Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization. Typically it is attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation. Coworking is also the social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values, and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with people who value working in the same place alongside each other.
Coworking is not only about the physical place, but about establishing the coworking community first. Its benefits can already be experienced outside of its places, and it is recommended to start with building a coworking community first before considering opening a Coworking place. However, some coworking places don't build a community: they just get a part of an existing one by combining their opening with an event which attracts their target group.
A lot of coworking communities are formed by organizing casual coworking events (e.g. "Jellies") that can take place in private living rooms or in public places such as suitable cafés, galleries or multi-functional places. During these events Coworkers can experience the benefits of Coworking and get to know each other which lowers the barriers to join a place later.
In 2005 Brad Neuberg used "coworking" to describe a physical space which he originally called a "9 to 5 group".
Neuberg organized a coworking site called the "Hat Factory" in San Francisco, a live-work loft that was home to three technology workers, and open to others during the day. Brad was also one of the founders of Citizen Space, the first "Work Only" coworking space. Now, coworking places exist worldwide, with over 700 locations in the United States alone. In 2012, NextSpace, BLANKSACES, Link Coworking, WorkBar, CoCo, and 654 Croswell founded The League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces.
San Francisco continues to have a large presence in the coworking community, and is home to a growing number of coworking places including RocketSpace, Sandbox Suites, NextSpace, PARISOMA, HubSoMa, and Citizen Space. Also in the bay area, Anca Mosoiu established Tech Liminal in 2009, a coworking place in Oakland. in Miami new places have been opening their doors, among them is CityDesk. Coworking has also spread into many other metropolitan areas, with cities such as Portland, Oregon and Wichita, Kansas now offering several thriving coworking venues.
Several books have discussed the history, scope, and tenets of coworking, including: I'm Outta Here (October 2009) by Drew Jones, Todd Sundsted and Tony Bacigalupo; Coworking: How Freelancers Escape the Coffee Shop Office (February 2011) by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski;, Working in the UnOffice: A Guide to Coworking for Indie Workers, Small Businesses, and Nonprofits (August 2011) by Genevieve V. DeGuzman and Andrew I. Tang; and "Coworking Space: A Potent Business Model for Plug 'n Play and Indie Workers" (February 2014) by Mathias Schuermann;.
Some coworking places  were developed by nomadic Internet entrepreneurs seeking an alternative to working in coffeeshops and cafes, or to isolation in independent or home offices. A 2007 survey showed that many employees worry about feeling isolated and losing human interaction if they were to telecommute. Roughly a third of both private and public-sector workers also reported that they didn’t want to stay at home during work.
As of 2012, the UK is among the most responsive European country to the idea of collaborative working, with a special focus on London. The city leads the coworking market not only for the large number of coworking places it offers but also for the variety of places that exist to fit the differing needs among start-ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers. In March 2012 Google along with several local partners opened a coworking place in the heart of East London. Campus London is located in Tech City and helps multiple start-ups to grow under the same roof, by mentoring them and giving them the chance to learn more through the events that run everyday.
In June 2013 the UK Government announced it would be applying coworking principles to a new pilot scheme for its 'One Public Sector Estate' strategy covering 12 local authorities in England which will encourage councils to work with central government departments and other bodies so that staff share buildings. This will enable the authorities to encourage collaboration as well as re-use or release property and land deemed surplus to requirements, cutting spending and freeing up land for local development.
Coworking is also becoming more common in continental Europe, with the startup metropolis Berlin being a major booster for this development. Several diverse offers can be found in the city, such as betahaus, House of Clouds, co.up, raumstation, United Urbanites and many more.
This kind of working environment is not exclusive to big cities. Also smaller urban areas with many young and creative people and especially university cities may offer coworking places, with Cowork Greifswald in Germany being one example. Cooperations between coworking spaces and academic environments are focused.
Another example of the coworking trend is in Scotland, where the Government has introduced legislation to bring business back into the city and town centres. The Unoccupied Properties Bill encourages business owners to rent unused office space again. Measures to reduce rates reliefs on empty commercial properties provides further incentives for property owners to become 'informal landlords' to coworkers.
In Hong Kong for example, dozens of coworking spaces have been set up to foster the rapidly growing startup community, according to Forbes it is among the leading tech locations in the world, along with Silicon Valley and New York. Spread across almost all districts, coworking places can be found everywhere while the majority of places are situated on Hong Kong Island and there predominantly in the Central and Sheung Wan districts. Pricing is rather flexible and most places offer daily, weekly and monthly open desks as well group rooms of different sizes (e.g. 2, 4, 6 workstation rooms) and also private rooms for a higher fee. With its skyrocketing property and rental prices such coworking spaces are a very good option for small startups and individuals to get their business of the ground. Many places combine coworking with startup incubators, accelerators, funding schemes and mentorship support.
A 2011 survey found most coworkers are currently in their late twenties to late thirties, with an average age of 34 years. Two-thirds are men, one third are women. Four in five coworkers started their career with a university education. The majority of coworkers work in creative industries or new media. Slightly more than half of all coworkers are freelancers. However, the share of salaried employees increases since larger companies start to experiment with coworking, especially in the U.S., where 35 percent work as salaried employees. A small-scale, non-representative study at Betahaus Berlin found that the large majority of Betahaus users was freelancing or just founding a company, and that the workforce there consisted of a diverse, heterogeneous group regarding income (below €1.800 to over €5.000), age (22–47 years) and profession (design, media, mechatronics…). Furthermore, the study found that while just about 40 per cent of respondents have insurance comparable to local employees (i.e. health insurance, pension plan and at least one more relevant insurance), more than half feels sufficiently financially and socially secure.
Many misconceptions abound about what coworking encompasses and how it distinguishes itself from business accelerators, incubators and executive suites. These spaces do not seem to fit into the coworking model because they often miss the social, collaborative, and informal aspects of the process. In coworking, management practices are closer to that of a cooperative, including a focus on community rather than profit. Many of the coworking participants are also participants in an unconference like BarCamp and other related open-source participatory technology events.
- Hot desking
- Nomad worker
- Small office/home office
- Collaborative workspace
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