It’s become a global sensation. A new norm in business communities everywhere. Even longtime work traditionalists have been kissing the office goodbye in favor of a work-from-anywhere lifestyle. Coworking has become the digital age’s answer to 50 years of the cubicle, and the hype is only getting louder.
Whose space is it anyway?
Those who have made the move to a remote lifestyle have had to come up with creative solutions to keep a paycheck. Many have shifted their business endeavors as well – transitioning from corporate employees to startup founders and freelancers. But entrepreneurship can be a difficult, isolating path if you work alone from your living room or in the awkward 10-person silence of your neighborhood Starbucks.
Therein lies the allure of the coworking space. Coworking spaces offer a reliable place to work in the company of like-minded individuals who can share in the struggles and aspirations of entrepreneurship. These spaces facilitate collaboration and networking, free movement, and a flexible work style. It was only a matter of time until coworking spaces began to evolve into the community hubs they are today.
Just about anyone can use a coworking space. If you consider yourself any of the following, you’re the perfect candidate for a coworking space member:
- Local entrepreneur
- Traveling business owner
- Freelancer/independent worker
- Startup founder in need of a small office space for a few workers
- Business professional who holds in-person or online client meetings
- Anyone with a bit of work autonomy and the desire for community
The rise of coworking: a brief history
In 1999, game designer Bernie DeKoven coined the term “coworking” in order to describe the new collaborative work environment that was emerging alongside improvements to technology. The concept of the “traditional” work environment was already going out of style, as workers had begun to express dissatisfaction with their solitary, confined spaces.
It took a while for the coworking environment of today to finally emerge. In 2005, mobile workers started to need work spaces that were available to rent for a few days or hours at a time. Informal spaces were established for people to work from in the company of others.
In 2006, the first official coworking space was opened by programmer Brad Neuberg in San Francisco, as his response to the “unsocial” corporate offices and the unproductivity of the home office. Later that year, the casual work project Jelly took off in New York, and – at the encouragement of the two founders – others followed suit and began establishing casual work communities their own cities.
Over in Europe, the coworking scene had already emerged in the Berlin cafe St. Oberholz, which had been offering its guests free internet access since 2005. The cafe was featured in “We Call It Work,” a book about the radical “digital bohemians” who found ways to earn money online, outside traditional employment settings. The book helped skyrocket Europe’s coworking movement and allow St. Oberholz to establish itself as a true coworking space.
As the Jelly meetups multiplied and more coworking spaces became operational, major media outlets began to take note of the movement. The term “coworking” secured its own page on Wikipedia and the first conference of “digital bohemians” took place in Berlin.
By the end 2008, there were 160 coworking spaces – twice as many as the year before. That year, coworking space Cubes & Crayons became the first to provide its patrons with child care facilities. Beginning in 2008, the annual conference South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin started hosting coworking talks, out of which the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) was born.
Corporations began to try out coworking spaces of their own in 2011, in attempts to increase employee productivity and morale.
At the beginning of 2012, more than 100,000 people were working in at least 1500 coworking spaces. By July, there were 3000 coworking spaces in existence internationally. There were a few coworking space networks that operated in different locations, like NextSpace, which was able to expand its 7th location after receiving $800,000 of funding. Most spaces, however, were organized by existing communities and operated independently, with the values and needs of their members as their driving cores. The collective CoworkingOntario even launched COHIP, the first health insurance plan for coworking space members in 2013.
What was once considered a “bohemian” lifestyle is now validated by the 9000+ coworking spaces around the world and 550,000 workers using them. Not surprising, considering the comprehensive offerings of today’s coworking spaces.
Work perks galore
Since there are so many spaces to choose from these days, coworking spaces have begun to offer more amenities to woo prospective members. An open floor plan, flexible seating, lounge areas, and that reclaimed/artisanal aesthetic are merely a baseline in big cities with lots of coworking space competition.
Many places are starting to hold different activities like yoga classes, meditation sessions, and social mixers. Some hold in-house seminars to help members improve their skills or build their brands. Coworking spaces are becoming not just a place to work, but also a place to learn and grow.
A number of coworking spaces have chosen to add a coffee nook or full coffee shop, a kitchen, a tap room, a café, and sometimes 24/7 access. Others are looking into adding health clubs, spas, dry cleaning, and retail shopping options, in an attempt to draw in more ambitious, big-spending professionals, or even secure a corporate deal for traveling employees.
Some spaces also offer offices for rent at a monthly deal. Typically, these rooms are small and seat a maximum of four, but come fully furnished to the design standard of the rest of the coworking space. These coworking spaces also tend to offer conference rooms for rent by the hour, available to any member whose dues have been paid and is in good standing with the coworking space management.
A place for ideas
A number of coworking spaces have also crossed into the territory of business incubators. Successful businesses people in an area will partner up with a coworking space to work as a business-hatching mentor for its members. Sometimes, incubators have competitions that allow new startups to compete for funding and exposure to potential investors. As the draw of local incubators is rapidly expanding, many entrepreneurs are vying for coveted positions in the incubator space.
In any kind of coworking space, the social aspect is one of the most significant. When you join a coworking space, you’re joining a community of driven, talented individuals with shared interests and goals. Members enjoy cultivating a team environment, and tend to happily to open up and share their work with others. There are innumerable opportunities to network and collaborate on projects, organize meetups, and seek validation for your ideas. The ability to work alongside other entrepreneurs who are willing to share their own insight and resources is truly invaluable.
The future of coworking
From the traveling mogul, to the software engineer, to the freelance writer, coworking spaces are rapidly becoming the entrepreneur’s trend of the future. New coworking spaces open daily as more and more entrepreneurs and small business owners move into mobile environments, or are choosing to live a location-independent lifestyle, working from wherever there is a stable wifi connection.
Experts in the business sector are speculating that coworking environments are, in fact, the future of work in almost all industries. Large businesses have been creating open-plan coworking environments to encourage engagement and creativity among their employees. Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter have already introduced collaborative work-leisure spaces that have been shown to improve employee enthusiasm for their work and overall productivity.
Other companies are beginning to follow suit, as an increasing number of studies have also found that employees in a coworking environment tend to demonstrate more commitment to their company, find their work more meaningful, and generate better results more efficiently.
What’s in it for me?
As traditional business models decline, more people are breaking free from the confines of an office job and the frustrations of working under a boss. Ambitious individuals are deciding to take charge of their own destinies and start companies they can be passionate about.
Finding work-life balance is becoming more and more necessary, especially for the ever-progressive millennial generation. The rise of coworking spaces is allowing the business owners of the future to have complete control of their own work schedules, and a greater sense of autonomy over their lives.
If you’re able to work outside of an office, seize the opportunity. There’s sure to be a great coworking space in your area. It will beat working alone at home and provide you far more opportunities than your regular hot spot coffee shop. And you never know – your deskmate could be your next business partner.