Coworking is a working arrangement in which people from different teams and companies come together to work in a single shared space.
The first formal coworking spaces began appearing in the early 2000s but it’s been around for decades in other forms. They attracted mostly self-employed freelancers and web entrepreneurs searching for an alternative to working from coffee shops, business centers, and home offices.
Since then, coworking has become a global movement and coworking spaces themselves have evolved to keep up with the changing ways we work. There were an estimated 19,000 coworking spaces around the world in 2019. Today, they’re used by everyone from individuals working remotely to entire corporate teams.
What is a coworking space?
Very simply, a coworking space is a place that’s designed to accommodate people from different companies who come to do work.
Coworking spaces are characterized by shared facilities, services, and tools. Sharing infrastructure in this way helps to spread the cost of running an office across members, but coworking spaces are more than just a way of reducing cost.
Coworking spaces are community centers, collaboration hubs, and social spaces where workers from different backgrounds can come together to share expertise and explore new ideas. Coworking has communal roots dating back to the first “hackerspaces” in Europe, and today’s coworking spaces retain a strong social aspect.
Lately, coworking spaces are also being used by larger companies looking to cut down on their unused office space, move away from traditional headquarters, and embrace a more flexible way of working.
Coworking spaces are a way for growing businesses to expand into new areas and access fresh talent pools without taking on the risk of a long-term lease. They’re a convenient space for new remote workers to continue to meet and collaborate with colleagues without having to travel too far.
Advantages of coworking space
The continued rise of coworking spaces in cities all across the world is driven by a slew of different factors. Some of them are economic. The 2008 financial crash led to a boom in newly self-employed entrepreneurs and freelancers, many of whom needed someplace to work and collaborate that wasn’t their own living room.
Now, as workers demand more flexibility in how and where they do their work, the traditional office is being reimagined as a collaboration hub, a creative space, and a hybrid workplace.
Coworking space can be a lifesaver for individual workers, but it also plays a big part in any company’s strategy to shift toward a more flexible way of working. Let’s take a look at some of the main advantages of coworking spaces.
Greater flexibility. Most coworking spaces don’t require you to commit to a long-term contract. Instead, freelancers and startups can take advantage of shorter leases and flexible pay-as-you-go terms, which can help keep things affordable for new companies just starting out.
A sense of community. Coworking was created to help early web entrepreneurs escape the drudgery and isolation of working from home, and while they’ve evolved to fulfill a much wider range of roles, they’re still very much social spaces at heart. A coworking space connects you with a group of like-minded professionals.
Heightened productivity. Sharing a coworking space with a ton of driven and focused coworkers is a way to enhance your own productivity. Not only is it more difficult to slack off when someone else is around, but physically traveling to a space that’s dedicated to working helps to regiment your schedule.
More creativity. We’re more creative when we’re around other people. Whether you’re working in a creative industry or you simply need a creative solution to a tricky problem, chatting with friends and colleagues helps kick-start new thought processes and introduce perspectives and ideas you hadn’t considered.
Lower costs. One of the main benefits of a coworking space is greater cost-efficiency. By sharing things like office facilities, reception services, internet, and printers with employees from other companies, businesses on a tight budget can avoid service charges and cut out many of the usual overheads associated with a long-term real estate lease.
Who uses coworking space?
The demographics of coworking spaces are changing. They’re no longer dominated by the classic stereotype of Silicon Valley startups and creative freelancers. Instead, modern coworking spaces attract a broad community, from small businesses to enormous international companies.
For example, Microsoft is taking full advantage of the benefits of coworking space to cut their employees’ commuting time around New York City.
Joining Microsoft are a host of other large technology corporations trying to move away from formal offices, including IBM, Facebook, Samsung, and Verizon. Even notoriously secretive Apple was reported to have used a coworking space in Berlin to discreetly work on undisclosed projects in 2017.
Despite this influx of business titans, freelancers continue to make up most of the members of coworking spaces worldwide. According to the latest report from the Global Coworking Survey, 42 percent of coworkers are freelancers, while 14 percent describe themselves as digital nomads.
However, when you zoom in on major cities—especially across North America and Asia—it’s employees who represent the largest group of members in coworking spaces by far. The trend can be explained by the growing number of companies leasing a full floor of offices in coworking spaces in urban areas, while freelancers are a lot more likely to use coworking spaces in smaller towns closer to home.
The most popular profession in coworking spaces globally is IT, followed by marketing and public relations. Slightly more than half of all coworking members are women, and the average age is 36.
The evolution of coworking space: other methods of coworking
Although the term “coworking” was only recently coined, the basic concept is nothing new. Collectives and maker spaces have always existed in some form, and people have been working alongside one another for about as long as there have been people.
But in just the past few years, coworking spaces are being reconsidered in the context of fast-changing workplace trends. Companies are shifting toward a more distributed way of working. Employees are demanding more flexibility and autonomy in when and how they use the office. Remote workers want space away from home to focus and be productive, meet colleagues, and use specialist equipment.
This has given rise to the hybrid workplace model, a new type of working environment that combines aspects of remote working and in-office working. To support this style of working, businesses have had to transform their existing office layouts by removing fixed cubicles and assigned desks and introducing design features that encourage more teamwork, creativity, and innovation.
As you might expect, the results look a lot more like coworking spaces than they do traditional offices. Once thought of as a liminal space filled with digital nomads and tech entrepreneurs playing table tennis, the modern coworking space has matured. Coworking spaces are now flexible offices and collaboration hubs designed to serve companies of all sizes as well as individuals.
Terms like flexible working and hybrid working are often used interchangeably, though they can mean different things in different contexts.
Tips on finding coworking space
Whether you’re a solo freelancer in search of a desk or a CEO in charge of 1,000 people, the most important aspect of finding a coworking space is its location. The best coworking space might not be the one closest to you, but it should be convenient to reach by car, bike, or public transportation. If your goal is to network with like-minded coworkers, make waves in a new city, or even attract new staff, a perfectly located coworking space can make a huge difference.
They might seem like a nice bonus, but top-level amenities can truly elevate a coworking space into something special. Endless free coffee, reliable Wi-Fi, and printing facilities are a good starting point but consider other features when making your choice. Outdoor space is an enormous perk in urban centers, for example, while experienced on-site staff and smartly designed meeting areas help you create a professional vibe around clients.
For large employers, a coworking space can be the first foothold in a new market before deciding whether to make a more permanent expansion. Ensure the coworking space you choose offers a flexible, short-term office lease to give your business the elbow room it needs to navigate the unexpected and to easily scale up or down to suit your changing priorities as the company expands.
With furniture and amenities included, and unexpected expenses such as repairs already covered, coworking spaces can be a cheap option for businesses looking to move or expand. Your budget will ultimately determine which coworking spaces are affordable for you and your team, but consider how things might change as your company grows or shrinks—this is another area in which having a coworking space with a flexible lease can really help you out.
Depending on the type of work you do, you’re probably going to need a degree of security and privacy as you meet clients and generally go about your business. Open-plan offices and flexible desk arrangements are an option for companies large enough to be able to lease an entire floor, but smaller teams and individual workers might benefit from private, lockable offices or bookable meeting rooms within a larger shared office.