It all depends who you speak to where the origins of coworking come from. If your looking for the current iteration most popular in America, now growing the world over, the version of the story goes a little this:
Brad Neuberg from San Francisco, was a coder, used to hacking out solutions, in 2005 he decided to create a community of likeminded people to work alongside in order to keep what he loved about freelance and what he loved about structure and community. He used the word coworking to describe what his space was for and was the first to do so.
Based out of Spiral Muse simply referred to as the coworking group. The space was inside a house, with a kitchen communal area and work space. The original online flyer said
"Coworking Rents Space From Spiral Muse, a Healing Centre Complete with Massage Therapists, Life Coaches, and More On the Second Floor" 4.29
The space utilised the 3 day downtime of the health and wellness centre to get them out of their homes and working side by side, but also maintained the ethos of the health centre with yoga and other healthy activities being a daily occurrence.
Mr Neuberg and many of the other first coworking space creators where developers and advocates of the open source movement they applied the same principals to their new ventures and they shared their knowledge online on the coworking wiki, spreading the concept.
After his Spiral Muse venture Brad then created the first full time coworking space The Hat Factory in San Francisco. Simultaneously Chris Messina and others where establishing the first BarCamps - The antidote to the corporate over priced overproduced exclusive tech conferences. From this Chris Messina along with Tara hunt Founded Citizen Space, one of the longest running coworking spaces - currently with 3 locations - and Brad, Chris and others involved early the movement created the coworking wiki and the google group as any open-source thinkers would.
The concept certainly isn't a new one, if we think of things like sewing bees or quilting bees which go back to the 1700s and any tribal groups from any period we find people gathering to work, to sing together and to just generally not be alone. In 2002 Daniel H. Pink was writing about F.A.N. clubs, Free Agent Nation clubs which where similar to the popular current term of a Jelly event, gatherings of free agents to learn and get away from home, they would meet in coffee shops and other designated third spaces.
Of course the crucial development in the growth of coworking is an outside factor, the instigation of wifi and later 3G. Wifi becoming more commonly used and available around 2003/4 we have all the tools necessary to work anywhere we please, and a generation of new workers who are used to instant contact through mobile and Skype, working anywhere is even more appealing now than back in 2002 when Daniel H. Pink wrote about Free Agents:
"The largest private employer in the U.S. is not Detroit’s General Motors or Ford, or even Seattle’s Microsoft or Amazon.com, but Milwaukee’s Manpower Inc., a temp agency with more than 1,100 offices in the U.S. The dream of America’s young people? Not to climb through an organization, or even to accept a job at one, but to create their own gig on their own terms—often on the World Wide Web." 1.3 Free Agent Nation - 2002
A factor that can't be ignored in the short history of coworking is the fact that we have had a major economic downturn and subsequent unemployment rates. Coworking sums up a period in time right now where the stars have aligned for some people to create something new. Tony Bacigalupo is one of those people, founder of New Work City, advocate of the coworking movemnent and a freequent blogger on the surrounding factors of coworking. He points out,
"The Irony of being able to work anywhere is that there isn't anywhere designed for people who can work anywhere, so a movement formed around that and that is the coworking movement." - Tony Bacigalupo
Tony's presentation on the Job Crisis 'Let's fix the stupid job crisis ourselves' highlights the importance of the kind of independent workers that use coworking spaces and that there is an opportunity to create jobs for ourselves and for each other. Creating value for yourself becomes a positive action in tackling the job crisis.
"The decline in lifetime job security has shifted the balance towards self-employment". 1.2 Working in the Unoffice
If we look at Google Trends we can see that in 2007, around the same time as the downturn in the economy began to have major effect, the word coworking began to take off in search. Google Trends are by their own admission not a basis for accurate data but they can give us a good picture in these circumstances of the growth in the use of Brad Neuberg's term 'coworking' we can see that 2 years after Brad started using the phrase there has been fairly steady growth since, with 'coworking space' being the most popular related term.