How coworking got started: The Timeline

The tide is coming in. As DeskMag found in its most recent Global Coworking Survey, the amount of coworkers has surpassed 1.1 million worldwide. As the coworking world embraces the flood, a question remains:  Where has this growth come from and whence has it been building ‘til now?

We fished the depths of the internet for these answers, to discover (and assemble) a timely treasure for your review:  abrief history of coworking. Feel free to let us know if there’s something you would like to add.

1600s: Coworking is not a new term. The first books which praised the power of coworking, are already published in 1628. Yet they only admired the coworking power of God and its representatives, which also have shown multiple publications in 1645, 1651, 1653 or 1657. The concept changed over time into what it is today: a representation of working independently, but together. Most coworkers work as their own God. They are freelancers who share common values. The most important examples you can find here.

### What is coworking? Read this article. ###

1995: Hackerspaces are typically considered the foundation of the modern coworking movement. As described by Worcester Polytechnic Institute, “The basic purpose of the original hackerspaces is… sharing tools and knowledge between members to complete projects” although  they now “host a wide spread of outreaching workshops, classes, competitions and various social events.”

Traditionally community-based, these spaces had relied on public events, where  “participants” are “often enticed to join hackerspace communities” Eventually, “using websites, magazines and television” hackerspaces “have managed to bring many enthusiasts into the…community and inspired many to open their own” spaces.

Berlin-based C-base, is one the first hackerspaces in the world. In 2002, it makes WiFi networks available and promotes free public access to the internet.  Other popular hackerspaces include: Santa Clara-based Hacker Dojo, Brooklyn’s NYC Resistor, and Noisebridge in San Francisco. T The hackerspace movement is also growing worldwide.

1999: Play theory pioneer and founder of the Games Preserve, the first institution dedicated to the exploration of games and play for adults, Bernard DeKoven launches the word “coworking” to describe “working together as equals.”  It is a way to identify a method that would facilitate collaborative work and business meetings coordinated by computers.

This  “working together as equals” is far from what he sees in traditional businesses where people are separated and graded by rank and salary level. Coworking would support collaborative work through a non-competitive approach while giving people the opportunity to work on their own projects.

That same year, 42 West 24 pops-up in New York City. The space is run by a software company and offers a pleasant work environment with flexible desks for individuals and teams, which could also be cancelled on short notice. Despite the lack of emphasis on the community aspect, compared to modern coworking spaces, this initiative is a real breakthrough in the market.

This theory of work is especially put to the test after the tech bubble, which sees the valuations of many prominent web-based companies plummet along with market capitalization,popped in 2001. As the tumult rises to palpable levels, the Wall Street Journal prints a story headlined the “Dot-Com Bubble Has Burst” and starts with, “Here’s a rock-solid prediction for the Internet in 2001: Jeff Bezos will not be selected Time’s Man of the Year.”  In the midst of these churning waters, the software company behind 42 West 24  loses many clients and therefore many employees. However 42 West 24 begins to grow with new members from the outside and, at the time of this writing, is still going strong, with 50 coworkers who occupy around 32 desks. The founding company still occupies a part of the shared workspace.

2002:  Crafted out of an old factory in the midst of the city,Vienna’s mother of coworking spaces opens as Schraubenfabrik in 2002. Having originally  started as a community center for entrepreneurs it expands to include “architects or PR consultants, cooperatives, freelancers or micro-enterprises working with laptops and cell phones.” Later, it begets Hutfabrik or the Hat Factory in2004 (no relation to the Hat Factory in San Franciscoand Rochuspark  in 2007. The spaces operate under the umbrella of Konnex Communities, which become the first local network of coworking spaces.

2005: The first “coworking space” opens its door in San Francisco on August 9 by programmer Brad Neuberg as a  reaction to “unsocial” business centers and  unproductive work life at a home office. Organized as a non-profit co-op, the space is hosted at Spiral Muse, a “home for well-being”. The association offers five to eight desks two days a week, free wifi, along with shared lunches, meditation breaks, massages, bike tours, and a strict closing time of 5.45 pm. The coworking space closes after a year, and is replaced by the Hat Factory in 2006.

