Housing is our number one expanse on a monthly basis. Whether 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 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 returning to a coliving space in 4 days, just 3 months after leaving my first. Let’s call the 10 points I’m about to make ‘general concerns’ that I think are important for the industry as a whole to become somewhat mainstream.
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 with housing available in multiple cities. Roam Co-Living gives an excellent 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 provides 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 who are likely to only stay in the same city for a couple of 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 attracting nomads, students, working people… It’s the peace of leverage you have to convince people even to consider coliving.
What could integrating technology in a coliving space look like? My friends over at Qwerky Coliving wrote a great article called: Smart Communities — How Tech Will Enhance Coliving. They brake it down into 5 major domains:
- Voice control
- Larger Touch Panels
- Smart Locks
I highly suggest checking that article out if you want to know more about these 5 domains. I only have 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 forms of implementing technology coliving companies will come up with.
This relates to my first point 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 more extended 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 room or apartment. I believe ‘scale’ will be vital to making coliving more attractive.
Living in a house with 15 to 20 people is great! You’ll have the best conversations in your life, you’ll meet some of your best friends, and 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 just an additional room separate 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 from other cowering companies is that they convert restaurants to cowering spaces if closed. Most locations are open from 8 AM to 5 PM leaving you with an entire workday to get stuff done. Doing this brings 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-go would be an excellent 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 doing. They will prioritize ‘more beds’ over more comfort, technology, community… If the industry starts picking up popularity, this will happen more frequently. The industry could develop a rating system like Booking.com or Air B&B ensuring a certain level of quality. There is one site working on this: Coliving Team I highly suggest checking it out!
Design to spark interaction
Social isolation is one of the significant challenges our society is facing right now. Coliving could be a great answer to respond to this problem. And even good design could be an excellent 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 people’s food choices and 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 success. The industry needs to set up its brand strong. It’s not a dorm, it’s not a hostel, it’s a coliving space. And comfort, combined with my following point flexibility, are key features to differentiate from previously mentioned housing alternatives. Building that brand will be the industry’s biggest challenge I think. With my experience of starting and running a Tiny House company in Europe, I know how hard it is to tell people there are alternatives to the classical buy and rental 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 into 2 parts:
- 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.
- Flexibility inside the coliving space:
- This point is one I don’t know the answer to. 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 need to start personalizing your space. Like having an extra shelve for your camera equipment, or hanging a picture on the wall… How would you manage this? I don’t know 😉 That’s something the coliving experts will have to discover.
“So coliving is only for young people?” That is what a lot of people ask me. I don’t think so. 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 correct answer. I’m 19, and it was precious to be around people older than me.
Part two of my point about diversity is ‘Diversity in industries’. It’s somewhat of a trend 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 working in the same space, I think it’s even more valuable to be around people who are not doing the same sh*t. Again, I can only talk about my experiences here, but it was very eye-opening for me as a marketing professional to be around: designers, musicians, developers, artists, salespeople…
Watching what they’re working on inspired me to do things 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 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 to.
Thanks to Louis De Keyser for making this article.