What Is Coworking and How Is It Used in 2020?

When you think of the word “office,” what comes to mind?

Cubicles, water coolers, the 9 to 5 grind — many of us grew up with these classic ideas of what an office looks like. 

Then there’s coworking. In recent years, coworking has surged in popularity as an alternative to the traditional office. As the coworking model has proliferated, the terminology around it has evolved as well. 

In this post, we’ll explain what coworking means, look at how it’s used and by whom, and also offer four insider tips on how to maximize your coworking experience. 

What is coworking?


Coworking is a type of workspace that is shared by more than one company, as opposed to the traditional office model in which every company maintains its own dedicated space. Coworking can refer to environments where employees of multiple organizations work either in the same room or in private offices within a larger space with shared resources. 

However, the definition of coworking has changed a bit over time. 

The simple idea of coworking — people working in proximity to one another — has been around since just about, well, forever. Humans are social creatures, and we do very few things in our personal lives, or in the economy, truly alone. 

While people have always congregated, the idea of a coworking-specific space is more recent. Some early examples of coworking facilities began to emerge in the mid to late 1990s at places like C-Space in Berlin, one of the world’s first hackerspaces, and Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

In 1999, the actual term “coworking” was introduced by game designer Bernard DeKoven to refer to a non-competitive, collaborative work style. The idea was to work together but separately. 

Over the years, coworking has evolved into an umbrella term for a handful of shared office models. Today, you will likely see “coworking” and “shared workspace” used interchangeably. 

Within the broad category of coworking, there are several workspace models that providers might offer. 

Types of coworking

  • Hot desking: Library-style coworking where members share space and claim desks on a daily first-come, first-served basis. In this model, you would clean up your space at the end of each day and store materials at home or in a storage area for members.

  • Dedicated coworking: Assigned desks or multi-person tables in communal spaces. With dedicated coworking, you’d sit in the same place regularly and could likely store your belongings overnight. 

  • Private offices: Companies maintain their own spaces within larger shared workspaces. This could range from a single-person office to an entire floor of a building. 

  • Custom build-outs: Some coworking centers will work with larger clients to design and modify/build out their facilities according to their specific needs. 

  • Flexible workspace packages: Even more flexible than other forms of coworking, this can include single day office rentals or small offices for large teams that rotate their remote staff through the space on an as-needed basis. In response to COVID-19, many coworking centers have expanded their offerings to accommodate companies’ unprecedented needs in creative ways.

In the video below, you can get a sampling for what a dynamic coworking center might look like inside. 

Additional features of coworking

In addition to workspace alone, coworking spaces may also provide additional amenities, similar to what you would find in a typical office. That could include equipment like printers and fax machines and spaces like conference rooms, phone booths, or bookable event space. 

Coworking centers often provide additional amenities to give users a robust workplace experience, such as snacks, gaming devices, or discounts on business services. These specifics vary widely depending on the coworking provider and their price point. It’s worth knowing, too, that some providers charge for extra services à la carte, while others (like CIC) use an all-inclusive model. 

Who uses coworking?

In its early days, coworking was largely used by entrepreneurs and young startups who needed somewhere to locate a single-person or small team. This is because the market for traditional office leases hasn’t catered to the needs of these particular customers. 

Over the past decade, however, the coworking model has expanded significantly. Now, organizations of all sizes — and from just about every industry and background — utilize coworking. There are a variety of reasons for this, and we’ll discuss the specific benefits of coworking in the next section. 

In 2020, some of the common users of coworking include:

  • Startups

  • Entrepreneurs

  • Satellite teams within larger organizations

  • Companies with flexible work-from-home policies

  • Freelancers

  • Corporate innovation ambassadors/teams

  • Fast-growing companies

  • Service providers, e.g. consultants and lawyers

  • Remote teams looking for an occasional gathering place for employees

Benefits of coworking

So how does coworking really differ from any other office setup? 

Let’s look at some of the common reasons why individuals and organizations choose coworking instead of the standard private office model. 


Typically, offices are rented on three to five-year leases. Some startups don’t survive that long, and those that do often grow quickly during this time. For a fast-growing company, a locked-in office setup means that you either have to a) get an office for your potentially bigger future team, which is expensive, or b) break your lease, which is also expensive or otherwise problematic. Coworking provides a way out of this bind by replacing long-term leases with shorter-term memberships. 

Here at CIC, for example, we use rental agreements with 30-day terms so that our members can grow or shrink their spaces quickly in response to their real-time needs. 

This flexibility is one reason why more and more larger companies have flocked to coworking in recent years. As more companies adopt flexible work-from-home and vacation policies for their employees, they’re finding that having an elastic office can better accommodate a partially remote staff. 

As you might imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the need for flexibility to a whole new level. Companies that would have never considered telework before are now managing semi or fully-remote teams, and many are expected to maintain greater flexibility for their workers even after it’s safe to return to the office full-time. 

Because of COVID-19, businesses are understandably thinking about how to be better prepared for similar crises in the future. Avoiding rigid, expensive office leases will be one way to do so. 

Social connection

Coworking is inherently social, and that’s one of its major draws. Whether a coworking space accommodates five people or a thousand, the very nature of the setup is that space and resources are shared. In the process, you’ll meet other people or deepen your relationships with people you already know, simply by being around them regularly. 


