The Evolution of the Office — How Coworking Was Born

You may well be enjoying the boosts in productivity, confidence and wellbeing that coworking can bring, but do you know the winding, globe-spanning story that led to the boom of coworking spaces in London and beyond?

Over the years the old-fashioned office environment of rigid hierarchies and siloed workloads began to soften towards collaborative work projects and more flexible office space solutions. At first these more accommodating working practices were the preserve of trend-setting eccentrics like Richard Branson, but slowly they’ve become commonplace as their genuine, provable benefits have been made clearer and begun to produce undeniable results. All of this certainly played a significant part in laying the groundwork for coworking to be welcomed as a mainstream workplace trend, but it isn’t where the concept originated.

Hackerspaces — the Origins of Coworking?

Although the idea of informal spaces for collaborative working have been around in one form or another for almost as long as the traditional office, DeskMag trace the origins of the coworking spaces we recognise today back to Berlin in the mid 1990s. Before it was the trendy home of every hip young creative outside of London and New York, Berlin was home to the tech community known as C-Base, who set up an informal, community-operated ‘hackerspace’ for collaborative working in the city in 1995.

While the concept didn’t immediately set the world on fire, by 1999 it had spread to other countries, with similar community and company operated spaces popping up.

The First Coworking Space

Although these early spaces all contain some of the basic elements of coworking, the idea would not take full shape until 2005, when Brad Neuberg opened the first coworking space in San Francisco. Fed up with the sterile atmosphere of private business centres, but in search of something more professional than working from home, Neuberg designed his space to offer a mixture of desk space, shared lunches and events such as bike rides and group meditation. Although it closed down after just a year, Neuberg’s innovative mixture of working styles and environments laid the groundwork for the current boom in coworking spaces around the world.

The Coworking Explosion

Over the last ten years, coworking spaces have proved to be not only a popular workspace trend, but big business in themselves — the US coworking chain WeWork has been valued at a staggering $16 billion. Last year, a survey by DeskMag predicted that over a million people would be using a coworking space during 2017. Innovative variations on the concept continue to pop up — in New York, the coworking startup Spacious are repurposing empty restaurants as workspaces for the city’s night owls.

From hacking communities in Berlin to government owned spaces in India, coworking has come a long way since its early days. With the concurrent rise of the gig economy and constant scare stories over automation, it’s inevitable that the way we work will change again, but one thing appears to be certain — coworking is here to stay.