The first Hub starts at London’s Angel Station from which came over 40 coworking spaces developed by a franchise network on five continents. It is currently the biggest network of coworking spaces.

In Germany, St. Oberholz opens in 2005 as one of the first cafés in Berlin to offer free internet access and allow people to work on their laptops as guests, not wifi parasites. The café and its visitors end up in a book, called “We Call It Work – The Digital Boheme or Smart  Life Beyond Permanent Employment”. Published in 2006, the book, which is  not specifically about coworking, describes the new form of work created by the internet and its people, who are now often working in coworking spaces. Surprisingly,  it sparks the coworking movement in Europe’s biggest nation. Today, St. Oberholz offers a real coworking space above its coffeeshop.

2006: The Coworking Wiki starts in San Francisco. One of the co-founders is Chris Messina, the guy who created the Twitter Hashtag.

The Hat Factory opens as the first full-time space that is called a “coworking space”. Among the co-founders is Brad Neuberg, Chris Messina and Tara Hunt. It is one out of almost 30 coworking spaces worldwide at this time. Until 2012, its numbers have nearly doubled each year.

The same year, the first “Jellies” started. Jellies are occasional meetings where a small group of people come together to collaborate within an informal atmosphere. Jellies offer the opportunity to exchange ideas, with no commitments or costs. At the same time, they allow a community to build that can eventually lead to the development of an institution like a coworking space.

In reaction to the book “We Call It Work”, an artist comes up with the concept of a coworking space called Business Class Net, in 2006. The medium-sized workspace, located in his former gallery in Kreuzberg, finally opens on Labor Day in 2007. It is Berlin’s first coworking space, and also starts the first global networks of coworking spaces via fairchise.

2007: For the first time, the term “coworking” is seen as a trend on Google’s database. Since then, the search queries have increased by a factor of 20. The concept of coworking becomes a fixture of f mainstream media in the United States. However, the term does not break out into the wider world until about 2009/2010.tOne of the first coworking spaces is also bootstrapped. Indyhall develops a coworking space in Philadelphia by creating a community first and  creating a budget second. . Around 30 people are willing to buy memberships in advance.

In August, the first conference discussing new forms of work, “digital bohemians”, takes place in Berlin. The meeting is called “9to5”. Several of the participants later founded three of the city’s coworking spaces.

Later this year, “Coworking” got its own page on the English version of Wikipedia.

2008: During the South By Southwest (SXSW) in 2008 and 2009, the first unofficial coworking meet-ups take place. Based on these meetings and the first Coworking Conference in Brussels in 2010, Loosecubes decides in 2011 to organize the first official Coworking Unconference during SXSW. One year later, the GCUC (Global Coworking Unconference Conference) emerges.

In August, the Coworking Visa is born. The program is a voluntary goodwill agreement between many coworking spaces to allow members of other spaces to visit for free.

At Cubes & Crayons, the first coworking space opens alongside facilities for kids ranging from just a few months old to preschoolers.

By the end of 2008, there are about 160 coworking spaces worldwide.

2009: The first book on coworking is published. “I’m Outta Here! How coworking is making the office obsolete” is a book about the people & places that kicked off the workplace revolution in the US.

In Germany, Betahaus is one of the first official so-called “coworking spaces”, that opens in March of 2009. No other coworking space has so often gotten a place in Germany’s biggest news magazine, the Spiegel. Because of rising attention, the term “coworking” enters into the German mainstream media. A year later, Germany is established as the first country in Europe to use the term “coworking”, according to Google Trends.

2010: The coworking movement celebrated the first #CoworkingDay – in memory of the first “coworking day”, which took place five years earlier.

In Europe, the first coworking conference took place at the Hub Brussels. Since then the coworking space has closed, thus the 4th Coworking Europe will take place in Barcelona this year. At the time of the first coworking conference, 600 coworking spaces existed worldwide, with more than half of them in North America.

2011: The year started with the European Jelly Week, which became Worldwide Jelly Week only one year later.

The first Coworking Unconference took place in Austin on March 10. A day earlier, NextSpace also announced the first angel funding for a network of coworking spaces.

