What is Coworking? A Cornerstone of our Workplace Future

Conceived in the mid-nineties, coworking has evolved into a force for collaboration worldwide. As we recognize International Coworking Day, not only is the movement alive and well, it’s poised to play a starring role in the Future of Work.

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Humans are social creatures and community is a central component of civilization. Coworking – diverse groups of people coming together for work in a shared communal setting – is a manifestation of our ingrained community spirit. But there’s more to the story. Coworking encourages collaboration, fosters innovation and, increasingly, is playing a vital role in helping start-ups, small businesses and even larger corporations accommodate emerging employee preferences in the new hybrid work era.


Not surprisingly, the number of coworking spaces available continues to grow. Whether it’s for accomplishing a shared task or simply to vibe off the energy generated in a room filled with like-minded colleagues, the benefits of coworking are making it a popular choice for workers from a variety of fields, not just entrepreneurs and freelancers. This is especially true in the post-covid workplace era. Opportunities to collaborate and connect, not having to stock items for the coffee bar – these all have their appeal, but flexibility may be coworking’s biggest selling point in the wake of the pandemic. 


Then there’s the economic angle to consider. With more companies looking to actively shrink their office footprints, coworking offers their employees a way to mix, mingle and make valuable connections in pricier urban markets without the costly real estate lease. 


Back to that explosive growth. These days, there’s literally a coworking space for every need or occasion. There are high-end and budget coworking spaces, corporate spaces set in downtown high-rises and casual, atelier-style spaces tucked away in historic districts. There are community minded coworking spaces, spaces created by women for women, spaces created by women of color for women of color, and more.


You’ll find coworking spaces in predictable places like New York and San Francisco, but also in refurbished Salvation Army buildings in Lincoln, Nebraska and old railroad buildings in Akron, Ohio. You’ll find them set in shipping containers in Lisbon, Portugal and doubling as a napping studio in Bangkok, Thailand. 


There’s a coworking manifesto and coworking conferences. There’s even a magazine dedicated to coworking news, trends and insights. 


It’s a thing, in other words. And it’s a global thing, because the impulse to gather together and be inspired by one another is human. 


A brief history of coworking


Origin stories vary, but consensus has it that coworking dates back to a so-called “hackerspace” created by 17 plucky computer engineers in Berlin, in 1995. The purpose of that space still resonates nearly thirty years later – to provide like-minded individuals with the space and supplies they need to capitalize on a culture of collaboration.


The term itself was first used in 1999 by Bernard DeKoven, an American game designer, author, lecturer, and fun theorist. His use of “coworking” may have referred to a way of working rather than a place to work, but his intention was clear – promoting the value of people coming together to exchange ideas.


International Coworking Day pays homage to August, 9, 2005, when a visionary consultant named Brad Neuberg opened what is considered to be the first official “coworking space”, in San Francisco. Neuberg’s gambit was slow to take off, but as word started getting out and the benefits of coworking became more widely known, the trend accelerated.  The number of spaces available for coworking – a concept previously unheard of – suddenly exploded. How do we define explosive growth? In 2008, there were only about 160 coworking spaces in the U.S.; a decade later, there were close to 19,000. As for coworking’s future prospects, projections suggest it will represent 30% of all available office stock by 2030.


Let’s talk benefits 


Individuals setting out to find the perfect coworking space are typically looking for two things: creature comforts and like-minded individuals to engage with, not necessarily in that order.


Venture inside a coworking venue these days and you’ll find desks and monitors, but also modular couches, beanbags and coffee machines. There’s beer in the fridge and camaraderie in the air, and it’s the latter – the spirit of community – that is the primary draw. People choose coworking spaces for many reasons – flexibility, convenience, cost – but the biggest remains motivation. Another fun fact about the way human beings are wired: Getting work done is more difficult when we’re left to our own devices, but when we’re immersed in a can-do, coworking environment, we’re suddenly much more productive.


Today, coworking spaces may center around a communal work environment, they may offer private offices or meditation rooms, the coffee machine may have been upgraded to a fully stocked cafe or bar. But it’s the desire to be with others and be inspired by others that remains the primary attraction.


The office alternative 


Of course, no article on the Future of Work is complete without a Covid-19 reference. Many experts actually predicted the demise of coworking in the wake of COVID-19. But it’s the opposite that has actually occurred. Coworking’s popularity continues to rise. And in the wake of the pandemic, it hasn’t merely been entrepreneurs and freelancers that are taking advantage of these amenity-packed gathering hubs; large corporations have been making coworking spaces part of their hybrid workplace plans, as well. 


For companies working overtime to implement hybrid work structures that support their employees’ remote-friendly preferences, coworking offers an office alternative that checks a number of boxes critical to any business’s success: it enhances collaboration, accelerates innovation, and drives productivity. Moreover, it helps to sidestep petty distractions like internal office politics for the simple reason that it brings people together from different organizations. 


But, most importantly, coworking responds to current employee needs. More than ever, workers know what they want from their employers, and they’re not being shy about making those desires known. Topping the list of employee desires in the new normal is workplace choice. Coworking supports workplace choice, works well in combination with initiatives geared toward equity and inclusion, while also improving both morale and productivity. It offers start-ups, small businesses and even large companies a creative and timely way to meet their employees where they are, by allowing them to work where they want to be. 




This just in: People like to be together more than they sometimes let on. They like to talk to each other, keep tabs on each other, be motivated by each other. Coworking’s popularity continues to expand worldwide because it facilitates meaningful human interaction. It works for employees looking to nurture connections in their communities and career fields, and it works for employers looking to lower costs while motivating and retaining their best people. In today’s employee-focused, remote-friendly world, coworking works for the way we work now.


Coworking is having a moment, in other words, and is unlikely to fall from favor anytime soon. If you accept the premise that work is something you do and not someplace you go, it liberates you to work from anywhere. Coworking seizes on this concept and improves it by facilitating opportunities for people to work from anywhere, together. Workplace choice, combined with a sense of community, and a first-rate espresso beverage to boot – that works for us.

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