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Work Life
March 30, 2023

A Coworking Day Special: History of Coworking

August 9th is a special date all workers armed with a laptop should mark on their calendars... because it’s the day to celebrate your beloved coworking spaces! Coworking spaces through history have helped employees left and right in maintaining their productivity and sanity. Today, around 3.1 million people are coworking around the world and benefiting from the brainchild of an uncanny group of hackers.

It was the autumn of 1995 - consumer internet was not yet prevalent, Disney had just released Toy Story, and Amazon was only selling books. A group of computer engineers put their minds together in bringing us the precursor to coworking spaces,“hackerspaces”. C-Base was the name of the space, and it's located in Berlin, Germany. The intention as a non-profit space was to bring computer enthusiasts together for collaboration and work. The very first bunch of digital nomads were the unknown founders of what millions of people are using now.

What C-Base looks like today. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bernard DeKoven coined the term “coworking” to mean the way of work, not the space itself. As a game designer, he designed this definition in hopes of seeing a breakdown of hierarchy and equality as coworkers. The meaning of “coworking” then evolved to be what it is now, after the first official coworking space.

The first “coworking space” open to the public was 42 West 24 in New York City, created by a software company. Though they provided an impressive work environment, the strong community and networking aspects we see today were yet to be introduced. It was only equipped with simple and flexible desk spaces, where members can just drop in and work.

Two Austrian entrepreneurs transformed an old factory in Vienna to a space for like-minded entrepreneurs to work away from home, called Schraubenfabrik. As their job is to create and share ideas, this space introduced networking and community-building to coworking spaces. It was filled with architects, PR consultants, start-ups and freelancers.

If you’ve noticed, none of the coworking ancestors was actually called a “coworking space”, though it mimicked the function of one. In 2005, the first official coworking space called “San Francisco Coworking Space” was introduced. Located at a feminist collective called Spiral Muse, this space intended to maintain the freedom of independent working.

The Spiral Muse feminist collective, where the first coworking space was located. (Source: Coding in Paradise)

Creator Brad Neuberg reached out to people on Craigslist and various coffee shops around town. After a month of inactivity, start-up developer Ray Baxter came into the space. Little did Baxter know, he won the name of the world’s first “coworker” (on top of being a star athlete already).

Brad Neuberg, the man who started it all (officially). (Source: BCNewt)

Before coworking, Brad worked in a startup called Rojo and was unhappy with his job. His vision was to combine both his job and independent work at the same time:

"The freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others."

Clashing with Bernard DeKoven's initial meaning of coworking, Neuberg confirmed that DeKoven was "unconnected with the rise of the coworking space movement". The brains behind the first coworking space consist of Brad Neuberg, Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, and a few others (eg. the owner of the Spiral Muse).

San Francisco Coworking Space closed a year after, but Neuberg along with ten other volunteers created another coworking space for full-time called the “Hat Factory”.

The inventor of the Twitter hashtag, Chris Messina, was one of the people who worked with Neuberg in creating the first coworking space. Using his tech skills, he launched an online resource called The Coworking Wiki. This online platform helps people connect and find coworking spaces in new cities, which helps to promote the spaces too. Kind of like BOOQED, where we help you find suitable coworking spaces in Hong Kong and Singapore - you can check us out here, in the spirit of coworking day!

Coworking Wiki frontpage. (Source: Coworking Wiki)  

Coworking goes worldwide, and 2008 marks the year of the coworking visa. Some spaces collaborated in allowing members to access all their branches, so those who travel can benefit from their services globally.

The first coworking book “I’m Outta Here! How coworking is making the office obsolete” was released in 2009, delving into the coworking revolution and how offices are changing.

(Source: Google Books)

Since Neuberg’s coworking space launched on the 9th of August, this day became Coworking Day, but it was only truly celebrated five years after its beginnings. A coworking Google group posted this on the 7th of August in their forums, perhaps what started the day overall:

“Next Monday will be 5 years since Brad Neuberg talked about coworking for the first time. I think that date should be the official Coworking Day. What do you think about blogging something special to celebrate that and tweeting using the #CoworkingDay hashtag?”  

Now, coworkers everywhere celebrate this milestone by showing appreciation for their spaces!

Another major appreciation of coworking spaces was in the first coworking event, “Coworking Unconference”. The Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC) stemmed from that, and now is one of the largest coworking events to date.

GCUC expended from the US to South America, China, Canada, UK, Latin America and Australia. (Source: GCUC China)

There are still many more significant coworking milestones to be noted, such as how HSBC moved 300 of its staff into coworking spaces, how giant tech companies like Microsoft and IBM have used these spaces, as well as the domination of WeWork over the years. For a more in-depth timeline of every significant event to coworking, check out this website here.

Coworking is now more widespread than ever, here are a few key statistics and trends:

  • Estimated number of coworking members will rise to 3.8 million in 2020 and 5.1 million by 2022
  • 14,411 estimated number of coworking spaces in the world today
  • 84% of people who use coworking spaces are more engaged and motivated
  • 89% of people who cowork reported to be happier

Given the rise of coworking, the future of the office is likely evolving in that direction. Who would've thought a small group of hackers could shape work trends worldwide? As the idea of coworking circles around the great minds who developed it, the creators surely practised what it preaches, by collaborating and coworking in making this way of work a reality.

Celebrate with BOOQED

Of course, BOOQED wishes you a happy coworking day! Whether you’re a seasoned coworker, or just found out about the world of coworking, we can all acknowledge and celebrate the achievements the industry has led throughout the years.

The best way to do that is to share this article with #CoworkingDay, and show your support by working in a coworking space this week!

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