The Big Coworking Question – Why Do Spaces Develop Regionally?

Post Author: Connor Provines.

coworking space

Over the past year I’ve gone from an outsider, to someone who is well versed in the world of coworking and some of its finer inner workings. It’s a large part of my job; however the more I study certain elements of the movement the more questions arise. Recently, I was having a conversation with some of my European coworkers about the status of coworking abroad, namely in France. They explained to me that the movement was still growing, coworking spaces were somewhat evenly distributed across the regions of the country.

In that moment, it occurred to me – this is almost the opposite of the current U.S reality; as it stands, coworking centers are incredibly dense, regional, and seemingly randomly distributed. Why is this? Can we figure anything deeper out about these problems on closer examination?

Identifying the variables that distinguish regional coworking – coworking by State

One of the first areas I was interested in looking into is coworking within a singular state across multiple cities – namely a city within a state where coworking has flourished, compared to a similar city where coworking is vastly different.

Granted, it is difficult to get a truly scientific breakdown when comparing cities – as no two are the same, however for the purposes of exploring the cause of regional coworking, it is certainly worth looking into.

San Francisco (The Greater Bay Area) v. Los Angeles

coworking space

While not the most direct of comparison’s (I’ve lived in both) it is prudent to compare these two large cities and how / why the coworking scene has developed so differently between the two centers. Both cities are very unique, however for comparison sake, I’m going to address the fact that they’re both Californian, highly developed cities, that cater heavily to small businesses and startups – each with dense city centers focused on the promotion of work.

Los Angeles, as well, is a geographically larger region, with a much higher population, a greater reliance on public transportation, with a incredibly dense center.

These two areas share a lot, yet San Francisco has nearly Four Times as many coworking spaces as the greater Los Angeles area, with spaces on average being larger, and with more spaces opening annually. That isn’t to say coworking in Los Angeles isn’t amazing (BlankSpacesHUB LABizHaus etc you know who you are) it’s that there is a stark difference in the acceptance and application of wide-spread coworking in the region. What’s even more interesting (Or perhaps to undermine a potentially good argument) is the part of the Bay Area that is considered the heart of the Silicon Valley – the Palo Alto area, has next to zero coworking spaces. It is clear to an observer that it is something more than the presence of business and a high population that generates the desire for coworking spaces. To bring the point home, let’s look at another similar situation.

Austin v. Houston

I’ve outlined the basics of the conversation previously, so we’re going to dive right into this one. Austin and Houston provide two stark contrasts to the state of coworking within a given region. Both are highly populated, rapidly growing cities dedicated to technology and new industry. The two cities are located roughly 160 miles apart (Under a 3 hour drive) and share a similar culture and atmosphere. Why then, are there nearly Five Times (and rising) more coworking spaces in the city of Austin, when compared to Houston. What’s even more surprising is the fact that Houston has over two times the population of Austin. While no two cities are identical, it is interesting when we notice trends like this; closely located cities, with similar cultures; however the presence of coworking is drastically different.

Interstate Coworking – differences between regional cities (With similar cultures), separated by state lines

coworking space

Portland Oregon v. Seattle Washington

The reason I’ve picked this example instead of comparing another set of two cities within a given state is because of the uniqueness of the region and the shared culture between the two cities. Whereas with the Californian and Texas examples, we largely looked at variables such as population, job diversity, and proximity; the cities of Portland and Seattle offer another interesting factor – culture.

Like Houston and Austin, Seattle and Portland are roughly 170 miles apart. The two cities, while drastically different in size, share a strong North Western culture unique to the region. Speaking as someone who has lived in both these cities for extended periods of time (I’m a bit of a West Coast traveler), it is easy to argue that many ideals are commonly shared between these two cities that are important for the development of coworking spaces – the desire for efficiency, sustainability, community, and collaboration. To add to this, sometimes to a fault, Portland is one of the most progressive leaning cities in the United States, and yet the city of Seattle has nearly Four Times (perhaps more) as many coworking spaces as the City of Portland. Why is this relevant? The City of Portland proper is a young, enterprising, densely located city center, with one of the best public transportation systems in the country – yet coworking is almost non-existent. What is it that causes coworking to be so popular among one city, but not another, where both share so many similar factors?

Questions of Culture, Industry, Price, and Proximity

coworking culture

This brings us to the inevitable end of our question, what is it then that causes coworking to take root in one city, but not another? I believe it to be a factor of four central things, Culture, Industry, Economy, and Proximity.

Unfortunately, this is the juncture where our question goes from a data driven approach, to one of speculation. A city has too many variables to quantify and eliminate one by one, so at a point individual thought and speculation have to play a role. It is my belief that coworking develops regionally due to unique cultural aspects of a city. The population, density, type of labor, and economy of said city are all relevant aspects that go into creating the proper culture for coworking. It makes sense to an extent, why a crowded city filled with startups would be more inclined to adopt coworking than say, a largely industrial city – but that isn’t to say that forms of coworking still wouldn’t have their place.

Ultimately, I don’t have an answer to why coworking develops regionally; however the point of this wasn’t so much to answer that question, but to propose it to the community and develop a conversation. For those of us involved with coworking, who are interested in seeing it grow and develop, figuring out how and why it is so prevalent in some areas but not others will be crucial in the growth and development of the movement.

Of course, if you have some insight to this question, don’t be afraid to share it with us! Tweet us @shareyouroffice, or send us an email, expect a part 2 to this in the future!

Written By Connor Provines of