The history of coworking in Melbourne

May 23, 2017

Coworking in Melbourne has taken off in recent years and it’s not surprising.

Melbourne attracts freelancers like moths to a flame, thanks to its profile as the artsy, cultured sibling to Sydney. Melbourne’s first coworking space opened in 2007 and hundreds more have opened since then.

It might be because the way we work is changing. For many people juggling work, life, and family, the autonomy of the freelance life is intensely appealing. And for lots of professionals freelancers, it’s not a temporary state anymore. The state of coworking spaces reflects this new workforce composition of free agents.

And coworking spaces are the natural antitoxin to the loneliness of freelancing.

Where did coworking start, globally? In its infancy, the innovative concept of coworking was introduced in Silicon Valley. There is an incredibly high success rate for startups born in Silicon Valley. It’s been well documented that startups greatly benefit from the cross-fertilisation found in coworking spaces. In those early days, mentorship is invaluable. We often see paradigm-shifting innovation incubated in the tech industry where knowledge is all considered open source. Many people theorise that the unprecedented success of Silicon Valley is thanks to the close physical proximity of many developing technology companies. This physical closely breeds the knowledge convergence that could account for their success.

Knowledge sharing is coded in the way we organise physical space, above anything else. The amphitheatre is designed to focus on one speaker. The roundtable was designed for democratic discussion. And the open plan office was designed to encourage teamwork and knowledge sharing. Coworking is a step beyond the open plan office, and the success of a coworking space is in the variety of the design.

Having different space configurations (communal desks, standing desks, chill-out zones, private areas, meeting areas, etc) will meet the varying needs of the office. And combine that with mechanisms that encourage people to mingle (like hot desking, social events, desk shuffling, community messaging channels, etc) and you introduce the dynamism that tech company offices thrive on. The modern concept of coworking, of actively coalescing, was officially named coworking in 1995. A conglomerate of hackers started the first C-base, the first official coworking space, in Berlin.

Since then, thousands of spaces have opened up around the world. Since the opening of Melbourne's first coworking space, many more have followed suit. Now there are 152 spaces operating in Melbourne, varying in size, industry, and niche. Some of the most prominent include York Butter Factory, The Cluster, inspire9 and depo8, ACMI X, and the Hub.

At Light Creative, we couldn’t find a space we liked. So we run and operate out of our own coworking space, Framework. The perks of running an agency within a coworking space are obvious - you get access to a pool of vetted freelancers and possible collaborators. And a constant stream of new faces, new people, and new ideas toing and froing. It’s perfect synergy for creatives.

The popularity of coworking, combined with the influx of freelancers (it’s estimated freelancers will make up 40% of the workforce by 2020 - #freelancelyf) mean that coworking may soon overtake traditional office spaces as the norm. For us, it couldn’t come sooner.

Interested in getting involved with a close-knit, creative coworking space? Find us at Framework. We couldn't find a coworking space we liked, so we built one!

Light Creative is a Melbourne-based creative, content, and digital agency.