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The History of Coworking: How Flexible Office Space has Evolved and Become the New Norm

The History of Coworking: How Flexible Office Space has Evolved and Become the New Norm

It’s International Coworking Day on August 9—so let’s reflect on how coworking began and grew into what the powerhouse industry it is today.

Picture this: It’s Berlin. 1995. A group of 17 hackers rent a space bringing together computer enthusiasts to share equipment and knowledge, and encourage collaboration. And with that the first pseudo-coworking space, C-Base, was born.

C-Base, Berlin (photo: Wikipedia)

By 1999, the next step was developing a name for this new flexible workspace movement; a new way to work instead of just a place to work. Turns out, Bernard DeKoven knew just what to call it: “Coworking.” DeKoven dreamed of a shared space to work, collaborate and create community, while deconstructing the old ways and hierarchy of the traditional office. Little did he know, his dream would become a reality just a few years later in 2002. “The mother of coworking spaces” opened in Austria and the international boom began. Called Schraubenfabrik, which translates in english to “screw factory.” It was a community for entrepreneurs to get out of the house, network and support each other.

The first coworking space in the U.S. was opened in 2005 by Brad Neuberg in exactly the city you think it would: San Francisco, and was creatively named “San Francisco Coworking Space.” In the first month of operation, not a single person stopped by to work. That all changed when athlete, and serial entrepreneur, Ray Baxter showed up and spread the word. From then on, the number of U.S.-based and international coworking spaces doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled!

Brad Neuberg

Of course, we can’t forget to mention the WeWork chapter. If you haven’t seen the documentaries, limited series, read the books, or seen the news: Adam Neumann is credited for part of the boom of coworking across the world. He was a charismatic CEO, and serial entrepreneur with a larger than life personality. Neumann started a revolution that powered thousands of new spaces opening, “work, live, play” style of work. Unfortunately, he defrauded his investors for billions of dollars—while he was given $44 billion in invested capital, he was spending infinitely more than WeWork made, leading to a failed IPO in 2019. This scandal—for a short-lived time—put a sour taste on the coworking industry.

Adam Neumann, former WeWork CEO (photo: Inc, Magazine)

But not for long—when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the office space landscape completely changed. Suddenly, everyone who could possibly do their job from home WAS working from home. When restrictions began to ease, the demand for someplace to work outside of the home increased tenfold. With flexible short-term leasing, large open spaces, private offices, tons of amenities and newer technology, coworking was the obvious choice for many remote workers, and companies of all shapes and sizes looking for flexibility in an ever-changing world.

Now, let’s look at Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2019. Our founder and CEO, Ben Von Drehle, coming off of a 8-year career in Denver as a commercial real estate broker moved back home to Tulsa. He saw a gap in the Tulsa market: “We needed not only more, but also a higher quality of coworking and flex office space in Tulsa,” said Von Drehle. He decided to remedy the situation and The Root Coworking was born in October 2019. Since then, we’ve doubled our square footage and are on our way to completing our second location, Market Station, which is set to open in the Tulsa Market District this fall.

Ready to try coworking yourself? I’d love to talk you through the benefits that coworking offers to businesses. Send me an email – [email protected]

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Member of The Month: Laura Latta, Tulsa Higher Education Consortium

Laura Latta, Executive Director at the Tulsa Higher Education Consortium, leads efforts in Northeast Oklahoma to enhance student success in higher education. Collaborating with nine colleges, her team focuses on creating transfer opportunities for community college students, ensuring they have promising job prospects post-graduation. An adjunct professor and avid runner, Laura remains dedicated to educational equity and community development.


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