International Coworking Day

by Sophie Berrill
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Coworking

August 9 marks International Coworking Day. 

It’s not about celebrating your coworkers, although they might deserve their own recognition. This day is all about the phenomenon of ‘coworking’, whereby unaffiliated professionals work side by side in shared office spaces. Or ‘working alone together’, to quote workplace researcher Clay Spinuzzi. 

The origins of coworking

Software engineer Brad Neuberg credited himself with starting the movement in a blogpost from August 9 2005. In that post, he invited ‘free spirits’ to gather in a house and work independently on their prospective projects. 

Collaboration was also part of the practice. The coworking group was to come together for meditation, brainstorming ideas or even just a conversation by the watercooler.

“Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company,” Neuberg’s original post reads. 

“If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence, but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community.”

According to Neuberg, coworking was the solution.

Fast forward to 2022, and the idea isn’t as revolutionary. The essence of Neuberg’s concept remains, but now it’s more commonplace.

The rise of coworking

Coworking spaces were proliferating around the globe in the years leading up to the pandemic. 

Deskmag’s 2019 Global Coworking Survey indicated that the number of coworking sites increased from 8,900 in 2015 to 22,000 in 2019. 

Changes in the labour market had led to increased flexibility and technological advancements allowed for more remote work. 

In that context, the coworking alternative offered new advantages. A study of Australian coworking spaces found that they contributed to collaboration, openness and community engagement. Coworking spaces in urban community areas also allowed Australian users to work closer to home, reducing average commuting times and rates of carbon emission. 

COVID-19 and coworking

As in many areas of society, COVID-19 was a disruptive shock for the coworking movement. Differing government restrictions and recommendations globally meant more people were working from home. 

As a result, global company WeWork’s valuation dropped dramatically. 

Closer to home, Depo8 in Melbourne closed entirely in 2020. The owners told The Age that they went from 83 per cent capacity at the start of March to zero members once the virus hit.

At the end of 2021, The Age also reported the closure of more city coworking locations hard hit by the pandemic. 

By contrast, some suburban coworking businesses in Melbourne were still performing well. Some were even doing better, as the struggle to focus at home crept in for some.

Bouncing back?

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic rapidly accelerated the shift towards hybrid working, which could be good news for coworking. 

WeWork recently reported that its occupancy rate was up and memberships were surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

And despite the rollercoaster ride, some interesting coworking innovations are continuing to pop up around Australia. 

South Australia has co-able, a coworking space designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. Coworking hotels are also making waves as a new remote working alternative.

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