coworking in a coffee shop




Bigger than Starbucks? Forecasting the Future of Co-working

Numbers Show Co-working’s Popularity Continues to Increase

Co-working started as a small, fringe movement of people who wanted to work independently, but within a community. A decade later, that movement has become a rapidly-growing global industry that’s entering the mainstream.

A new co-working forecast by Emergent Research predicts that the number of co-working spaces worldwide will grow to 26,000 in 2020 from 11,000 this year. That’s 3,000 more than the number of Starbucks stores worldwide in 2015. In that same time, co-working membership is expected to nearly quadruple to 3.8 million members from 976,000 today.

The growth of co-working can be attributed to numerous factors, though the main driver may simply be the large and growing number of freelancers worldwide which now represent roughly one third of all workers in the US alone.

However, the modern day freelancer doesn’t want isolation with their independence. As Steve King of Emergent Research commented, “We’re not at our best unless we’re happy at some level and we’re not happy unless we have relationships with other people…Outside of the hermitpreneurs…you’re not going to be happy unless you have human relationships, and the co-working world provides that.”

The disparity in the growth rates between spaces and members is due to the fact that co-working spaces are, on average, getting larger and serving more people. Interestingly, the estimated 3.8 million people co-working globally by 2020 would likely represent just 4% market penetration leaving lots of room for growth. The Emergent Research team estimates that, in the US alone, 22 million people could eventually become co-working members.

What does this staggering growth mean for the co-working community? When, as the forecast suggests, even some Starbucks locations could be considered co-working spaces, it begs the question of whether the core values of co-working—community, openness, collaboration, sustainability and accessibility—will continue to guide the movement in any recognisable way.

Considering the strength of the co-working movement’s foundational community, it’s clear that the values can, and will, remain in the movement.