The History of Coworking

Emily O'Brien
April 14, 2023
The History of Coworking

The history of coworking

‘Coworking’. It’s a word that’s in common usage so much nowadays. But have a guess when it became a thing. 2020? Maybe 2018? Perhaps even earlier, say 2012? Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Incredibly, the whole concept of coworking began waaay back in 1995. A group of hackers in Berlin created a shared space and called it… yes, “Hackerspace”. They were able to exchange ideas, knowledge and equipment while working on coding projects together. The idea grew and grew and by the end of 1995 there were Hackerspaces in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Santa Clara.

In 1999, the actual word “coworking” was uttered for the very first time by American game designer Bernard DeKoven. His definition of the word was “working together as equals”. Later that year a software company –42 West 24 - launched their space with a short-term flexible desk arrangement, allowing more freedom and movement.

Coworking spaces really began to take off in the 2000s,and although revolutionary it’s really not hard to see why. They gave workers from different companies the chance to collaborate like never before, sharing thoughts and new ways of doing things. 2002 saw two Austrian moguls launch their ‘entrepreneurial centre’, Schraubenfabrik, in Vienna. It offered like-minded people a place where they could join together and be trailblazers in their chosen field.

The first ‘official’ coworking space was set up by Brad Neuberg in 2005. Based in San Francisco, the space offered workers a sense of independence mixed with a reassuring feeling of community. But it wasn’t exactly an overnight success. Literally no one turned up in the first month. Then in the second month, along came a start-up developer called Ray Baxter and became the first ever ‘official’ coworker. Congrats Ray!

The next few years saw coworking picking up speed, with more and more spaces opening. In fact, the number of coworking spaces doubled year on year for the next seven years! San Francisco’s The Hat Factory, Switzerland’s Citizen Space, New York’s WeWork, Ontario’s COHIP… All opened their doors for the first time. And let’s not forget yours truly; we welcomed our first DeskLodgers in 2012!

Fast forward a few years to 2017 and the number of regular coworkers smashed one million! A year later, coworking giant WeWork revealed it had 250,000 members in 431 offices across 80 cities. Pretty amazing. Everyone was going coworking crazy!

And it seems this worldwide phenomenon isn’t in any danger of slowing down soon. Coworking is now recognised as an exciting, communal, cost effective and productive way of working. But hey, do all of the coworking spaces out there have bottomless coffee, sweetie Fridays and awesomely themed rooms? Nope. Didn’t think so. Boom.