The History of Coworking


Coworking began from a very simple idea: to give freelancers and start-ups a space that provided the structure and community they lacked working from home. This simple idea has blossomed into a worldwide industry, with thousands of spaces and millions of coworkers all around the world reaping the benefits of a more flexible, productive, vibrant and successful workspace.

At Freedom Works, we want to uphold that simple and effective idea. Our spaces give freelancers, start-ups and small businesses the best chance to flourish. Through spacious coworking offices designed for collaboration, flexibility and focus, we’ve created a community that puts our member’s success first. We offer people a chance to grow in their ‘home towns’, by providing a space which fosters the structure and community just not possible in home-working.

Recently, FreeOfficeFinder looked into the history of coworking. It’s not a long history, but it is filled with values and ideas that Freedom Works wants to maintain and keep alive. We wanted to look at some of the key moments in coworking’s history and see how these values came to be.

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 – Bernard DeKoven coins the phrase 'coworking'. 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 – 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. 

2007 –The number of coworking spaces more than doubled since the previous year, from 30 to 75.

2008 – There are now 160 coworking spaces worldwide.

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. 

2012 – The first ever coworking conference in Japan is held on June 16th. Just two years previously Japan had no more than five coworking spaces and at the time has more than 70. This serves to signal the rise of coworking in Asia. 

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

2017 – This is the year that coworking finally cracks one million coworkers 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 study 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. 

This enormous burst of popularity from coworking can be traced back to the simple idea mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the need for a structured yet communal space for freelancers and start-ups to succeed. Holding strong to this idea is what has made Freedom Works so important to all kinds of entrepreneurs and businesses in both Hove and Worthing today.

As seen throughout the history of coworking, though, many of the first or pioneering spaces tend to crop up in big cities. Freedom Works, however, has made the important choice to support entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups and small businesses in their home towns. This support of talent outside of the big cities represents what is best about coworking; providing opportunities for the great talent that might sometimes be overlooked.

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