For solopreneurs, as an example, going into a shared office with other friendly faces around can turn work into a much more enjoyable experience, in comparison to working alone from home. 

But even for large companies, a wider community at work offers built-in socializing and networking opportunities. This is a particular boon for corporates looking to increase their innovation by partnering with local startups or entrepreneurs. 

Whether you’re a freelancer looking for your next project, a venture capital investor looking for the next big technology to back, or a manager from an established company, making connections is crucial for success. Coworking automatically puts you in touch with like-minded people in your area, thereby breaking down some of the barriers to initiating those important collaborations. 

Some coworking providers create online communities for their members as well, such as apps or internal social networking platforms. This allows members to connect with one another across locations and to reap the benefits of their coworking community, even during pandemic-imposed distance. 

Ease of use & amenities

It takes work to manage an office — just ask any office manager! Keeping an office running entails everything from stocking printers to coordinating an office move to calling the HVAC company when the air conditioning goes berserk. 

At a coworking center, many of these tasks are handled by the coworking provider. Offloading infrastructural upkeep offers two major benefits to companies: saving time and saving money. For example, a lean tech startup that would otherwise have to choose between an office manager and, say, a software developer can opt for the hire that directly contributes to their core business. Larger businesses, too, often find that having the support of their coworking provider to handle logistics helps them run their offices more simply and smoothly. 

2nd floor kitchen clients talking cic providenceER9A7385.jpg

Coworking centers come with physical features and equipment that might otherwise be impractical for an individual organization to maintain. Can you imagine a three-person company renting an office with a conference room, a stocked kitchen, a lounge area, a 3D printer, and an event space? Probably not! Shared workspace allows a company to access all of these features, regardless of their size. 

The Googles and Facebooks of the world are known for the bells and whistles of their campuses — free food, ping pong tables, live music at lunchtime, you name it. Small, medium, and other large-sized companies that wouldn’t be able to provide such perks on their own have found that by basing their offices at certain coworking centers, they can offer compelling amenities to their employees, which becomes a competitive recruitment tool. 

Now that we’ve looked at three common reasons that coworking can benefit its members, let’s discuss a few strategies for making the most out of your coworking experience. 

Tips for maximizing a coworking membership

Thanks to its rising popularity, individuals and companies have more coworking options than ever before. Here are four suggestions on how to choose a coworking space that suits your needs and take advantage of all that this model has to offer. 

1. Look for flexible terms

When looking at coworking options, check the time frame of rental agreements. How quickly can you move into a bigger or smaller space if you need to, or add more members to your team? How much notice do you have to provide prior to move-out? This will differ from provider to provider. 

Think ahead to your months and years ahead as a business — your anticipated cash flows, staffing changes, growth goals, etc. — and what level of flexibility would serve your best and worst case scenarios. 

2. Assess location

Things like parking, access to public transportation, neighborhood amenities, and relevant businesses nearby all figure into the quality of your workday — and can impact business opportunities. For instance, many life science and innovation-focused companies rent space at CIC Cambridge because it’s located in Kendall Square, a globally recognized hotspot for science and technology research and commercialization. 

Relatedly, one great thing about coworking centers is that you can often get a workspace in a prime geographical location that would be out of reach if you or your company were renting independently. Ten years ago, a downtown office with a view may have seemed unrealistic for a small startup. Now it’s doable at a coworking facility. 

In addition to assessing the location of your own workspace, look up what other locations a coworking provider maintains. Some providers let you bounce between centers with your membership, which can be especially useful for people who travel frequently or do business in a variety of markets. Plus, the different cities or countries where your coworking provider operates are all potential pathways for networking and collaboration via their internal community platforms. We’ll talk more about relationship-building next. 

3. Get engaged in the community

Coworking is like built-in networking without the awkward or phony pretense. You naturally run into people — at the next desk over, at the coffee machine, or at member events. Be curious about the people around you and what they do. Many friendships, collaborations, and business partnerships have started this way. 

To get proactive with relationship-building, look for events in the coworking space and make sure to join your coworking community’s virtual network. You could even ask support staff for relevant introductions! 

4. Ask about membership perks

If you’re paying for coworking, you’re probably paying for more than workspace. Coworking providers often have perks for their members, ranging from discounts on hotels or car rentals to in-house services like notaries or wellness programs. These benefits might be listed on the coworking center’s website, but they could also be viewable by members only. Feel free to inquire about these kinds of benefits before joining a space, and keep an eye out for new perks during your stay. 

At this point, we’ve discussed the definition and history of coworking, who it’s for, and why coworking is useful. We’ve also covered four major ways to tailor your coworking experience to your needs. (We share even more tips for optimizing your coworking membership in this post.)

Ultimately, basing your workday at a coworking space instead of a traditional office, or exclusively working from home, is meant to make work and life easier. In the coworking model, people and companies share space and resources, allowing them to access more than they could on their own. And in the process, users offload many of the burdens of managing an office and become part of a community. 

Looking for flexible workspace for you or your team? CIC offers a variety of workspace solutions, customizable to your needs. 

Explore Workspace