Today, coworking is a big business. We are fast approaching two million coworkers worldwide; spread across tens of thousands of coworking offices, each one its own unique workspace. Given its size, it might surprise people to learn that coworking has only been around for 13 years.  In this short time, the coworking office has become a global phenomenon.

This rapid growth is, in part, down to coworking spaces providing a much-needed solution to a gap in the ever-changing world of business. As more and more people had the ability to work remotely, go freelance or start up a business from their bedroom, a need for flexible and affordable space emerged. Coworking spaces provided the perfect solution for this new generation of worker. With affordable, short-term contracts, great networking opportunities and a chance to avoid the pitfalls of lonely home-working, coworking grew exponentially.

Today, large corporations are embracing the phenomenon, large coworking companies have spaces all around the globe, most cities are complete with the full spectrum of coworking spaces, and rural areas are even beginning to see spaces pop up. We wanted to look at how coworking got to where it is today, from humble beginnings to the worldwide phenomenon we see today.

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.

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. To replace it, Neuberg, working with around ten others, including Chris Messina and Tara Hunt, creates the first full-time workspace referred to as a ‘coworking space’. The space is called The Hat Factory.

2006 – There are currently around 30 coworking spaces worldwide, but 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 – The first online magazine about Coworking, Deskmag, goes online on July 10th. The magazine is based in Berlin and covers all aspects of coworking, writing articles on the development, function and design of coworking spaces.

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 – Felena Hanson founds Hera Hub. 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.

2014 – There are currently 5,780 coworking spaces worldwide with 295,000 members.

2016 – There are currently 11,000 coworking spaces worldwide.

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.

One report predicts that 5 million people will be coworking by 2022. From one Ray Baxter, in Brad Neuberg’s little part-time space in San Francisco, to 5 million people globally coworking in only 17 years is quite the success story.

If you plan to open your own coworking space and not sure how to get started, contact Workspace Strategies for help.

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