Julie Tucker
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Coworking: The history

Coworking is a regular part of 21st century life for freelancers, remote workers, start-ups and many other businesses.

The number of coworking spaces worldwide has rocketed in the past decade, from around 2,000 in 2012 to more than 19,000 today. Experts predict there could be as many as 40,000 by 2025.

Coworking as we understand it today is largely a product of the 21st century, although its origins date from the 1990s. In the past three decades, the concept has evolved significantly, with more than three million users today. Coworking has been the fastest-growing sector in commercial real estate in the 21st century.

Where did coworking begin?

In 1995, the first coworking space was founded by a group of 17 German computer engineers in Berlin. They called it a hackerspace, called C-base, where like-minded people could exchange ideas and computer codes. Although the term “coworking space” hadn’t yet been coined, the idea was to share space, ideas and information.

The original C-base concept has grown and currently the non-profit organisation runs seminars, classes and social events aimed at opening more community spaces. There are more “hackerspaces” in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Santa Clara, with the number continually growing.

In 1995, American game designer, author and lecturer Bernard DeKoven first used the word “coworking” to describe people “working together as equals” for different employers, or as self-employed individuals, but sharing ideas, tools and a computer network. The same year, the first coworking space was launched in New York with a flexible desk setting.

Growth of coworking

The first coworking space in the UK was set up in 2005 in Islington, London, by a group of students. Known as The Hub, it was geared up to create social innovation through community involvement.

The same year, San Francisco’s first official coworking space was launched by entrepreneur Brad Neuberg. He claims to have invented coworking while working for a start-up called Rojo. He felt business centres and home offices were antisocial and unproductive.

His space provided desks, free Wi-Fi, lunches, meditation and massages. After a year, it was replaced by another coworking space, Hat Factory. Meanwhile, a London-based franchise network opened 40 coworking spaces on five different continents.

Neuberg said he had coined the term “coworking” in 2005, without knowing DeKoven had a website of the same name. In an interview, Neuberg said he and DeKoven had “briefly connected” during a phone call to discuss the “coworking” name. They decided their initiatives should remain unconnected.

Neuberg, a software engineer, has since been recognised as the creator of the first true coworking space. However, he invited other people who liked the idea to share and use it themselves. He actively encouraged people to co-work and didn’t take on ownership of the concept.

By 2008, there was a growing global community of 160 coworking spaces. Bases sprang up in most major cities throughout Europe and North America. In 2009, the Global Coworking Conference was founded, followed by the launch of the annual International Coworking Day on 9th August 2010.

Coworking in the past decade

By 2012, the concept had taken off dramatically, with 2,000 coworking spaces around the world. It grew at an annual rate of 24.2% to reach the current unprecedented levels. In 2014, almost 300,000 people were coworking around the world. The number had rocketed to one million by 2017.

The UK has been the world’s leading coworking city since 2018, when it was dubbed the “capital of co-working”. With more coworking spaces than New York, San Francisco and Berlin, these occupy around 10.7 million square feet of office space in Central London alone.

Estimates put the global market value of flexible workspaces at £19 billion today. More and more companies are using shared office spaces, including larger enterprises in the corporate world such as Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, with many others starting to follow suit.

Specialising in the creative, media and technology sectors; Headspace Group is a leading provider of coworking spaces in the UK in locations including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast and Farringdon. Please contact us to find out more.

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