CoWorking Update: Past, present, future

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There was a time when working from home was an exciting concept, as new technology allowed us to communicate and engage with our employers and clients from almost anywhere.

But as evidenced by the growth of co-working worldwide, independent entrepreneurs, freelancers and thinkers want to have a ‘place of work’. The tide changed, and it’s kept flowing.

There’s one common theme running through successful coworking spaces – those sought after (and the ones who survive) are those who offer more than just ‘a space to plug in’.

The key factors appear to be facilitating projects and business development, offering unique facilities, and connectivity to organisations beyond their own four walls.

If you Google the history of co-working, you are likely to see that in 2005, a computer programmer named Brad Neuberg offered five to eight desks for two days a week at a space called Spiral Muse, with the purpose of attracting other freelancers who felt isolated in their home environment. His initial selling point was ‘tired of working from coffee shops every day? Miss community and structure in your work life?’

What has emerged since then is a complex, ever-expanding group of global networks and local spaces looking to change the face of where we work… and most importantly, how we work.

In 2008 there were approximately 160 coworking spaces officially opened throughout the world, but by the end of 2011 that number had risen to over 1,000. In 2012 coworking spaces broke the 2,000 mark. Isn’t it interesting to think that during those years of phenomenal escalation for coworking spaces another thing was also happening worldwide – the recession and the post-GFC ‘struggle’.

Here in the present year of 2013, Deskmag.com reported in April that over 110,000 people are utilising more than 2,500 co-working spaces globally. That number isn’t likely to slow, with an average of four new spaces opening every working day. Most co-working spaces exist in the US with 781, which remains way ahead of second place Germany on 230 and Spain taking bronze with 199.

So where is New Zealand amongst all of this? While there is no ‘official’ tally, a recent list collected by The Fetch names eleven different coworking spaces around the country, but the word on the street is that there are probably a few more. Most of these co-share environments have popped up in the last few years, and while New Zealand may take a little while to catch up to the rest of the world in terms of volume of spaces per capita, the quality of top-end offerings here are on par with (or beyond) a lot of the big guns around the world.

The natural next step when looking at New Zealand’s coworking climate is to check out what our frenemies across the ditch are doing. According to showstring.com.au – Australia has the highest number of co-working spaces in the world (per capita), with well in excess of 50 spaces having been established. Of that number, most spaces are relatively new and are responsible for driving an astonishing 555% growth rate in Australian co-working in the past two years. In regards to ‘networks’ of co-working spaces, Australia has ‘The Hub’ which currently operates three locations.

By comparison, The BizDojo (as NZ’s largest operator) has three spaces, with a fourth in the pipeline for 2013. A key difference is that individuality and local relevance in their spaces will always be at the top of the priority list for The BizDojo team. Quality in standards and operational principles is a key focus, but there will be no mandated format – something we believe to be an essential ingredient for success in the co-share space world.

In the US, there seems to be a new pattern emerging which shows co-share spaces aren’t just a domain for small businesses or solopreneurs. A lot of innovative companies, from online apparel giant Zappo’s to the multinational telecommunications corporation AT&T, are starting to use co-working environments for a variety of reasons.

As with every new ‘big thing’, there are the devil’s advocates who make sure we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves with excitement and premonitions of world domination. But if a recent article published recently on Forbes.com is anything to go by, coworking ‘is the future of business.’

Going one step further, Deskmag.com predicts that the concept will expand to a much wider portion of the labour market… which will perhaps ultimately result in the word ‘co-working’ becoming known simply as ‘working’.