Coworking Ecologies and the Future of Work

Researching how coworking spaces are transforming work practices in ethnographic, structural, and conceptual ways.

In just over a decade, coworking - a mode of working that involves a shared working environment - has evolved from a niche activity to a recognised model of work in cities and regional centres around the world. Although coworking spaces are a relatively recent phenomenon in the Australian digital economy, they have a longer history in other forms of collaboration and the spaces that support them: from mechanics’ institutes, workshops and co-operates, to artists’ residences, fab labs and maker spaces.

In Melbourne, coworking spaces are increasingly prevalent, promoted by state and local governments as signs they are embracing ‘digital disruption’, innovation, entrepreneurship and creative labour as central components of their future economic development strategies. The City of Melbourne’s ‘Creative Spaces’ database lists over 50 coworking spaces located in Melbourne’s CBD alone, and over 1400 in the state of Victoria. These range from privately owned and operated coworking spaces, to those run by large corporations, industry associations, city councils, and public institutions (such as ACMI and State Library Victoria).

Despite the increasing presence of coworking spaces in cities and their growing role in urban policy, little is currently known about how coworking is transforming work practices. Empirical and conceptual research on these spaces and practices is therefore urgently required to evaluate the impact of coworking on contemporary life.

This project examines coworking spaces in Victoria in the context of scholarly and popular discourses on the ‘future of work’. The project researches coworking from three perspectives:

Ethnographic: Through site observation, residencies and interviews with managers and users, it creates rich profiles of coworking spaces representing different industry sectors across varied geographical and socioeconomic regions in Victoria.
Structural: Linking data, policy analysis and scholarly literature to the profiles above, the project maps the broader ecology (economic, social and infrastructural) which both shapes and is shaped by coworking.
Conceptual: Integrating the ethnographic profiles and structural mapping work above, the project develops a framework for understanding different coworking models and their impact on the new generation of future work;

This project is a pilot study in the development of an ARC Linkage application examining the broader impact of digitisation on public institutions, public culture and practices of labour. Through this larger project, this study is intended to contribute to a range of questions pertinent to policymakers, cultural institutions, local communities and coworking stakeholders:

  • What is the role of ‘collaboration’, ‘coworking’ and other informal work practices in the digital economy of cities like Melbourne?
  • How might existing infrastructure, like libraries or community centres, be repurposed as coworking hubs to support employment and growth in declining regional areas?
  • How does design, management and the culture of coworking spaces shape innovative knowledge practices and more inclusive ways of being a worker?

Research Team

Research Partners

Dr Mladen Adamovic, Dr Marianne Gloet, and Dr Deborah Towns
Centre for Workplace Leadership
Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne

Ms Sarah Slade
Head of Digital Engagement & Collection Services
State Library Victoria

Ms Bree Trevena
Research Manager
Arup Foresight, Research + Innovation


Seed Funding 2017 with contributions from the Research Unit for Public Cultures at the University of Melbourne.