2011 also sees the first large companies begin to experiment with their own coworking spaces. The result is the coworking space Modul 57, founded by one of Europe’s largest tourism companies TUI, with its headquarters in Hanover (Germany). The Bank ING, opens its first coworking space, Network Orange, in Toronto. Steelcase is already using some coworking spaces as a showroom for office furniture companyTurnstone. Two years later, they open Workspring as their own chain of coworking spaces, which specializes in “corporate coworking”.

2012: In October, more than 2000 coworking spaces are founded worldwide.

Over the course of the year, Twitter users sent 93,000 tweets with the hashtag “coworking” (Source: Topsy).That is a huge increase of 52% compared to the previous year. Considering the search term, with and without hashtag, there are even more than 217,000 tweets (+56%). During GCUC, Coworking Europe and Coworking Spain, Twitter users are chirping about coworking most often.

2013: At the beginning of the year, more than 100,000 people worked at coworking spaces. In July, the 3,000th coworking space opens.

There are now nine networks of coworking spaces that operate in more than five locations, such as The Hub, NextSpace in the US or Urban Station in Latin America. Since 2008, NextSpace collects nearly US$2.5 million for opening new coworking spaces, and has recently taken over Chicago’s Coop, a space Technori describes as “youthful” and “hip” with “floor-to-ceiling windows, trendy furniture, and unique art…the ideal coworking space for artists, freelancers, and start-up entrepreneurs”

However, the majority of coworking spaces run independently with only one or two locations. Some of them are organized in associations to create more values for their members. Coworking Ontario, for instance, launches the first health insurance plan for coworking spaces in August 2013.

2015: In the story “Co-Working on Vacation: A Desk in Paradise”, the New York Times covers a new development that sees coworking combine with the experiences of joining the entire home office at a resort or hotel.

The story goes on to explain:

These new centers are an offshoot of co-working spaces, which offer the benefits of an office environment on a temporary basis. But they also provide a place to sleep, have fun and mingle with colleagues — not in humdrum office parks, but in exotic locations around the world…

The article’s main focus is a coworking/coliving space on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, near one of the most coveted surfing beaches on the island. Named the Surf Office, this space that originally opened in 2013 describes itself as “an experiment…by Peter [Fabor]…where first class beaches, perfect warm weather, and the position within the EU made it appealing to freelancers, surf lovers, and travelers alike.”

2016: The coworking/coliving experiment expands, most notably with coworking company WeWork’s residential offering in New York City tentatively named “WeLive.” According to Fast Company, the startup is able to raise $788 million in venture capital for the project within 18 months.

As Fast Company describes it, “WeLive” is …similar to a traditional apartment building. Each of the 200 units—mostly studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments—has a private kitchen and at least one private bathroom.

Less typical for an apartment building: All units are fully furnished, decorated, and set up with cable and Internet at move-in… And the building has a community manager who will help plan Sunday-night suppers, game nights, karaoke, and fitness classes.

Months earlier, New York and California-centric coliving company Campus shuts down its 34-location business.

2017: WeWork raises funding to become one of the most highly valued US private tech companies alongside Uber and AirBnB. It is valued at $20 billion. It also purchases the popular in-person meeting platform Meetup.com in order to build what WeWork’s cofounder and CEO Adam Neuman might describe, according to Wired, as “a community-manufacturing machine—a startup…where people ‘work to make a life, not just a living.’”

By the end of the year, nearly 1.2 million people worldwide would have worked in a coworking space.

In the short history of coworking it has already shifted the way people work and empowered thousands of people to start their own businesses.

In the coming years I look forward to seeing how coworking impacts smaller communities outside of big cities and stretches into new countries throughout the world.

That said, its history is not finished and the movement goes on. For this reason, we created an dynamic timeline, which we will continuously update. If you think there are some facts missing, just let us know.

In the coming years I look forward to seeing how coworking impacts smaller communities outside of big cities and stretches into new countries throughout the world.
If you’d like to join me and become a part of our friendly coworking community here in Denver, you can check us out with a Free Day here.