26 . Oct . 2019

The History of Coworking, 1600’s to 2019


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Zioks: The History of Coworking, 1600’s to 2019

Although coworking is a term we now know as a new-age business term, the actual concept is something we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. Wherever there is a community working together, there is coworking!

Why is this important to know? The better we understand how coworking benefitted those in the past, the better we understand why it is so valuable now. It also helps many realise why the mundanity of a traditional office space felt so unnatural for them. The definition of coworking has changed and developed over time. We don’t expect this to stop, as coworking becomes more prevalent, it will be redefined again and the working world will reap the benefits. Without further ado, let’s delve into the history of coworking!


The term “coworking” was first coined in the 1600s. However, the term was only used in a number of Christian books which referred to coworking with respect to God. Modern coworking isn’t dependant on a divine power, it’s dependent on the aspiration, work ethic, and communal support. Although modern coworking is far different to any religious belief, we can still take away that coworking is the coming together of people who share similar working values.


C-base was a non-profit association birthed in Berlin, Germany. It was a hackerspace which had the purpose of increasing knowledge and skills relating to software, hardware and data networks. C-base introduced many young people to technology related fields and interests, which they may not have been easy to come by in schooling. They also shared their space with other organizations who had a similar purpose, promoting free public internet access and sharing a wireless LAN with all users of the space. They are acknowledged as one of the first hackerspaces in the world and are viewed as one of the earlier models of coworking.


Bernard De Koven was a game designer, “fun theorist,” author and lecturer who created his own definition of coworking; “working together as equals.” The idea was to encourage a workspace that was free from hierarchy and competitive relationships, as these sorts of concepts were breeding grounds for mistrust and falsity. Although the definition of modern coworking has now developed, De Koven’s definition still lies at the foundation of modern coworking and is an underlying value that makes coworking communities so valuable. It’s important to realise here that although De Koven used the term “coworking,” and his definition is transferable, he didn’t imagine coworking in same way we imagine modern coworking.

In the same year, we saw 42 West 24 launch in New York. This essentially had the same setup as a modern coworking space, The one difference was that 42 West 24 didn’t emphasise community like coworking spaces do now! Remember, coworking as we currently know it hadn’t been invented yet. Like many coworking spaces, it was created by a software company who occupied a large office space and rented out any remaining space to other organizations. This was also a big development in the market, showing such a space was wanted, the company still exists to this day!


Schraubenfabrik is created as an entrepreneurs center. Located in Vienna, this entrepreneurs centre is referred to as the ‘mother of coworking spaces.’ The space itself brought something new to the concept of a shared working environment, expanding to include many different professionals including: cooperatives, freelancers, PR consultants and architects. The center was founded in an old factory, inspiring many other coworking spaces to transform similar or other varieties of structures into coworking spaces.

coworking space

The first “coworking space” was officially coined in San Francisco by a programmer called Brad Neuberg. This was a non-profit space which was made as an alternative to the social disconnection in a traditional office space, the limitations of working in a coffee shop and the loneliness or unproductiveness of working from home. The place was known as SpiralMuse and introduced many new communal aspects to a coworking space, emphasising member wellbeing. The space included shared lunches, meditation breaks, bike tours, massages and a strict closing time that was 5.45pm. This approach to wellbeing in coworking spaces has been developed to suit the modern entrepreneur. The proof is in Zioks, we have a variety of coworking facilities that promote wellbeing, such as a medical room, recreational room, gym and cafeteria.


Following SpiralMuse was the Coworking Wiki, which was founded by Brad Neuberg, Chis Messina and Tara Hunt. This was to inform people about what coworking was and to encourage the growth of the movement. Such a page was needed, this year we saw the amount of coworking spaces in existence rise to 30, which doubled in number every year until 2012.

To compliment the growth of coworking came Jellies. Jellies were small meetings for people who preferred working from home, but found that they missed the creative brainstorming and camaraderie that an office space provided. Jellies was invented to promote regular meetings, exchange ideas and encourage a community with nearby professionals.


Coworking is quickly multiplying in search numbers. In the US, the term is picked up by the mainstream media, however doesn’t reach other shores until 2009. Lastly, this is the year that coworking got its own Wikipedia page.


At this point, about 160 coworking spaces are in existence and they’re being developed in a range of ways. South by Southwest for 2008-2009 hosts the first unofficial coworking meet-ups. This encourages other coworking conferences to take place, notably the creation of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) in 2012, whose conferences continue to evolve modern coworking.

The idea of a coworking visa was invented. This visa would allow travelling coworking members to enter other coworking spaces for free. The idea was invented by Julia Duryea of souk and Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads. Although the concept was founded in the West Coast of America, it quickly gained national and international support.


Betahaus in Germany breaks into Germany’s mainstream media and is frequently featured on popular magazine, Spiegel. Germany also becomes the first European country to adopt the term “coworking.” “I’m Outta Here,” the first coworking book is published.


Coworking communities around the world, celebrate the first #coworking day, remembering the beginning of coworking in 2005. The first coworking conference in Europe took place, known as HUB Brussels—the space has now closed. At this time, 600 coworking spaces existed, half being founded in North America.


Larger companies started to begin new innovations with coworking. Either meaning that different companies started to expand their business with a coworking space, e.g SteelCase (a furniture company) begins to use its showrooms partially as coworking spaces, which eventually launching a coworking space known as Workspring.


Currently 2000 coworking spaces have been founded. During 2012, 93,000 Twitter posts included the hashtag “#coworking,” which as a 52% increase since 2011. Posts including coworking with or without the hashtag totalled to 217,000 tweets. Twitter posts were most active during GCUC conferences such as Coworking Europe and Coworking Spain.


This year saw the amount of coworking spaces reach 3000, meaning that over 100,000 people were working as coworking members!

We saw a number of coworking organizations now represent a large network of coworking spaces, which were present in more than five different locations. The majority of coworking spaces still run independently, operating in two different locations. Coworking spaces begin to work with associations to extend amenities. For example, the Coworking Health Insurance Plan (COHIP) was released with the aim of providing accessible dental, disability, travel insurance, term life, prescription drug coverage as well as other health benefits for coworkers. This has now become a standard amenity in Canada.


A new ‘Coworking on Vacation’ described as an off-shoot of coworking is covered in the
New York Times. The idea was to include small coworking spaces within hotels, resorts and other exotic locations. So travelling coworkers would have a convenient place to work in, while having the convenience of a hotel room to retire to.


Coworking and coliving continues to develop. The main difference between coworking and coliving is that after coworking you return to your home or place you’re temporarily staying, while with coliving your accommodation is part of the coworking space.


As at 2019 coworking has become normalised. There are currently 35,000 coworking spaces in the world; coworking has become very popular internationally and the global market share of coworking spaces has reached $26 billion.

We also see the amount of corporations present in coworking spaces increase rapidly. Many corporations now have employees in a mixture of spaces, working within both traditional offices spaces and traditional office setups.

Looking Forward

The number of coworking spaces continues to increase with every passing year. The US is still the most developed country for coworking, and coworking spaces are expected to increase at an annual rate of 6%. Internationally coworking spaces are expected to increase at a rate of 13%.

Coworking still is a new term for many people. It’s important that more people learn about different work or lifestyles that could better serve their wellbeing. Coworking isn’t a trend; its history is long and full of development and innovation. The result is a flexible working space that people find more valuable from both a business and wellbeing perspective. If you’d like to experience it for yourself, see the coworking space here at Zioks. We’re dedicated to helping you find a flexible workspace that suits your business.

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