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By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
Going to Starbucks and having your name spelled wrong on the cup is something of a novelty these days. It’s funny and often harmless—as much a joke as a miscommunication. You drink your coffee and get on with your life. So why is there such an uproar over the spelling of coworking? Is it “coworking” or “co-working” and is there really a difference?
The problem stems from media coverage of the coworking movement. Until recently, spelling standardization hasn’t reached blog posts, white papers, articles, and press releases. This led to confusion. Is coworking one word or two? Two words with different meanings? The lack of standardized spelling muddled the public’s understanding of coworking and co-working.
The difference may be a hyphen on the surface, but the meaning of the word is quite different with and without it. It comes down to how you understand differences and similarities of both.
Does the hyphen really matter?
If you want to be correct at a purely grammatical level, the correct term is “coworking”—in most cases. So says the AP Stylebook, anyway. It refers to individuals from many companies working in the same surroundings. Adding the hyphen turns it into “co-working,” which means working in the same space with employees from the same company. The difference is subtle, yet distinct.
But again, is it really an important one?
Absolutely! As sure as spelling “Aaron” or “Erin” genders the person ordering coffee at Starbucks, adding the hyphen to “coworking” changes the entire idea behind the word’s use. While they may share the same pronunciation, they embody different concepts in how they paint a picture of the workplace.
A look at “coworking”
A software engineer, a copywriter, and a wellness coach sit down in a café. No, it’s not the start of a great joke; it’s the concept behind a coworking space.
Coworking (sans-hyphen) is the default spelling because it’s usually the concept people refer to when using the word. They’re talking about individual professionals from all walks of life, grouped together and working in the same space. Terms like coworking space, coworking facilities, and coworking software all relate to space sharing by professionals.
Delineating the right spelling qualifies a coworking space’s meaning: a place outside of the traditional company work environment. As we’ll explain below, it’s a clear departure from “co-working,” which harkens back to a more traditional office concept. Coworking represents work habits of today and tomorrow. The term goes beyond just the space itself—it covers a broader movement of working where, when, and with whomever you want.
Breaking down “co-working”
Though a valid spelling and concept, co-working is largely antiquated these days. It’s symbolic of traditional offices. Workers in the same cubicle clump or jammed into the same conference room participate in co-working. It’s simply the proximity to workers from the same company, doing similar tasks.
Co-working has many denotations associated with it. It paints a restrictive picture of monotone old offices, cramped spaces, and lethargic workers. It evokes feelings of drudgery and repetition. Most importantly, it tethers the concept of work to a desk or an office.
But work has come a long way from this grim description, which is why co-working is now repurposed as coworking.
Simple terms for complex concepts
The reclamation of the coworking definition as a term represents more than just the exclusion of a hyphen. It validates a movement that’s changing the way the world works. The way we work has changed, which is why the spelling also changed. Spelling coworking correctly when talking about the modern workplace gives it credence. It’s a recognition that cubicles, wall clocks, and marathon meetings aren’t part of the current workplace. There’s a lot of power behind dropping that hyphen.
If you think this is an overreaction to a simple matter of spelling, think again. There’s a huge movement behind validating the proper spelling of coworking, fueled largely by leaders in the coworking industry. Many voiced complaints about the lack of standardized spelling—complaints strong enough to solidify an AP Stylebook update in 2018.
You may not get up in arms about Starbucks spelling your name wrong…but then again, there isn’t a paradigm shift in the workforce hinged on your name. Recognition gives a movement meaning, and it starts with the right nomenclature. Just like we capitalize proper nouns and recognize acronyms by their precise and proper spelling, coworking deserves the same benefit.
Keep reading: What is Coworking? A Look Into The Future of Coworking.