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The History of Co-Working: How Have Co-Working Spaces Evolved Over Time?

Today’s remote workers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs have all come to view co-working as a regular part of life. While it may feel to some younger workers like things have always been this way, that’s not the case. The concept of co-working is only a few decades old, and in that time, it has evolved significantly.

The Precursor Co-Working: C-Base

The world’s first co-working spaces were developed over two and a half decades ago in Berlin, Germany. In 1995, 17 computer engineers created a pseudo-co-working space called C-Base. The goal of the project was to create a not-for-profit space where computer enthusiasts could come together, collaborate, network, and share knowledge.

Termed a “hackerspace,” C-Base provided computer enthusiasts with all of the facilities, equipment, and opportunities required to pursue shared and independent projects. If that sounds familiar, it’s because modern co-working spaces take a very similar approach.

A Vision for the Future

It wasn’t until 1999 that the term “co-working” was coined by an American game designer, author, and lecturer named Bernard DeKoven. DeKoven identified co-working as a method of facilitating collaborative work through a non-hierarchical and uncompetitive approach to coming together to achieve both shared and independent goals. At the time, the term referred to a work strategy, not a workspace.

The First Co-Working Spaces

The first co-working spaces began to open up at around the same time that DeKoven was proposing his revolutionary ideas about how to foster progress. At the time, New York City was the only place where these community-oriented workspaces were available. The earliest co-working spaces included 116 West Houston, later renamed Nutopia and tailored to the needs of NYC’s creative industry, and 42 West 24, which was run by a software company.

Compared to both today’s co-working spaces and DeKoven’s initial ideals, these spaces were far less community oriented. However, Nutopia and 42 West 24 were destined to eventually become blueprints for designing flexible workspaces. Both of them are still open for business and going strong today.

Overseas Initiatives

Given the fact that America leads the world when it comes to the number of coworking spaces, it can be tempting to forget about the essential role that European entrepreneurs played in popularizing the concept. In 2002, two Austrian entrepreneurs built what they termed “the mother of coworking spaces” in an old Vienna factory and called it Schraubenfabrik.

The goal of this project was to provide architects, PR consultants, freelancers, and startups with space to grow, network, and collaborate. Schraubenfabrik’s founders went on to open Rochuspark in later years, as well.

In 2005, the first Hub opened in London at the Angel Station. As industry insiders know, Hub went on from its humble origins to become a massive franchise network. At around the same time, the very first free Internet cafes began to open in St. Oberholz, Germany. The collaborative and communal ideals that form the basis of co-working in Europe were finally beginning to gain steam.

Co-Working Spaces Make an Official Debut in America

It wasn’t until 2005 that the first official co-working space opened its doors in San Francisco. Founded by programmer Brad Neuberg, this space was organized as a not-for-profit co-op hosted at Spiral Muse, a feminist collective.

Neuberg was inspired to open a co-working space by his own trials and travails. At that time, he was working at a startup and found that the flexible workspace options then available were unable to offer both structure and a sense of community. Neuberg’s San Francisco Coworking Space was far more community-focused than its predecessors and offered not just shared desks and free WiFi but also shared lunches, massages, meditation breaks, and even bike tours.

Although the San Francisco Coworking Space closed its doors after only a year, it inspired remote workers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs around the country. Each year, new co-working spaces began to open their doors in different cities. Early examples included:

  • Brooklyn Coworking in New York City
  • Jelly in Austin and Phoenix
  • The Global Coworking Unconference Conference
  • The Coworking Wiki Brings the Concept to the Mainstream

In 2006, Twitter hashtag inventor Chris Messina set up an open-source resource online called The Coworking Wiki. Messina’s intention was to help people across the world find and connect with coworking spaces in different cities and to promote existing spaces. This online collaborative project marks the beginning of co-working’s global exponential growth.

By 2012, the concept of co-working had gained traction across the globe and over 2,000 new spaces had opened their doors to new members. The trend has only continued since then.

The State of Co-Working Today

As one can see, co-working was already becoming increasingly popular before the coronavirus pandemic hit offices across the world and changed how everyone did business. Now, the popularity of remote work is greater than ever, and with social distancing no longer necessary, office workers as well as freelancers and entrepreneurs are finding the perfect balance of structure and community in co-working spaces.

As of this article’s publication, there are thousands of independent co-working spaces across the globe and dozens of major companies have adopted the concept. Franchises for both major and independent companies like SUCCESS Space have scaled up to include multiple locations and dominate market shares for their regions.

In the United States, alone, there are well over half a million people taking advantage of co-working spaces. Although the United States has more co-working spaces than any other country, there are well over one million people with memberships to co-working spaces worldwide.

Co-Working Is the Future

The proliferation of remote collaboration tools and the modern workforce’s desire for more flexible workdays means that the popularity of co-working is unlikely to abate any time soon. In fact, the number of people using co-working spaces is projected to rise by 284% by 2025.

It is now clear to anyone who has been paying attention that co-working is the future of office work. Entrepreneurs who want to take full advantage of this trend should consider setting up a SUCCESS Space franchise to help others embrace change and realize their goals.

If you have been considering franchise ownership, you will find no better opportunity than working with SUCCESS. Contact us today to learn more!

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