Since Regus claimed a few weeks ago to be the pioneers of coworking in the late 1980s a lot of coworking evangelist, myself included, were struck by their audacity to rewrite coworking’s origin story. The coworking community loves to share how coworking emerged from San Francisco in 2005 when the Hat Factory opened and the community-driven concept quickly spread throughout the world with the help of Jelly! But after reading Alex Hillman’s post about the many histories of coworkingit made me realize that Regus did partially pave the way for coworking as it is today by creating a new type of work space and business model even, though the two models stand apart now.So what did Regus teach us?
Regus and many other similar executive suites emerged in the 1980 and 1990s as the workplace changed and responded to new technologies – personal computers, networking, fax machines, the dial-up Internet. The new technology allowed for workers to leave their corporate offices to telecommute from home or start their own business and rent an office in a executive suite. Executives suites shared some spaces, which is how Regus claims to be a founder of coworking, but were designed to provide a perception of stature while sharing some office resources and services. However, they were designed with physical barriers of walls and cubicles to provide seclusion and privacy.

Regus was pioneer in the executive suite industry and did prove that people want to get out of the house to work, that sharing resources could lower expenses, and that there was a market for workplaces sold at the individual level. They might have proved that tiered monthly plans was a viable business model, but I’m not sure. All of these lessons helped lead us to modern coworking.

How coworking evolved from Regus.
There have many great posts about the difference between coworking and executive suites so I wanted to think more about what caused coworking to emerge and people’s relationship with the space since executive suites first opened. Coworking was a reaction to and enabled by technology, just as Regus was decades ago. Instead of the 80s and 90s technology allowing for people to work remotely coworking was a reaction to mobility. New wireless technology allowed for coworkers to share more resources and eliminate the need for a dedicated space since people could work anywhere with a wireless signal. The freedom to move around and still be connected changed how coworkers were able to design and relate to work spaces which lead to the coworking transformation from the Regus business model.

Cultural shift: Coworking eliminated walls, lowered the price, and let people talk.

Coworking started out and continues to be a relationship between people and between space. Coworking spaces tore down walls and built relationships between people instead of things.

Minimal physical ownership of a designated space drove coworkers to think of the space as a collective ‘ours’ and contribute to its evolving form. This is drastically different than the relationship that Regus creates between its members and the space they rent. Regus members have a designated space they can make their own office, but otherwise they provide a cookie-cutter utilitarian space. Regus creates a relationship that is transactional between two companies versus a growing partnership with vested interest found in a coworking community.

Coworking spaces have also managed to keep prices low and flexible in most instances by sharing resources. Modern wireless and web technology have changed what workers use with  daily carrier mail and phone calls replaced by email elminating the need for many of the extra services provided by Regus. Many coworking spaces share speedy Wifi, an address, a printer, meeting rooms, chairs, desks, and other resources. Coworking realized that many people just want a plug, quality coffee, and amazing people around. This extreme form of collaborative consumption enabled by technology allowed for membership prices to be low and flexible because of the reduced expenses compared to Regus’ model. The new lower prices allows for a diverse culture of freelancers just starting out, funded startups, and remote workers to come together in one community.

This all leads to coworking’s greatest divergence/evolution from Regus; a culture of openness and community between a full range of skills and experience. Coworking communities want people to talk and connect. A coworking community is not about proprietary information and secrets but learning together and friendship.

Did Regus contribute to coworking community? Yes. Were they leaders and founders of the coworking movement? No. Regus contributed in their own way to the changing work space but they have a different vision and that’s okay.