Coworking is a fairly recent phenomenon, but the term “coworking” itself has already undergone changes; one might even say it has had a tumultuous relationship with the changing times itself. Perhaps if this were a superhero, we could have had a little fun figuring out its “origin” story! But the term “coworking” is a teenager now, having existed only for 13 years approximately.
The term coworking’s etymology states co+working, indicating the emphasis on the prefix. Wiktionary states it as a noun, defining it as, “The use of a shared working environment for independent activities by different organisations.”
Deskmag’s article “Coworking in a hundred words” has several definitions and perspectives on what coworking means. One of the best descriptions states, “….In fact, from an etymological point of view, the prefix “co” originates from Latin, in the form of com- , and can be found in the English language from 17c. as a living prefix meaning “together, mutually, in common”. In its most positive definition, it can reflect a symbiotic work-relationship based on mutual dependency and “flat hierarchy”, present in many of today’s start-up companies’ job adverts….”
Now that we’ve satisfied all the grammar-lovers, ***logophiles and possible etymology and history lovers (Yes, you! All 3 of you! ), let’s take a peek into the past and see how this phenomenon swirled itself into the term “coworking”.
Blast From The Past
Coworking can be traced in two ways – one, where we trace the concept of coworking and how it came about, or two, where we trace the term itself.
Technically, the term coworking was used all the way back in 1628.
But before you start picturing the glamorous people carrying the 1628 version of a laptop while handling their huge, poofy dresses with the bustle or men with their coattails and top hats, all trudging along together to the nearby ‘tea parlour’ to discuss their entrepreneurial ideas, let us rectify your misconception – coworking here was only in reference to the “coworking power of God and it’s disciplines”.
The term was first coined in 1999, by Brian DeKoven, a game designer.
The actual use of the word “coworking” in relation to a shared office environment was first used by Brad Neuberg in 2005, offering “an alternative work community which combined the freedom and flexibility of independent working with the structure and community of traditional offices.”
Back To The Future
The term coworking has come back to the future after undergoing several changes and transitions throughout time and history, only to very proudly arrive at its current destination. After various different changes, meanings and definitions, by and large there is now a standard definition of coworking which everyone understands, which is, *****“Coworking” is recognised as a style of working as well as refers to the physical space where such a sharing community exists (Bear in mind, this is still one of the many definitions available online). But has it arrived at its final destination?
Not according to Steve King (of Emergent Research).
King is of the belief that the term itself is very limited. “Language often shifts…and I think the industry should begin to use a more reflective and descriptive term.” Since it is a common-held belief that “change is the only constant”, it is only fair to move forward from hereon anticipating some changes in our perspective and vocabulary, with respect to the coworking term and industry as well. Indeed, even now as this article gets typed out, the debate about what exactly to call this industry (Peer spaces? Shared workplaces? On-demand workspaces?) still rages on.
It is important to note that whatever term is ultimately used to define this unique, working phenomena, has to be an inclusive term that can be adopted by each and every user of coworking spaces, irrespective of their field.
Coworking emphasizes on giving people the physical and the creative freedom to establish their own identity. So it’s only fair that the industry continues in its effort to name or “rebrand” itself to something that reflects it’s users – without which, let’s face it, it’s nothing.
If co-working has spiked your interest to understand even more about it, check out this insightful infographic our team created about its trend and future.
**Final Future of Work – JLL pdf.