As remote and hybrid work models continue to rise, the question “What is co-working?” becomes increasingly relevant. This article explores the essentials of co-working spaces, including how to choose the right one, who benefits from such environments, and other common questions about these innovative workspaces.

What Is Co-working? Defining the Space

Understanding What Is Co-working

“What is co-working?” This question often arises as more people look for flexible work solutions. Co-working involves individuals gathering in a shared, neutral space to work independently on different projects or collaboratively on shared projects. Unlike traditional offices, co-working spaces are not bound to one specific company, which enhances flexibility and networking opportunities. They offer all the amenities of a standard office, such as WiFi, printers, and conference rooms, but with added benefits like communal tea and coffee stations, snacks, and access to specialized equipment like 3D printers. This setup is particularly beneficial for startups and freelancers who need access to office resources without the commitment of a long-term lease.

Flexibility and Resources

A major advantage of co-working spaces is their flexibility. Users aren’t typically required to sign long-term leases, making co-working spaces an ideal choice for businesses and individuals who desire a professional workspace without long-term commitments. Additionally, these spaces often provide resources not usually found in a standard office, including coaching, business advising, and digital assets, catering to the needs of dynamic and growing businesses.

What is Co-working or Co-Working? Understanding the Term

There has been ongoing debate about whether the term should be hyphenated. Originating from the AP Stylebook’s recommendation for prefixes, the term was initially introduced as “co-working.” However, as the concept has evolved into a distinct industry, the preferred spelling has solidified as “co-working,” reflecting its uniqueness and independence from traditional corporate terminology.

Types of Co-working Spaces

“What is co-working?” also extends to understanding the variety of spaces available. Co-working spaces are diverse, each offering unique environments tailored to different types of work and interactions. Here’s a breakdown of the main types available:

Open Workspaces

Open workspaces are synonymous with the traditional concept of co-working. These areas typically feature hot desks or dedicated desks in a shared setting, fostering an environment of collaboration and networking among professionals from various companies.

Private Workspaces

Private workspaces offer a more secluded environment within the co-working space, ideal for companies that require confidentiality or more focused work areas. These can range from single offices to custom-built suites for larger teams.

Industry-Specific Spaces

These co-working spaces cater to professionals within specific industries, such as creative fields, tech, or startups. They offer a community of like-minded individuals who share similar work dynamics and challenges, enhancing networking and collaborative opportunities.

Venture/Incubators

Venture spaces or incubators are designed to support startups and small businesses with growth potential. They not only provide workspace but also offer reduced rent, capital investments, and access to an extensive network of resources and mentorship in exchange for equity.

Choosing the Right Co-working Space: What Is Co-working Really About?

After understanding “what is co-working,” it’s crucial to carefully consider your selection of a co-working space. Evaluating the community, amenities, and overall work environment is essential. The space should align with your business’s culture and support your operational needs. Whether you prefer a bustling open-plan area or a quiet, industry-specific hub, choosing the right co-working space can significantly enhance your productivity and contribute to your business growth.

The Historical Development of Co-working Spaces

What Is Co-working? The Early Days

  • 1995: The concept of what could be termed a “co-working” space was initiated by hackers in Berlin, designed as a community hub for sharing ideas and resources. This year also marked the first use of the term “co-working” by Bernard DeKoven in the US, describing it as “working together as equals.”
  • 2002: Europe’s first official co-working space, Schraubenfabrik, opened in Vienna in a renovated factory. Initially serving as a community center for enterprises, it expanded to include freelancers and other professionals, laying the groundwork for the co-working movement in Europe.

Expansion and Diversification

  • 2005: Brad Neuberg is credited with opening the first dedicated co-working space in San Francisco, introducing amenities such as free WiFi, shared lunches, and community activities. This initiative marked the beginning of co-working as a formalized workspace model.
  • 2006: The opening of St. Oberholz in Berlin, which initially offered free internet in its cafe, later evolved into a true co-working space, demonstrating the successful blend of hospitality and work. The same year, the Co-working Wiki was established in San Francisco, becoming a vital resource for the global co-working community.

Global Recognition and Networking

  • 2008/2009: This period saw the beginning of informal co-working meet-ups, which set the stage for the first Co-working Conference in Brussels in 2010. The Co-working Visa program was also introduced, allowing members to visit co-working spaces globally without additional cost. Additionally, Regus opened its first location in Malta, marking the island’s introduction to the global co-working scene.
  • 2010: Germany was recognized as the first country in Europe to extensively embrace the co-working model, according to Google trends. The first #Co-workingDay was celebrated to recognize the movement’s impact. In Malta, pioneering co-working spaces such as “Cocohub” and “SOHO Office Hotel” emerged, catering to a growing community of digital nomads and local entrepreneurs.

Corporate Adoption and Cultural Integration

  • 2011 – 2013: The number of co-working spaces surged to over 3,000 globally, with significant growth in Europe. Many of these spaces operated independently, diversifying the types of co-working environments available. Large companies began exploring co-working, leading to the opening of corporate co-working spaces.
  • 2015 – 2016: The New York Times highlighted a trend of combining co-working with coliving, particularly notable at the Surf Office in Gran Canaria, appealing to freelancers and digital nomads. The concept of co-working and coliving expanded further with WeWork’s introduction of WeLive, which further blended residential and work spaces.
  • 2017: Grand Central was opened in Valletta, adding to Malta’s growing list of innovative co-working environments.

Challenges and Innovations

  • 2017 – 2019: Despite WeWork’s valuation reaching $20 billion, it faced significant challenges that culminated in a failed IPO in 2019, highlighting the volatility within the co-working sector. Meanwhile, European co-working spaces continued to thrive, with cities like Berlin, London, Paris, and Malta leading in terms of space numbers and innovations.
  • 2020 – 2024: Malta saw the introduction of new co-working locations such as Mindo and CONNECTICLUB, marking significant developments in the local co-working landscape. CONNECTICLUB has expanded the concept of co-working by positioning itself as a one-stop-shop, offering traditional co-working services along with additional support including relocation, business consulting, and marketing. The space also focuses on fostering a multicultural community, establishing itself as a comprehensive destination for a range of professional services.

Reflecting on What Is Co-working and Its Evolution

The evolution of co-working spaces reflects a broader shift in work culture, emphasizing flexibility, collaboration, and community. As the landscape continues to evolve, co-working spaces offer diverse environments that cater to a variety of professional needs, from startups seeking agility to corporations embracing innovation. Understanding “what is co-working” is more than recognizing a workspace trend—it involves appreciating a significant shift towards more dynamic and collaborative ways of working. This timeline provides a comprehensive overview of the development and impact of co-working spaces globally and within Europe, particularly highlighting Malta’s contributions as a vibrant participant in this ongoing transformation.