The Way We Work
June 12, 2012 by Amy Sept

“This is the new model, enabled by the Internet. It’s about communication. It’s about connection. It’s about community.”
– Gary Swart, oDesk CEO, SXSWi 2010 Conference


The working life of an independent contractor can be a lonely thing, but as remote work has grown, so has a related community-driven trend: Coworking.

In its current form, coworking started in San Francisco during the summer of 2005 in a space called Spiral Muse. This particular location has since closed, but the coworking concept has spread, with at least 537 dedicated coworking spaces now in the U.S. and notable growth in South and Central America, Australia, and Africa.

Remote workers often work from home or set up in the local coffee shop. However, as Tamara Rice noted in this oDesk post last year, some independent contractors thrive in a business environment surrounded by like-minded people — and many find that coworking is good for business.

So why has coworking become such a growing trend? What sets coworking apart from traditional shared office space is the spirit of community at the heart of every coworking space. Beyond common office supplies and a shared location, people rely on these environments for interaction and relationships.

A focus on networking and collaboration

Coworking spaces bring a varied mix of people together from different industries with a broad range of expertise. The collaborative focus of coworking spaces means more than chatting over the coffee machine; it’s a unique opportunity to learn from people with a completely different mindset than yours.

These connections go beyond business, too. According to the second Global Coworking Survey, by online coworking magazine Deskmag77% of coworkers hang out with other coworking space members socially on evenings and weekends.

That same survey also found that 92% of coworking entrepreneurs feel more confident because of both the social and professional networks they have been able to build.

Professional space (with an address you don’t mind sharing)

While some benefits of coworking are intangible, others are not; with mailbox rentals or private meeting spaces often available, coworking locations can keep your professional meeting space out of your home or hotel — wherever you happen to be.

Plus, if you have ever faced the dilemma of listing your business location online, you may understand the value of having a mailbox that isn’t at home. Email newsletters, for example, are legally required to include a physical mailing address in some countries (like the U.S., according to the CAN-SPAM Act).

What coworking looks like

The overwhelming majority (90%) of coworkers still work from other locations; home is the number one alternative.

But as the number of coworking spaces has grown, the available options have also increased. From drop-in desk use and private meeting rooms to secretarial services and social events, you can often find space to meet your specific needs. Some even cater to particular niche groups, like non-profit organizations or startups.

Despite the customizable differences, coworking spaces do share some common characteristics:

  • An open work area, to facilitate interaction and conversation
  • Social events, which may include workshops, breakfasts, or conferences
  • Flexible working hours (although not all are open 24/7)

However, these spaces are not perfect, and the Global Coworking Survey found that there is room to improve.

  • Availability. Deskmag reports that coworking spaces generally thrive where others already exist — likely a mix of awareness and demand. As a result, a majority of coworking locations are in large cities of more than one million people, although they are starting to grow in smaller centers.
  • Portability. Although a Coworking Visa exists, which allows a member from one coworking space to access other spaces, its use is still limited. Some frequent travelers join multiple coworking locations, but if you’re on the road you may need to search specifically for locations that offer daily rates. Check out Deskwanted and Loosecubes as starting points.
  • Noise. The open concept and encouraged collaboration does create a buzz that some coworkers find distracting.
  • Privacy. The open floor plan can also create a privacy issue. If confidentiality is important in your work, you should check the availability of private meeting rooms; they’re often incorporated into coworking spaces, but when demand is high, you may need to compromise.

Coworking is not for everyone, but for many independent workers, it’s a way to end feelings of isolation while increasing productivity and accelerating opportunities to grow.

What do you think of coworking spaces? Have they had an impact on your business? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies, and small business owners.