration than corporate structure.
Also in 1999, two spaces opened in New York City. One was 116 West Houston, later renamed Nutopia, and the other was 42 West 24. 116 West Houston focused on the community aspects or working in a shared space while 42 West 24 was just about the workspace.
In Austria in 2002, two entrepreneurs opened Schraubenfabrik, an “entrepreneurial center” in Vienna.
St. Oberholtz in Berlin, Germany, opened in 2005 and became one of the first cafes to offer free wifi to guests and allow people to work in their space.
The San Francisco Coworking Space opened in 2005 in California. It was started by Brad Neuberg in retaliation to “unsocial” corporate environments and isolating home offices. Unfortunately, it closed after a year. That space was quickly followed by the Hat Factory in 2006, which turned an old factory into a coworking space.
2006 is also when The Coworking Wiki started, co-founded by Chris Messina, who created hashtags on Twitter. The Coworking Wiki is an online resource to connect coworking spaces and help people find information about coworking. Coworking earned a page on Wikipedia in 2007.
Coworking visas were introduced in 2008. They were an agreement between several coworking spaces allowing their members to use other spaces within the network while traveling. While many coworking spaces see other spaces as competitors, the coworking visas fulfilled a need for coworking members and helped foster a larger coworking community.
An unofficial coworking meetup happened at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, in 2008. It was followed by a second unofficial meetup in 2009. The first official Coworking Unconference was also held 2010 at South By Southwest, hosted by Loosecubes and Link Coworking. This spawned the GCUC, or Global Coworking Unconference, which is still held each year.
A book on coworking was released in 2009. Called “I’m Outta Here! How Coworking Is Making the Office Obsolete,” it’s about “the people and places that make up a workplace revolution.”
2010 was also the first celebration of International Coworking Day, which is held each year on August 9th. By this year, there were about 600 coworking spaces around the world, with the majority being located in North America.
2011 saw the beginnings of “corporate coworking,” with companies opening their own coworking spaces. TUI, a European tourism company, started Modul 57 and in Ontario, Canada, the Bank ING opened Network Orange.
Hera Hub was also founded in 2011. Created by Felena Hanson, it is a coworking community focused on female freelancers and entrepreneurs. It started in California, but now has locations across the state and a branch in Washington, D.C.
The first coworking health insurance plan was created in 2013 at Coworking Ontario to provide group health insurance to workers without corporate benefits. By the end of 2013, more than 3,000 coworking spaces existed globally.
Many large corporations started embracing coworking in 2016. HSBC, KPMG, Microsoft, and IMB, among others, have encouraged their employees to use coworking spaces.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, many employees were forced to work from home. Most coworking spaces were forced to shut down temporarily due to lockdowns, and many had to close permanently.
As things began to reopen, the majority of white-collar workers declared their preference for remote working and hybrid work schedules. Some companies have embraced this, closing down entire offices to allow their employees to work from home or elsewhere. But even working from home has its downsides – it can be isolating and full of distractions.
This has led to the beginnings of another coworking boom. Workers are looking for a balance between the convenience of working from home and the community of an office, and coworking spaces are already poised to provide that.
How big this boom is and how long it lasts remains to be seen. Many of those who have the freedom to work from home are reluctant to leave the house. The coworking spaces that survived the pandemic and those that have opened since are starting to see the number of new members slow or plateau.
They haven’t given up hope, though. The number of remote jobs available continues to rise, and even those who enjoy working from home now may long for a sense of community eventually.