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A History of Coworking Spaces and the Rise of Community Working

In the not-too-distant past, our working lives involved going to established private offices that were located in buildings which followed a standardised formula in terms of their layout: cubicles for regular workers, enclosed rooms for individuals in management, and a common area or pantry for meal times. Today, this landscape has drastically changed thanks to the birth of a new type of location: the coworking space.

How Coworking Began

As with every great catalyst in history, the coworking space has humble beginnings. In 1995, 17 computer engineers in Germany created C.Base, which was defined as a “hackerspace” computer enthusiasts. Its purpose? To be a non-profit location that brings together the IT community and provides them with facilities, equipment, and the opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded individuals in a community focused on innovation and knowledge-sharing.

Not long after in 1999, the word “coworking” was coined by Bernard DeKoven, an American game designer, author, lecturer, and “fun theorist”. It’s important to note however that DeKoven used this term to refer to his own idea of what working should look like; he envisioned a time when working involved an increased amount of collaboration amongst peers, and that the typical company hierarchy would be eradicated from the professional structure. Eventually though, the creation of an actual physical coworking space would see his term being adopted globally by the many industry players that occupy this market.

Finally in 2002, the coworking space that we picture today was born in Vienna, Austria. Established by two Austrian entrepreneurs, Schraubenfabrik is known as the “mother of coworking spaces” today, and was built in an old factory as an entrepreneurial centre for architects, public relations consultants, startups, and freelancers. Subsequently, the first official coworking space in the US was launched on August 9, 2005, when Brad Neuberg opened his location in San Francisco. This particular locale offered workers the freedom to work independently outside the standard office, and built a community that focused on collaborating with others to create new ideas and projects. That being said, Neuberg’s space had a rough start, with no occupants recorded for its first month of operations, and it wasn’t until athlete and startup developer Ray Baxter arrived to take a desk that this coworking location really took off. By default, Baxter also became the world’s first official coworker.

Since then, the concept of a coworking space has really branched out in several different directions, and has even found a home online. In 2006, Twitter hashtag inventor Chris Messina launched an open source online platform called “The Coworking Wiki'', which helped coworkers from around the world to connect with each other and find coworking spaces in new cities. The creation of this platform is what most industry experts consider to be the beginning of the exponential growth of coworking spaces globally.

The Coworking Phenomenon and the Asia Pacific Region

At present, the fact that coworking spaces have burgeoned across the world is undisputed; in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region for instance, this market is currently valued at $44 billion, and is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 6% in the next five years.

Additionally, unlike many sectors that suffered huge losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the coworking space market actually accelerated in growth, benefitting from the troubles encountered by traditional office spaces in corporate properties. Companies both large and small became aware of the advantages coworking spaces held over these locations, which includes lower operation costs, flexible use of space, and a safer working environment for their personnel, thanks

Credit: myHQ

to their typically open-plan layout which actually encourages social distancing. As a result, floor space occupied by coworking facilities in the APAC region specifically increased by 150% between 2019 and 2021.

Interestingly, APAC also happens to be one of the biggest regions globally for the coworking space industry; this geographical area led the market in 2021, boasting over 774 coworking spaces in cities such as Hong Kong, New Delhi, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Melbourne. Southeast Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Bangkok have also been recognised as prime targets for new coworking spaces in the last few years, due to the increasing number of digital nomads that have been attracted by government initiatives such as flexible work visas and the fast-paced startup scene present in this part of the world. Overall, it has been projected that shared office space will make up 15% of offices in APAC by 2030, an increase of 5% from its current share of 10%.

Coworking Spaces and the Third Place

These exciting developments in the coworking space industry means that the concept has fully taken on a life of its own and has actually changed the way many of us work today. For many years, workplace options for startups, freelancers and even smaller government-linked corporations were few, and many people opted to work from home or from a local cafe, which oftentimes proved to be environments that were isolating, distracting, and unproductive. As such, the creation of the coworking space as we know it today has solved these issues, providing a location that fosters productivity, builds communities, and offers a vibrant space to get down to business.

Credit: Colony

Moreover, the coworking space has now become a location that serves as an excellent third space for many people that hail from different professional backgrounds. Not only is it a venue that is neither a workplace or a home; it has evolved to become a hub for creativity, community, and even self-reflection. A typical coworking space today offers hot desks (as a temporary workspace for on-the-go individuals) and dedicated desks (for people who choose to have a permanent space); they have outfitted pantries and plenty of seating areas that cater to both casual events and more formal business meetings, and they even have concierges. Going beyond that basic list of amenities, some coworking spaces have even evolved to become third places that feel like staycations at a luxurious five-star hotel. Thus, it is no wonder that many working professionals today that have the option to choose where they do their jobs have chosen to adopt a coworking space as their third place. It is a location that has become a crucial part of many peoples’ lives, and is indeed the optimal place for someone that is seeking a different way of working.

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