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The past, present and future of coworking spaces

When we think of coworking, we tend to think of colourful, open plan spaces. Maybe even a foosball table or beer on tap. But how did we get to this point?

We should start in 1903, with the Larkin building in New York. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this groundbreaking building lacked internal walls – the first open plan office. In 1939, Frank Lloyd Wright designed another large office building in Wisconsin. Here he developed a new concept of spaces for work, in particular the ‘Great Workroom’. The ‘Great Workroom’ was designed as an open plan office for the secretaries of the company. However, the administrators still had their own private offices. Whilst showing that the concept of open plan office was not yet accepted by all in the office community, this building contributed hugely to the popularisation of it.

Fifty years later, in the 1980s the concept of flexibility and efficiency in the working life started to take hold. This was also reflected in the design of offices. The first version of hot desking started to take hold. Why have entire tables/areas full of personal belonging when the individuals are not present?! Additionally the 1980s are famous for modular offices, allowing employees to arrange their office arrangement as it suited them.

Moving forward another 10 years, and we can observe a huge change in office real estate. Increase in business travels brought about a new problem – where shall those individuals travelling work? This is where Regus came in. Seeing a lack of workspaces for travelling business people, Regus started renting out fully serviced offices for the business travellers.

This is also the time when we start seeing the kind of ‘playful’ offices. Advertising agency Chiat/Day, a giant in the advertising world which created the infamous 1984 Macintosh advert, was a company that took workspace design maybe further then others. In an attempt to foster creativity and collaboration, they opened their office with no offices, desks, or personal equipment. Whilst for some employees this was too radical, and Chiat/Day redesigned their office again, it is still considered to be one of the examples which influenced the collaborative philosophy of modern coworking how we know it.

So whilst we can see the development of coworking, the term was actually first used in 1999 by computer game designer Bernie De Koven. Not much later, the first a flexible workspace for programmers opened in New York City, 42West24. Yet, it was in 2005 that the ‘first’ coworking space officially opens. So think of flexible memberships, a collaborative approach to work, and a place for social opportunities. Brad Neuberg, a computer programmer, opened the San Francisco Coworking Space.

Fast forward 4 years, and we opened THECUBE, London’s second ever coworking space in 2009. When we were first thinking of setting up our first workspace in East London, our main objective was to create a workspace entrepreneurs would be proud of. We recognised that individuals leaving the corporate environment would want a space that was supportive, non-hierarchical and inspired them to create. Open close to 10 years now, we have undergone a small evolution ourselves. From the way the space was designed, to the kind of members we have int space, as well as our offering.

Yet, over the last couple of years we have started seeing a division in coworking spaces – those who see it as a way of working, collaborating and learning, and those who see it as a part of a real estate business model. There is a niche of committed workspaces, with personality and a distinct culture, such as THECUBE itself. However, we are seeing an increasing number of members coming over from large, coworking spaces which may have plenty of popping colours and free beer. Why is that? Many feel that those spaces are impersonal, no community which is there for support and one can learn from or share experiences from. Instead they quickly moved from coworking for individuals, and small startups and organisations, to catering to large corporates. If you would like to learn more about the advantages of coworking in small spaces, click here.


For more detailed information check out “The Evolution of Coworking” by Bo Kendall, published on Runway East, where we have found a lot of this information. Thanks!