Housing is our number one expanse on a monthly basis. Wetter it’s paying rent or paying off a mortgage. Yet, the housing industry hasn’t changed in years. We still only have 2 options: Buying or Renting. But it looks like we are finally getting some alternatives. I ran a Tiny House construction business in Belgium, building wooden houses on wheels (more information) and right now I’m fascinated by Coliving.
After staying in a Coliving space in New York City (called Outpost Club) for 6 months last year, I started thinking of 10 things the Coliving industry as a whole will need to succeed. The industry is new, very new, and it still needs a lot of work ;) Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the experience and as a matter of fact, I’m going back to a coliving space in 4 days, just 3 months after leaving my first. Let’s just call the 10 points I’m about to make ‘general concerns’ that I think are really important for the industry as a whole to become somewhat mainstream:
1. Central locations
This one is obvious. To make coliving more attractive, good locations are a must. If done well, coliving could provide a network of houses all across the country and even the world. By charging membership fees instead of asking for rent, you pay to be a member of a company that has housing available in multiple cities. Roam Co-Living gives a good example of how this could work. They have Coliving locations in: London, Bali, Miami, Tokyo and soon even San Francisco. As far as I know they’re the only company that provide this kind of service as of January 2018.
The second part of having great locations is the location in the city itself. If you’re attracting people from all over the world that are very likely to only stay in the same city for a couple weeks or months, it wouldn’t be very practical to have to buy a car to get to the grocery store. Or to have to walk 2 hours to get to a subway stop… Central locations within the city are crucial to attract nomads, students, working people… It’s the peace of leverage you have to convince people to even consider coliving.
What could ‘integrating technology’ in a coliving space look like? My friends over at Qwerky Coliving wrote a great article about this called: Smart Communities — How Tech Will Enhance Coliving. They brake it down into 5 major domains:
1. Voice control
3. Larger Touch Panels
4. Smart Locks
I highly suggest checking that article out if you want to know more about these 5 domains. I only have the experience with one of these domains, voice control. I bought the Google Home a few months after my arrival in NYC and it was interesting to start seeing other people using it rather quickly. If set up well, this could be a great way to spark conversation among members and I’m curious to see what other ways of implementing technology coliving companies will come up with.
This relates to the first point I made in this article, ‘central locations’. The Coliving industry doesn’t only need a few great locations, they’ll need a lot of them providing a network of locations all over the country and even the world will attract, pretty much every millennial I know, it’s a haven for nomads, and this way even people working have the chance to go on longer vacations without having to break the bank by renting a vacation home and without having to go through the trouble of having to sublet your own room or apartment. I personally believe ‘scale’ will be key to make coliving more attractive.
Living in a house with 15 to 20 people is great! You’ll have the best conversations in your live, you’ll meet some of your best friends, you always have something to do on the weekend, but for working, it’s not always that great. In my Coliving space in NYC we didn’t have a separate ‘office’ space, or even just an additional room separated from the living room. So I combined my Coliving membership with a Coworking membership in the city. The coworking company I used, and love, is called Spacious. What they do very differently to other cowering companies, is they convert restaurants to cowering spaces if they’re closed. Most locations are then open from 8AM to 5PM leaving you with a full workday to get stuff done. By doing this, they bring the cost way down to about 130 USD a month, which is nothing compared to a WeWork or other Coworking companies I’ve seen. Providing this service from the get, would be a great way for coliving spaces to attract more digital nomads or self-employed members.
One thing I’m most concerned about in the Coliving industry is that certain companies will start to see this option as a great way to fit more people in less space, which it’s absolutely doing. Meaning that they will prioritize ‘more beds’ over more comfort, technology, community… If the industry starts picking up popularity, this will definitely happen more frequently. The industry could come up with a rating system like Booking.com or Air B&B ensuring a certain level of quality. There is one site out there working on this: Coliving Team I highly suggest checking it out!
6. Design to spark interaction
Social isolation is one of the great challenges our society is facing right now. Coliving could be a great answer to respond to this problem. And even design, good design, could be a good way to start conversations. My good friend Jacob Shapiro, the NYC accounts manager of Outpost Club, told me about a podcast he listened to about design in Coliving spaces. Like having transparent doors on your cabinets so people can start talking about other peoples food choices but also more basic stuff like having enough chairs around the table to eat all at once. Even though that doesn’t happen a lot.
Comfort lies pretty close to good design and having a way to rate coliving locations on their quality. The comfort of your coliving spaces will be crucial to succeed. The industry really needs to setup their brand strong. It’s not a dorm, it’s not a hostel, it’s a coliving space. And comfort, combined with my next point flexibility, are key features to differentiate from previously mentioned housing alternatives. Building that brand will be the industries biggest challenge I think. With my experience of starting and running a Tiny House company in Europe, I know hw hard it is to tell people there are alternatives to the classical buy and rent market. In my experience, people can get very frustrated finding out about these alternatives and I think the Tiny House and the Coliving industry have this problem in common.
Flexibility can also be split up in 2 parts:
1. Flexibility in your membership:
Month-to-Month contracts are a must, it being a standard feature or optional. I can only speak about my personal experience but flexibility is the number one reason I decided to go and stay in a coliving space.
2. Flexibility inside the coliving space:
This point is one I don’t know the answer too. Let me sketch what I mean by flexibility inside a coliving space: if you’re staying in the space long-term, let’s say 6 months or longer, you just feel the need to start personalizing your space. Like having an extra shelve for your camera equipment, or hanging a picture on the wall… How you would manage this? I don’t know ;) That’s something the coliving experts will have to find out.
“So coliving is only for young people?” Is what a lot of people ask me. I don’t think so. To be honest, I think it’s quite the opposite. Can you imagine a house filled with 20 youngsters :D? ‘A lot of the same’ is never the right answer. I’m 19 myself, and it was incredibly valuable to be around people olde then me.
Part two of my point about diversity is ‘Diversity in industries’. It’s some what of a trend these days for coliving spaces to specify what kind of people they want in their space. Like: ‘Digital nomads only’ or ‘Tech startups only’… Although I see the value of having people around you that are working in the same space, I think it’s even more valuable to be around people that are not doing the same sh*t. Again, i can only talk about my own experiences here, but it was very eyeopening for me as a marketing professional to be around: designers, musicians, developers, artists, sales people…
By just watching what they’re working on, I got inspired to do thing differently in my job.
This is every coliving’s first and best selling point. Community. While accurate, actually building a community is a lot of work. In some places it will happen naturally, which fortunately, is the experience I had. But in others that will definitely never happen.
“How do you spark community?”, “How do you get people to collaborate?”, “What’s our job as a company in cases of conflict?”
These are all questions the industry will have to find an answer for.
Thanks to Louis De Keyser for making this article.