The evolution of co-working

Though co-working spaces have been around for a decade, the concept of small and start-up businesses being grouped together in the same space goes back more than half a century.

In 1959, the new owners of a former farm machinery plant in Batavia New York found a way to lease out the giant building – rent it out to separate businesses looking to establish themselves. The facility, which is still in operation and provides support services such as conference rooms, photocopying and telephone answering to start-up companies, is believed to be the first incubator in the world.

Incubators evolved as spaces where start-up and innovative business could receive assistance in developing or commercialising their ideas. It was from here that many of these spaces became known as innovation centres.

Often more casual-looking than typical office environments, innovation centres were as much about as supporting start-ups as they were about encouraging innovative thinking and new ideas.

Embraced by larger companies in the dotcom boom of the 1990s as a way to assist their research and development, incubators became more aligned with venture capitalists and investors keen to commercialise ideas. This was the period these facilities evolved into becoming innovation centres, which were funded by organisations or companies who provided space and additional funding to start-ups.

In the 2000s in the era of disruption came the accelerator. These were designed to give support and resourcing to entrepreneurs and start-ups so they can get their ideas to market as fast as possible. Accelerator programs commonly include mentoring, resourcing, investment and provision of a workspace.

It was not until 2005, thanks to the development of Wi-Fi, mobile technologies and cloud computing, that co-working spaces (as they are known today) first appeared. These spaces were filled with individual freelancers of different occupations in the same office space.

People, who previously may have been looking for a Wi-Fi connection in a café or public place, were now looking for a desk, printer and some other professionals to collaborate with.

Co-working venues have offered start-ups (often originally run by one person) a low-cost way to launch a business idea, whether or not it may be a new technology or a professional service. Instead of having to lease an office and buy furniture and equipment, coworking venues have allowed freelancers and start-ups access to high speed internet, meeting rooms, a desk, a productive environment and office equipment.

But coworking spaces have now evolved well beyond the stereotype of being venues located on the fringe of a downtown district where professionals could play table tennis and wear T-shirts. Now there are different types of co-working venues for different types of professional.

While many remain true to the stereotype, many co-working spaces have evolved to cater to different markets. Some co-working venues, such as Space&Co., are now located in CBD areas with the corporate business-to-business (B2B) market in mind.

Less focus is placed on social and networking elements traditionally associated with start-up coworking hubs and more attention is on providing a professional environment where businesses can scale. Professional meeting rooms and workspaces are designed to impress customers in a collaborative creative environment that balances the desire to work and scale business with optional opportunities for networking and collaboration.