What is coworking?

Answering this question is deceptively complex. The basic principles of coworking can be traced back hundreds of years to artist and writer collectives and other communities of practice. It was only recently, however, that this notion got a unique word to describe it.

The word “coworking” as it is known today originates with a concept put forth by Brad Neuberg in 2005.

Brad gave it a name at a time when technology was facilitating such gatherings in new and unprecedented ways. It represents a concept that is at once very specific, but has been deliberately designed not to be defined by any one person. While this has allowed coworking to thrive in many shapes and forms, it also has allowed its meaning to become ambiguous as its use grows.

As a result, answering the question of what coworking is isn’t simple. What follows is my attempt to help break it down.

“Coworking,” sometimes used with a capital ‘C’, is a proper term used to describe a deep and meaningful concept.

It is directly related to Neuberg’s original concept and had since evolved into a decentralized movement centered around a core set of shared values: Community, Openness, Collaboration, Accessibility, and Sustainability.

While the exact set of values that comprise coworking vary somewhat by interpretation, it is commonly accepted that Coworking represents something far more than simply that of people working in the same place. It represents a fundamentally new way of thinking about how we work and share with one another.

“coworking” or “co-working,” with a lower-case ‘c’, is a generic word that’s generally used to describe any situation in which two or more people are working in the same place together, but not for the same company.

This might happen in any of a number of contexts, including a casual gathering, an activity which takes place inside of other kinds of businesses, or an activity that takes place in a Coworking Space.

(And, no, coworking should not be spelled with a hyphen. See Does Coworking Have A Hyphen? for more.)

Coworking Space is generally a phrase used to describe a business or organization that is dedicated to the full Coworking concept. These spaces represent a critical foundation of infrastructure for a new and growing workforce of people who work where, when, how, and why they want. A coworking space’s relationship with its members is one that is primarily predicated on the values that drive the Coworking Movement, in direct and deliberate contrast to a more traditional relationship predicated on renting space from a landlord.

This can be confusing, because coworking (the generic kind) can take place in places like office rental facilities and incubators, but they are very different things from dedicated coworking spaces. The confusion is the tradeoff of the open nature of coworking. It’s sometimes thought of as something exclusive to people building tech startups– far from it. It’s sometimes thought of as a slightly nicer way to rent space– it’s not.

The Coworking Movement is a decentralized assembly of those who ascribe to the values of the Coworking concept. It can be found primarily in the form of a discussion group, a wiki, and a blog. There are natural leaders in this movement, but no formal power structure. The people who participate in the movement shape its future.

Coworking is a beautiful, incredible, exciting, and really important thing.

It is a window into a fundamentally new way of thinking about our relationship with our work. It is made possible by the latest technology but it is rooted in our most fundamental and timeless human nature. It exists because of our innate need to share, help, and socialize with one another.

And it is playing a critical role in helping shape a world in which anyone can pursue work they believe in on their terms, and find others with whom to share their pursuit.

The world needs Coworking. The world needs it to be bigger, more diverse, more helpful, and more beautiful.

If you need help getting started, I’ve put together some handy resources for you.

Get your free starter kit and learn about my coworking toolkit and membership to get all the support you need.

Coworking is yours to share, remix, and experiment with. So get cracking!

Tony Bacigalupo
Mayor, New Work Cities