A very short history of coworking…

What with this dreadful Corona virus disrupting normal working activity, I was mulling over the concept of working when I came across the wonderful world of coworking. It seems to have appeared from nowhere but it does have a rather interesting history.

Way back in 1995, a number of bright souls, some say computer engineers others say hackers created the first ever “space” in a rundown old factory in a dishevelled part of Berlin. The idea was to offer a not-for-profit space which would bring together fellow nerds, computer enthusiasts, by offering them a place to work, as well as an opportunity to collaborate, share knowledge and equipment. It appeared to have been only a moderate success.

However, a few years later in 1999, a fellow called Bernard DeKoven entered the picture. He appears to be the first person to coin the word “coworking”. His concept was rather radical, espousing the concept of a non-hierarchical office space where all workers were equal.  At around the same time the Grandaddy of coworking spaces opened in New York, with the somewhat confusing name of 42 West 42. It appeared to have worked for it is still in existence today.

Not to be left out, a couple of Austrian entrepreneurs set up an ‘entrepreneurial center’, Schraubenfabrik, in an old factory in Vienna in 2002. This time the space included architects, PR consultants, startups and freelancers. A few years later the first “official” coworking space popped up, this time in San Francisco at a feminist collective called Spiral Muse. After a year, the San Francisco Coworking Space closes and is replaced by the Hat Factory. This was a major event, as this is the first time the media referred to the term ‘coworking space’ 

 

From thence on it took on a life of its own, as shortly afterwards the the inventor of the Twitter hashtag, a Chris Messina decided to set up an open source online resource called The Coworking Wiki. This helped coworkers around the world connect and find coworking spaces in new cities, whilst also helping coworking spaces get their name out.

Later things known as coworking visas were introduced, meaning that members of specific coworking spaces were given free access to other coworking spaces.  This meant that workers who travel could use coworking offices all around the world without having to spend extra money and also key in developing the then embryonic global coworking community.  

From 2006, the number of coworking spaces and coworking members approximately doubled each year for the next seven years. This exponential growth will soon become known as the coworking revolution.

The legitimacy of coworking was finally complete when in September 2016, HSBC moved 300 of its staff into coworking spaces. This is was the first time a large corporation chose the new workspaces over leased offices.  

I was somewhat surprised to discover that London is currently the capital of coworking, with more coworking spaces than New York, San Francisco and Berlin combined. Coworking now occupies 10.7 million square feet of office space in Central London alone.

 

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